It shocks me that today, in a time when we see more and more hopeful & expectant parents feeling confident to “take charge” of the decision making with regard to their pregnancies, that there continues to be a need to take the time to talk about Birth Trauma.
Through casual conversation I am absolutely flabbergasted by the number of people who experienced trauma through their pregnancy and/or birth and who felt as though they were supposed to “suck it up” or to simply “get over it” because, after all, didn’t they get a “happy, healthy baby out of it” at the end of the day?
Sitting and sipping wine recently with a friend of mine, we got to talking about the births of her* children (now adults). Listening to her describe her experience made me feel anxious. Made me feel overwhelmed. Made me feel as though it must have been traumatic. So I asked her about that? How did she feel? Was she given any emotional support to help navigate the journey she had been forced on? Was it recommended to her that she seek counselling or guidance to recover from her birth?
To say I was deeply saddened by the shocked expression on her face when she admitted that she didn’t know there were people she could talk to about this - even two decades later - would be an understatement.
We do such an injustice to birthing people. Somehow we have a “suck it up” mentality surrounding birth with the assumption that all will be forgotten once we get into the real work of parenting that we seem to forget that every, single birthing parent on the planet will tell you that that experience (good or bad) stays with you for the rest of your life. It can be recalled instantly by a smell, sound, touch or question. How do you bury that?
Birth trauma can present in a variety of ways. It can be someone touching you in a way you hadn’t expected or had explained to you. It can be a procedure being done to you that you were not asked to give consent for. It can be NOT having a procedure or treatment that you had expressly requested.
It is okay to grieve for the birth that you did not have.
You are allowed to have all of the feelings about your birth.
No one has the right to tell you to “suck it up,” “get over it,” “be grateful for your baby” instead of being upset/sad or angry.
There are a number of specialists whose professional role is to support you through the kind of trauma care you need.
Sometimes it is speaking with a social worker whose skills include counselling (a more “solution focused” approach to help you find the resources you need and make the best decisions for you and your family) as well as psychotherapy (helping you to heal your emotional and mental injury so that you are able to have a more positive thought process).
Additionally there are people and organizations that utilize breath work (using a specific and guided breathing exercise/technique to improve mental, physical, and spiritual well-being) or guided conversation to gently encourage you to release the traumatic experience you have had.
You are on the path of parenting - by choice or life experience - and you want to be able to be the best parent you can be. It isn’t as easy as most social media profiles suggest. Some days it is picture perfect and as easy as waking up in the morning. Other days it is a slog. It feels laborious and frustrating and as though you haven’t the foggiest idea just what you are doing.
I acknowledge that there are a large number of people who have birthed babies who will tell you that is was the most incredible and empowering experience of their lives. Not everyone who births will have trauma associated with it.
If you are one of the people who did not get to have your picture perfect, dream birth then please know there are some amazing support people out there.
Three people I can think of (off the top of my head) include:
Lara Stewart-Panko, a Registered Social Worker in Ontario (found also on IG: @larastewartpankorsw)
* please note that gendered pronouns are used when that is the preference or acknowledged identity of the individual I am speaking of