After a traumatic birth, it can be so hard. You have to deal with the needs of your newborn, and with any older children needing you. You might be floundering under the emotional and physical fallout from the birth. You might be finding that it is incredibly hard to get anyone at all to understand what’s happening for you. With emotions swirling, your body still recovering, your whole self reeling from the experience, and the people around you not understanding… it can be hard to know what to do to begin to work through it all.
It can also be hard if you have been struggling with the impact of your birth for many months or years. There can be a sense of despair, as the fog has not lifted, and you still feel bad. It can feel like it might be ‘too late’ to do anything about it, and that you are stuck with this.
But it is possible to heal. The healing journey may not be a short process, but it is definitely a process that can begin at any time, whether it’s three months or three years (or more!) after the birth.
Tried and true steps
For the past 14 years we’ve been running our ‘Healing From Birth’ meetings as part of our organisation, Birthtalk.org. We’ve worked with many women who have had some intensely challenging birth experiences, and sometimes their partners too. We’ve seen them work so hard to process their births, to move on. And we’ve witnessed them emerge stronger, feeling more complete, more connected, more at peace, more able to experience joy…and more empowered for the parenting road ahead.
We’ve seen them heal.
There are a series of steps many of these courageous women have followed as part of this process, and we present five of them below to you.
On a personal note, Melissa, an author of this article and one of the founders of Birthtalk.org, has taken these steps as part of her own healing journey, after a traumatic labour ending in caesarean. She has since healed from her experience and gone on to have two positive, empowering VBAC births.
Powerful steps, positive action
These steps might be just the beginning of the healing journey, but they may be some of the most powerful you can take. We encourage you to be gentle with yourself, and know that you are not alone – many women have walked this path before you, and there is a lot of support for you (even though it can be hard to find at first!). Taking even one of these steps can acknowledge a commitment to your healing – a positive move towards feeling better.
FIVE STEPS TOWARDS HEALING
1. Learn more about the nature of birth trauma…(and try and bring your partner along for the ride!) The more you both understand, the more compassion you can offer yourself, and the more your partner can support you, and the smoother this path will be. Start by reading this article we’ve written comparing a traumatic birth to a mid-air plane emergency, to try and explain why it feels so bad, and why it can be so hard to get support. Or this article we’ve written about why ‘Empowering Birth Quotes’ can be detrimental for women.
2. Read other women’s accounts of how they felt after a traumatic birth. One powerful form of acknowledgement is to find out that other women feel the same as you. To know that you are not alone. This is helpful for your partner too – they can see that it is not just you – you are not making this up. Hearing woman after woman share responses to their births that resonate with your own can be an important step in gathering the courage to take the healing journey. It doesn’t matter whether they had a different experience of birth – vaginal, caesarean, epidural, hospital or home… chances are they will have similar responses afterwards. One of our main messages at Birthtalk.org is : “A bad birth is defined by the way you feel, not just the events that occurred.” And there are many, many women who share similar feelings in response to their traumatic births. This is sad, but important to know. We share some women’s stories of how they were impacted by their births here :
And you might find it helpful to read the heartfelt responses to our blogposts, as many women have read our articles, finally found information that resonates with their experience, and begun to share how they have been affected by their births.
3. Retrieve your birth records. Obtaining your records from your birth and going over the records with an independent source (that is, someone outside your hospital system such as an independent midwife) can be intense, but so helpful. Gaining more information about what happened to you, and why, and when, can begin the process of feeling that the birth actually belongs to you. Many women reeling from a negative birth experience feel that their birth belonged to the hospital or their health professional, rather than themselves. This step of going over your records can give answers about those hazy parts of the birth that still feel confusing even months later, and a new sense that the birth belongs to you. This new clarity can be so helpful when processing your experience, and part of the healing. Here’s our article about how to access your birth records, and how to use them in your healing journey :
4. Write your birth story. Although this might seem a bit overwhelming at first, many women find this step moves
them forward in their healing. It can be helpful to get the story out of your head, onto the page, and can also offer you insights that you did not know about. Maybe you will find there is a ‘black hole’ in your story, where you do not know what happened. Filling in that hole, using your records, and perhaps your partner’s account to discover what actually happened, can be very healing. The writing process can also be a way to understand exactly what you went through. Sometimes seeing our story all laid out like that can help us see that we went through a lot, and that it would be understandable if we were impacted by that experience. If you would like some tips on how to write your story after a traumatic birth, see our article here : How to write your Birth Story after a traumatic birth, and why it can be a healing step.
5. Honour the milestones, and use them for healing. Some milestones, like birthdays, are big. These markers that our culture uses for celebration can feel heartbreaking when they are an anniversary of a horrible experience. Having a healthy child does not ‘wipe the slate clean’ and make the negative experience go away, so it makes sense that anniversaries like birthdays might bring up some stuff. There are many ways you can use milestones like a birthday to further your healing. We look at ways to do this in our article “Coping with birthdays after a traumatic birth : what’s hard and what helps“.
These steps are not a fast fix. But they do give you the opportunity to explore and process your birth in ways you may not yet have considered. And you can start that process right now. We have seen many women take these exact steps and move forward in their journey. These steps have the potential to be important markers on your path to healing, and give you insights about where your journey needs to lead next. We stand beside you as you take that path – you are not alone. Birth trauma is real…and it IS possible to heal.
©Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould, Birthtalk.org, authors of How to Heal a Bad Birth : making sense, making peace and moving on.
Learn more about the steps to healing in our book : How to Heal a Bad Birth : making sense, making peace and moving on. This ground-breaking self-help book takes the reader on a ‘Choose your own adventure’ style of healing journey… because every woman’s path to healing will be different. The pages are filled with heartfelt quotes from women, facts and insights about birth trauma, and ideas for dealing with common emotions that arise such as sadness, guilt, feelings of failure, anger and partner issues. There are step-by-step tools for healing, and so much support and compassion contained within these pages. Because we’ve see the impact birth can have, we are gentle with women’s hearts as they step forward and acknowledge that they are ready to take the journey to healing. And we are with you all the way.