I know when I was preparing for the birth of my first child, I had very clear (and rather inflexible) expectations about how I wanted the birth to go, how I expected it to go. I was living in Asia at the time and very conscious of the highly medicalised approach that was commonplace so I almost reeled in the opposite direction and committed myself to not allowing this intervention to be thrust upon me...
I took the calm birth course, I practiced my visualisation breathing. I talked through the contingent pain management plans with my husband. But alas, these best-laid plans were thwarted by numerous circumstances outside our control. I will spare you the details, but in essence, it felt like I had lived through a car accident alive. It was not until much later on when I fell pregnant with my second child that I realised the impact that experience and went on a journey of trying to process the thoughts, the emotions and my reactions that were playing out.
Research indicates that up to one third of women find their birthing experience traumatic. It may be that you did not experience your birth plan, maybe you had unwanted interventions such a caesarean, an instrumental birth or perhaps pain medication was not available. Your trauma may not even relate to the physical birth itself but an interaction with someone at the birth. Trauma comes from many sources.
No one chooses a traumatic birth (and even a ‘normal’ birth can be traumatising) but you do have choice in how you process it. It is very common for women to feel bad about their experience and keep it private – not wanting others to judge their emotional reactions. I wanted to share with you a number of different ways that can help you to come to terms with the birth experience of your child, understand the impact and move towards healing. Birth may just be one day but the effects of trauma can extend well beyond this.
Image: Julie Adams | Words: Belinda Williams, psychologist, career coach and co-founder of The Bumpy Road | Go to www.thebumpyroad.com.au
1. Share your story
Talking through your experience can help to make sense of it. By putting words to your experience, you get the opportunity to link the events, to your thoughts and feelings. It often results in others opening up about their own experience, which can reduce feelings of isolation and shame and offer opportunity for validation, release and acceptance. Retelling your story can be done in conversation and writing but even through other creative avenues such as drawing, music and dance.
2. Read about the experience of others after a traumatic birth
It is very easy to feel alone or feel confused by your emotions. You are not alone. Connecting with the experience of others often helps to better understand and order your thinking about your personal experience. Websites like birthtalk.org present diverse narratives and there are many other online forums where you will find different stories with which you can connect.
3. Reconsider the story of your birth
See if you can identify any positive elements to the experience. This is not about finding a silver lining but negative information and experience is like velcro. It sticks and can crowd out and make us blind to positive information. It is worthwhile seeing if there were elements or stages of your birth that you can connect with positively.
4. Review the medical information about the birth
If you feel unresolved and confused by the chain of events that took place, it can help to gain clarity from your care providers as to why decisions were made or certain actions were taken. Check your memory against others who were involved in your treatment or present. Please note that it is important to proceed carefully as this may be triggering and even re-traumatise you. This may be best done with a psychologist or counsellor.
These ideas are not exhaustive or fail-safe but they offer you ways to engage with your experience and your emotions around the birth of your child. If you or someone close to you is concerned about how you are coping, it is important to seek professional help from a GP and psychologist. An incredible resource for anyone who feels like they have had a traumatic birth experience is How to Heal a Bad Birth by Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould. Their website is www.birthtalk.org. For more resources, please visit The Bumpy Road’s resources page.