Birth Trauma: Holding Space
"Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing." - Audrey Lorde
For many women childbirth is a joyous, fulfilling, and empowering experience. For others, it can be one of the most traumatic events of their lives. Memories of childbirth can be vivid, deeply felt, and last many years or perhaps even a lifetime. Women who express a long-term satisfaction with their births may feel a sense of accomplishment. They feel they were in control of their birth and their experience contributed to feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem. Other mothers have long-term memories of a childbirth gone awry. An experience that left them feeling distressed, confused, and angry. It is important to note that no matter how the events played out or what the end result was, birth can be traumatic for a mother no matter how "perfect" or "imperfect" it was. Approximately 25-35% of women report that they experienced trauma during the birth of their child. Although mothers who deliver via c-section dominate this percentage, women who delivered vaginally report experiencing trauma as well. No matter how "ideal" the birth appears to outsiders, it is what the mother feels within herself that truly represents the birthing experience.
I am a mother who experienced birth trauma, and in fact, the birth of my son was the most traumatic event of my life.
My husband and I planned on having a home birth with as little help as possible. We trusted the birthing process and felt adequately prepared being that we were both doctors. We prepped tinctures and teas, and placed crystals, white sage, and essential oils around our home in anxious excitement for the arrival of our first child. We prepped a bag for the hospital "just in case", but knew we wouldn't need it. I felt strong and confident in my body's ability to bring our child earth side, and I had worked so hard to get to this final stage.
While laboring at home I felt safe and capable despite the enormous amount of pain I was in. That all changed when we eventually got in the car to go to the hospital. I felt defeated. Immediately my brain switched from labor land to fear-based survival mode. I remember with incredible detail walking up to the front doors of the hospital and staring up at the glowing "EMERGENCY" sign and sobbing. I was crushed. The events that ensued after the hospital doors closed behind me resulted in a cesarean section under general anesthesia. My dreams were crushed and I was left in the wake of my worst nightmare.
There are many things I would have done differently, and still even to this day I run through scenarios in my head of "if I would have just done this....than this...."etc. I should have listened to myself over EVERYONE. One of the most painful things about my birth experience is that I feel my c-section was 100% unnecessary. I felt that nothing was wrong and that neither myself nor my child were in danger at any point during labor or delivery. That everyone else's fear and impatience pushed the birth in the wrong direction and I didn't have the help I needed. That I didn't fight hard enough for what I believed in, and that I let fear dictate my birthing journey.
So now here I am, almost an entire year later. The first few months after the birth of my son I cried every single day, sometimes multiple times per day. I didn't have feelings of depression so much as I had an incredible weight of guilt. I was so sorry that this was the way he entered the world. That we had to endure such trauma together and that I let it happen. I wanted nothing more than to turn back time and have the chance to do everything over again. Friends and family tried to provide comfort by focusing my attention on the fact that at least both baby and I were healthy, but this actually provided no relief for the immense shame I felt. I was grateful that despite the circumstances of the birth, my son and I had no issues with bonding or breastfeeding, and of course I was happy that we were both healthy, but there was such a giant piece of me missing. I felt robbed of the final stage of my transition from maiden to mother, and I wasn't sure how I would ever feel complete. Birth was something I was so passionate about and suddenly I couldn't bear to hear other women's birth stories. I couldn't look at pictures of laboring mothers or freshly born babies. I couldn't stand anything that reminded me of the hospital. Even seeing the teas, tinctures, and crystals around my home made me feel angry. Everything was a trigger and the pain was so deep.
For months I battled with flashbacks, negative internal dialogue, shame, guilt, anger, embarrassment, fear, and confusion. I dedicated my life to becoming a doctor to help women specifically from preconception through postpartum, so what kind of example was I? How could women trust me if I wasn't able to have an ideal labor and delivery myself? This was heavy stuff. However, time heals all wounds and things got easier each day. I was able to (very slowly) begin the long and sometimes difficult process of healing. I moved through the stages of grief, sometimes taking one step forward and two steps back. Over time, I was able to see that my story was actually rather important in helping guide women through the transition from maiden to mother. That my story, just like those who had unmedicated vaginal deliveries, was rich in lessons and values. This was honest motherhood. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I learned to lean into my triggers--I no longer fought them. I no longer wondered how much longer it would be until I didn't feel such incredible grief; instead I just accepted the fact that I was still experiencing negative emotions, and that it was okay. It felt more empowering to accept the pain, anger, and shame I still felt instead of accepting the birth experience I had. Simply put, I held space for myself, and this space allowed me to grow and develop new relationships with my experience.
Social media is at the forefront of normalizing ALL kinds of birth. During the early stages of my healing journey I started to connect with women via instagram that had similar experiences. Women were advocating for birth via cesarean to still be considered birth--not cheating or a less than experience. Our bodies still brought beautiful children into the world and deserved just as much recognition and praise. This is the reality of birth: things do not always go as planned despite the best intentions.
Prior to my birthing experience, I was judgmental. It's hard for me to fully own or admit that, but it is the truth. I thought that having an unmedicated childbirth (particularly at home) was really the only way to go about bringing a child into the world. That babies who were born via forceps, or cesarean, or with mom's using medications such as nitrous oxide or epidurals were short changed. I was understanding of circumstances that altered birth, but I really only identified with birth as this unmedicated, zero intervention, peaceful process. I was naive and hadn't walked the path myself so I wasn't able to truly understand. It was through my own birthing journey that all judgment towards others fell to the wayside. I was able to fully understand why and how birthing journeys came to fruition in different ways. That my son was not less than my friend's child who was born at home via unassisted childbirth. That it didn't mean I loved my son less or that I didn't fight just as hard as her. We were equal although our stories were different: we carried our children in our womb, and through our bodies they entered the world.
Throughout my recovery from the birth of my son, there are two things that are essential to keeping me moving forward: time, and homeopathy. Having the correct homeopathic prescription allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. During times that were particularly challenging, things were less painful. It eased my suffering and allowed me to be more resilient when exposed to triggers. The trauma is not gone, but my body's innate ability to heal is supported through a remedy that works with my mind and body at it's own pace and does not suppress my symptoms. It is allowing a total and complete restoration of my mind and body in the gentlest way possible. Thankfully, this is both a gift and solution that I have been able to share with my patients as well.
I feel comfortable accepting that I am still not over it, and that I don't know if and when I'll ever be. I was not blessed with being able to choose the time, the arena, or the manner of the birth of my son, but the universe balanced this by blessing me with other gifts. I have walked a road that took me through the shadows of birth, but I still found my way back home to the light.