Birth trauma is the person who begged not to get an episiotomy but the doctor did it anyway.
Birth trauma is the person who spent months and months planning a beautiful home birth only to have to throw it all away in an instant, because they could not find the baby’s heart beat.
Birth trauma is the person who had the perfect birth they always wanted only to find the baby wasn’t breathing after.
Birth trauma is the couple who had their baby on the way to the hospital – feeling scared and alone.
Birth trauma is the couple that went to the hospital to have their baby only to find that their baby had passed away.
Birth trauma is the parent whose baby spent weeks in the NICU because they had an infection.
Birth trauma is the person whose OBGYN told them they would honor their birth plan only to completely disregard it when the time came.
Birth trauma is the person who had to have an emergency cesarean.
Birth trauma is the person whose midwife told them they could “do whatever they wanted” to the birthing person’s body.
Birth trauma is the parent who had a fever in the delivery room and couldn’t see their baby once it was born.
Birth trauma is the person who was emotionally manipulated into birthing a way that they didn’t want.
Birth trauma is the person who was stitched up postpartum without anesthesia even though they were screaming in pain.
Birth trauma is the person who was physically held down in the delivery room.
Birth trauma is the person whose provider performed interventions with out even asking first.
Birth trauma is the person who was forced to stop pushing to wait for the doctor.
Birth trauma is the person who was pressured with decisions when all their support people stepped out of the room.
Birth trauma is the person who was physically injured from an epidural done wrong.
What is birth trauma?
It’s an experience.
It can not be debated.
Psychologically speaking birth trauma is no different than any other form of trauma. When we talk about trauma we are talking about any perceived or experienced threat to the well-being and life of the individual or those around that individual. In birth trauma it is common for the birthing person to feel helpless, isolated, uncared for, fearful and/or anxious. According to this resource as many as 34% of birthing people will experience birth trauma and up to a third of those people will develop post traumatic stress disorder from that experience.
The societal mindset towards this needs to change if we want to see healing and progress from this way too common occurrence. We need a bigger emphasis on body autonomy in the medical community, more evidenced based practitioners and for providers to be trained in how to help people process traumatic experiences.
Just to be clear- there is no blame here. The person who needs an emergency cesarean most certainly may have experienced birth trauma, however that does not mean the cesarean was bad. We have to move towards teaching providers how to make space for the processing and emotional needs of their patients postpartum without wearing guilt or blame. This frees providers up to process their own experience also without needing to be validated by the experience of another person, and allows them to be supportive in a way that our families really need.
As a society we need to move away from this idea of invalidating someones experience in telling them they should just be grateful they are alive and their baby is alive. If all that mattered was the physical existence of life then we could argue that someone who lived imprisoned or in perpetual abuse had the same quality of life as someone who doesn’t simply because they are physically alive. (Check out my blog post on that here)
We know this is ridiculous because our emotional experience and well being is important to the quality of our life. This is the place from which we should operate to facilitate healing and growth as a whole.
So how can we support people through this experience? By listening. Giving them space to process their experience. We can help by offering open minded tools- recognizing that what works for one person may not work for another. We can support more therapist, social workers and somatic experiencing practitioners who work with birth trauma.
The change happens in putting practices in place that help avoid trauma when it can be and helping to process trauma when it is needed.
What is your story? Have you experienced birth trauma? What does birth trauma mean to you?
I can’t tell you how many times I have been told that the key to a successful marriage is putting your husband above your children. Every time someone has said this to me it strikes my intuition the wrong way. Like I might kinda physically twitch when I hear it.
Heres my logic:
My husband is so important to me! I love being married to him and we wasted no time getting started having kids. I hear what people are saying underneath this advice and that is this; it’s hard to be in a partnership and have small children.
It really is a slow boil though, you are not thrown all of it at once. First, in pregnancy, it may start off that you can’t stay awake to catch up after dinner. Then you have the baby and your conversations are frequently interrupted by hungry/sleepy/dirty baby. Then they start to move and you are in the middle of a sentence when you realize they are about to walk right into the table or about to trip over a shoe they put in the walkway five minutes earlier. Then they start to talk. Then they need to be a part of the conversation and before you know it all your conversations are about Thomas the freaking Tank Engine and My Little Ponies.
All that being said- I get it. It’s hard and you have to be conscious if you are going to make it out together.
What does’t jive with me is the mindset created when you say you need to put your partner above your child.
Let’s think for a second. How capable is your partner of finding someone (besides you) to talk about feelings with? How capable are they of identifying their feelings all on their own and bringing them to you? How capable are they of caring for themselves? (Now I know you may have said “not a lot” to all these questions but thats another post for another day 🙂 ) (Double side note-I am not suggesting that your partner wanting to do all of these things with you is bad- just making a point that they are physically capable of doing so.)
Now let’s think of your child. Who else does that child have to go to with their needs and feelings?? NO ONE. How well can that child articulate its feelings in a concise matter? Not at all. Who are the primary people who are there for these little beings? You and your partner.
So before you run away with overwhelming feeling regarding their needs and how to love everyone- lets think for a minute. We want our partnership to last. Its really hard with kids. Our kids need us entirely.
So how do we fit all these neat facts together?
Well here is what I have decided. Why do we EVEN have to choose one over the other? I mean it’s different people, different kinds of love. SO why all the pressure to choose one or the other? It seems like our culture has this view that love is a limited resource. Like I only have five loves to give so I have to delegate who will get what.
When you think about that for a second you start to realize how messed up that is. I don’t need to take love from anyone to give to another and that is because love is not measured like that. Love is like energy. It is present and it can be shared. You can grow more love all the time.
Why don’t we just get rid of the idea that we have to delegate our love all together and just sit with the facts:
We want to be with our partner.
We love our kids.
They need us.
This shit is hard.
Boom. There you go. Its so much easier when we just let emotions co-exsist! Now let’s talk about some practical things we can do to make it easier and we have almost solved the worlds problems!
Here are there 8 steps to connecting with your partner in a lasting and meaningful way.
1: Self Awareness
The big bad wolf of emotions! This big daddy can take anything you feel and turn it into a productive piece of your being! So what is self awareness?? Basically, its just learning to hear the things you are feeling and identifying what things signal these feelings inside you. That sounds easy, right???? Wrong.
Here’s where the problem with self awareness comes in, most of the time in society, somewhere along the lines we get told to bury that shit deep down inside and never let anyone see it ever. In order to do that, we may have had to numb some parts of ourselves that were to hard to conceal. The thing is that there is no localized anesthesia for our feelings. Once you start the numbing process it can be very hard to control where it spreads.
So, basically, a lot of us are dealing with some pretty intense self awareness issues. The good news is there are things you can do to help!
First, find a good outlet for you to say out loud what you are thinking and feeling. Some ideas might be a journal, a close friend, or a counselor. These are all great ways to access your inner feelings.
Next part? You just let go of any ideal of what you “should” look like and intentionally be with your feelings AS THEY ARE. Feelings and emotions will come at you in different paces and you should not try to control this, just be with what is within you.
There are some great books out there to help you start to ask questions about your needs and feelings, one I really recommend is The Five Love Languages. Ask yourself these questions:
What do you need to feel connected?
What is your love language?
Are there any areas of your relationship that you need to talk about?
What makes you feel sad or mad?
What are your fears?
Write these things down and remember it is so important to just be. Trying to control and manipulate our feelings is what leads to unintentional numbing.
2: Identifying Defensive Behavior
Learn what you look like when you are being defensive. There are some very common behaviors that are signs of defensiveness, understanding these is key to understanding each other.
The goal behind knowing these things is to set cues for yourself so when you see yourself behaving in certain ways you can stop, say I am being defensive. Then you can address what feeling you are trying to avoid by being defensive.
You can learn more about defensive behaviors here.
3: Practicing Compassionate Listening
L. R. Knost has been quoted saying “When our little people are overwhelmed by big emotions it is our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”
This is a skill though, that once mastered has the potential to heal and grow all relationships in your life. SOOOO what exactly does it mean?
Well you know those moments when you are just minding your business and maybe you make a comment to your partner or you do something and it just strikes them the wrong way? Maybe you were already fighting and your partner seems to be getting really REALLY upset by the conversation.
Meeting them in their chaos is thinking, “Why are they yelling? I am going to yell back.”
If, however, we can take our partners extreme emotions as a cue to stop, take a step back and be compassionate. We can see and hear what is really going on. They are being triggered. It is not us that they are yelling at however the thing that has triggered them.
We can then do one of two things. One thing we can do is try to approach them with love by saying “I see you are really upset right now. Can we pause this conversation and talk about that?”
This approach is great, but it will not always work. That is because it is sometimes hard to leave the part of your brain that causes these defensive and angry behaviors and come back to the part that allows us to talk consciously about our feelings.
So sometimes the best thing is to say, “I see you are really, upset. I do not want to be yelled at, so we can try talking about this when you have calmed down.” Then walk away, and do not engage in the argument anymore.
When you are able to talk more calmly, please share how their yelling made you feel. It is valid and important. Compassionate listening does not mean that it is okay for someone to hurt you through their words or tone, it means understanding that when your partner is triggered they may not be able to honor your feelings and that returning their upset energy will not help either of you.
*** If you are in a relationship where you are afraid for your safety or where you are being hurt through yelling, abusive comments or physically you need to seek help ASAP. This is not where compassionate listening comes in. In these situations you need to protect yourself and find safety.
Last part to this is listening. Your partner being upset was a distraction from the real issue. So when your partner can join you at your calm, hear what that trigger was and work together to grow away from these types of experiences.
4: Mindful Wording:
There are two things that can take a productive conversation and stop them in their tracks. Extreme or polarizing statements (Eg. You Always, or You never) and a barrage of YOU statements.
Make it a rule, and talk about it. In my relationships we don’t do always or never statements. The minute one slips from our mouths we stop ourselves and re-phrase it.
You may be thinking “they know what I mean” or “thats how I feel” but they don’t, and its not. There may be like one exception to the argument that you really feel that way, but if you stop and really honestly try, I am certain you will be able to come up with one time when your partner did or didn’t do what you are saying.
Additionally these phrases are overwhelming and unproductive. How do you fix something that you ALWAYS do. Instead talk about specific instances or focus on your “I” statements.
“I” statements are HUGE. if you can be mindful and only say things that start with “I” You will see you and your partners ability to be receptive sky rocket. There should never be any discrediting of the way you feel. Its not up for debate because you are the only one who can experience it. However “you” statements are up for debate and unproductive because it usually spurs defensiveness verses reflectiveness.
These things may seem small or insignificant, but just try it. You will see how much they can help.
5: Relational Affirmations
How often do you verbally say out loud the things you DO like about your relationship and your partner? We are usually really good about letting someone know when we don’t like things, but its equally as important to let people know when we do love things.
List five things you like about your partner or your relationship right now, then say them out loud to your partner. Maybe all at once or maybe one here and there, but let them know- it will help a lot.
6: Setting Clear Intentions
Me and my husband have this tradition, sometimes we get bad about it but the idea is that every new moon and full moon we sit down, with our family and set intentions for ourselves and for our family. We usually have a few categories like personal intention, physical intention, job intentions, etc.
This is so awesome because it helps us experience our growth together. I know what ways my husband wants to grow and he knows how I want to grow. Then when we see each other actually growing in those ways we can celebrate it together. We can also, very respectfully help hold each other accountable for our goals.
It also helps us to have a constant idea of what things our partner is valuing and what values we share. Perpetual growth is essential for a healthy couple (healthy individuals as well) and doing it together encourages communication and comradery!
7: Having Fun and Scheduling It Regularly
This is nothing new, but it is HUGE! Go have fun! Go on dates! Spend a night every week with out TV on and no Facebook just really connecting, face to face. Watching shows is a great way to relax and this is not meant to give you guilt for watching TV but you HAVE TO set aside some time when you are really seeing each other, looking at a TV screen does not facilitate this time.
8: The Couple That Meditates Together Stays Together
Lastly but certainly not least, you both need to be meditating. This will facilitate all the things on this list, and encourages mindfulness and self awareness. Learning how to identify the layers of what is going on inside of you will create areas for you to connect upon and help you to really be available for loving your partner.
You can mediate together before you hang out, or just do it on your own. Either way find time to really invest in your mind and heart and your relationship will be so much better for it!
Thats it you guys! Do you have any things you would add to this list??? How do you stay connected?
34% of women these days are reporting their birth expense as “traumatic”(1), 28% are showing some or all of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in regards to their brith experience (2). Despite the growing ideal of “natural childbirth” over the last 10 years our cesarean rate has stayed in and around 30% nation wide.
As a childbirth educator and lactation consultant I see lots of moms just before and just after they experience birth. I know that in my experience there are moms who desperately do not want interventions at birth, that regardless of the precautions they take or the education they get they end up with the very things they did not want. I also know that lots of moms who experience this are told not only by those close to them but by society as a whole that if they should “just be happy for a healthy baby and healthy mom”.
This notion of being grateful for “healthy baby and healthy mom” is not lost, nor is it wrong, it is just used inappropriately and (likely) unknowingly by those around new parents in order to deal with the discomfort of the listener. I don’t think any mom is going to say, I am ungrateful for my healthy baby and being healthy myself. The notion that this statement somehow is the antitheses of the pain and loss mothers may feel is where the problem comes in.
When we practice self awareness and making space for the experience and feelings of others (as is spelled out 5 Steps to Pursuing Self Awareness) we realize that no two sentiments ever cancel each other out.
Birth trauma is used to describe experiences that pose a real or perceived threat to the safety and well being of the mother, father or baby in birth, including the threat of death. It can also be used to describe experiences where the traumatized person perceives a threat to the physical or emotional integrity of the mom, dad or baby. Note that this concept is not determined by outcome but by perception and experience of the traumatized person, so, for example, all that matters is that the risk of death be present, not if the baby or mom died. (This experience is not indicative of birth trauma, though it absolutely would fall under the umbrella of this definition.)
Birth trauma has a wide range of instigators from having medical procedures pushed or forced upon moms, to the loss of mom or baby, to the mourning of plans lost from the ideal birth a parent envisioned.
The presence of birth trauma is never to negate the fact that mom is grateful for the life of her baby or her own life. I have often heard women criticize those who are mourning and feeling the wide range of emotions associated with birth trauma as selfish or silly for caring more about ideals than the health and well being of baby/mom. I can tell you that in my time spent with those mourning the loss of an ideal birth or other traumatic experiences I have never met a mother who does not love their baby or the fact that they are both healthy.
The presence of birth trauma points to the fact that our existence is so much more that purely physical. Our physical life is not more important or more significant than our emotional or spiritual existence. This would imply that someone who lives enslaved or oppressed has the same quality of life as someone who isn’t simply because they are physically alive. I don’t know many people who would debate this fact, but if you deny people the space to feel their emotions to the fullest simply because they are physically healthy and alive you are imposing this idea. SO though a mother and baby who experienced a birth trauma may be physically healthy whats to say that they are emotionally intact? At the end of the day is it really up to ANYONE other than the mom or day them self to decide whether their feelings are important or not?
So lets not devalue your sentiment of how grateful YOU are for a healthy mom and baby by forcing your feelings on someone else! Those feelings belong to you and there is nothing wrong with that, if you want to interact with new parents feelings around their birth-ASK!
It may be helpful to think about why you want to move the conversation to the feelings of gratitude rather than listen to what really is going on in moms mind and heart.
One thing that is pretty common is a general discomfort with emotions that may be deemed as “bad” in our society. This would basically be anything that isn’t happy or anything that brings up feelings of sadness.
Another common reason people will be so quick to shut down the emotional processing of certain emotions in another is because they themselves have similar emotions that were not allowed to be felt, or were shut down by someone else. You yourself may have experienced birth trauma or even another form of trauma in your life, and have never allowed yourself to mourn and feel the feelings that go along with it. So when that person starts to talk about these things you yourself are triggered back to these repressed emotions and in order to shut it back down again and shut down the person you are talking to.
Identifying that this is at the root of your response gives you the ability to now decide if you would like to either work through your own experiences or if you are uncomfortable talking about this traumatic experience and maybe need to distance yourself from this conversations about the trauma at hand.
If the latter is your sentiment then simply say “I hear what you are saying, and I want to honor that. This is triggering some things in me that I am not ready to open up. I can not talk about this at this time.”
Once we have done that, we have set up a safety net to catch ourselves when we are talking to a new mom/dad about their experience. Then you can try one of the following:
Train your brain to ask questions and listen.
Offer to write out a birth story for the family as they tell it to you while nursing/feeding the baby.
LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN. Then offer to call tomorrow to listen some more.
Offer sympathy with their experience, acknowledging that their experience is important.
Remember that what they say is valid, even if it sounds “wrong” compared to your experience/feelings.
Know how you can help and don’t be afraid to ask for specifics if you are unsure.
Watch for signs of PPD and offer love and help if mom needs it. Be delicate and gentle here but don’t be afraid to speak up.
Moms need us to start listening, asking questions and speaking up for their well being. The first step in doing this is identifying any personal prohibitors we may have and addressing them fully. Through our own emotional awareness we make space for others to find themselves. So next time you catch yourself thinking or saying “all that matters is a healthy baby and healthy mom” Stop yourself and instead say “Your experience matters and I am here for you.” You never know how big of a difference that could make in the new families early weeks.
Did you feel free to mourn your birth pain or birth trauma? Have you ever found yourself saying “all that matters is healthy baby and healthy mom”? Why do you think you said this?
I know you may be trapped under your new baby as you read this. Maybe the baby is sleeping, maybe you are holding them while they cry.
Maybe you’re not trapped right now and you are taking a break. Maybe you have someone to help you and hold the baby, maybe not and you are just stepping away while they rest in the crib. Maybe, just maybe, that baby is crying right now but you just couldn’t handle it so you are taking a break.
You are doing AMAZING!
You may be feeling overwhelmed and even a little scared as your world has recently completely flipped upside down. You may have been caught way off guard by this, or you may have known it was coming. You may be overwhelmed by how lonely you feel. It can be so confusing because you have a tiny human that is with you all day everyday, but you still feel lonely.
You may even have support people with you and STILL feel lonely. Or maybe you are going it alone and doing your best to live step by step, breath by breath.
Breathe in. You are doing amazing. Breath out.
You may long for your life before the baby came. The peace, the ability to care for yourself, the time to take a shower or put on your favorite outfit. You may be sitting in your dirty spit up stained pajamas right now not knowing if you will ever get another shower again. You may have never known how large your threshold was for wearing another human’s bodily fluids… but who has time to change anyway!
You are doing amazing.
You may look at your body that once housed your new baby and wonder if it will always look this way. Your body may have injuries or just feel a bit wobbly right now and it may be very hard not to let yourself hate these things, and wish your body would just “bounce back”.
Your body is amazing. YOU are doing amazing!
It’s hard to see right now, but what you are doing right now is so phenomenal that you will some day look back and wonder how you ever made it through. The feat you are facing right now may be whispering lies about how you should be doing better, but the truth is that the fact that you are in this moment, that fact alone, shows your undeniable strength and power.
YOU ARE DOING AMAZING.
Maybe your house is a wreck right now, and you may wish you could keep it cleaner. You may sit trapped under your new baby and count the dust bunnies you can see, or maybe you have learned to tune it all out. You may have dishes piled up but the one moment you get to clean it up you are simply too tired.
Oh the exhaustion. You are probably discovering just how little sleep is possible for a human to function. Take a step back for a second, and marvel in the fact that YOU ARE DOING AMAZING!
You may be crying all the time these days. You may feel silly even as you cry over the fact that Target can’t overnight ship you the super jumbo maxi pads you want, you may wonder where these new fits of emotions have come from. Maybe you know that its the hormones, but unfortunately in this instance knowing does’t make you cry any less.
You may have yelled at your partner or helper last night over the fact that they sneezed too loud and woke the baby. You may have lost your mind when someone came over and ignored your pleas not to ring the door bell causing the dog to bark.
You are doing amazing.
Maybe you desperately want for someone else to hold the baby, maybe you desperately want for them to leave you to hold the baby. Maybe all you want is just someone to talk to you, help you straighten up a bit, maybe fold some laundry.
You may be getting unsolicited advice from well meaning friends and family. Maybe this is overwhelming… or maybe you need this kind of support. It may be hard for you right now because you don’t have people telling you how amazing you are and how truly wonderful your mommy intuition really is, but YOU ARE DOING AMAZING.
Maybe breastfeeding isn’t going as planned. You may have cut nipples, and the pain is enough to make you want to just throw in the towel. Maybe you have to, maybe you have support and help to guide you out of the pain. Maybe your baby wasn’t gaining weight like they hoped and so you had to turn to formula out of desperation. Maybe your body had a hard time, maybe you have felt lost, lonely, disappointed.
I promise you, no matter how it feels, you are doing amazing.
You and your baby have so much to learn, these times are so incredibly trying. It’s very easy to believe that everyone else had there lives together during this time, but I promise you, they didn’t and that’s 100% okay. This time is supposed to be unwound. It’s designed to feel new and scary. It is new and sometimes scary. You are adapting to a new life. Celebrate you and all your courageousness for taking this journey. Celebrate how hard you are all working to find your new normal.
Make space to mourn the way things used to be, those parts are very valid. Don’t, however, compare your new life to your old. This is where we start to wonder why on earth we just can’t seem to get it together.
Your old life was then and your new life is now. You have been born as a mother, just as your baby has to navigate this new life outside the womb, so do you. Together you will figure it out. Together.
The new normal will come, and one day you will look back on these days and realize just how truly amazing you where. You will look back and thank yourself for all the hard work building this new foundation so that you could learn to be a family of 3 (or 4, or 5, or 6……).
YOU ARE DOING AMAZING!
Side note*** there are some very real and very common postpartum conditions that may inhibit your ability to feel love or joy right now. These things are postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis. They are more common than you would think and its important to recognize when you or your partner may need help. Please go here to look at a list of signs/symptoms and tools for help please click here.