After Pains: Birth as a Crucible

                                                       Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

                                                     Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You prepare painstakingly - religiously fervent, almost - for your birth. You read, you study, you attend classes, you watch videos, you talk, you research, you listen, you question.

You form firm core beliefs about pregnancy, labor, birth, femininity and motherhood.

You have surrounded yourself with people you think will support you on your big day. You have conquered your fear and are prepared to have the best birth you can. You are ready to get your birth "right", whatever unpredictable course it takes, because getting your birth right simply means doing all you can to achieve the best birth possible. don't achieve your best possible birth. You are left with the feeling that you and those around you didn't do all you could to attain your goals. You have failed at getting it right -

not because of your outcome, but because of how you got to that outcome.

Your hopes and dreams are shattered and you grieve your terrible loss. All that effort, that preparation, that hope, all that feel like it was completely wasted. You are left with so many unanswered questions. Why and how, why and how, why and how - you can't stop wondering. 

So you search for peace, for answers as to why this happened to you. How could a seemingly normal birth go so far off track from what you wanted? Was baby's head tilted just a fraction wrong, complicating progress and intensifying labor pain? Were you maybe just a little dehydrated and unable to give it that little extra effort that you needed? Was baby's head and your pelvis just not a perfect fit?

The worst part is that you can't find out. You rifle through your medical records, spending hours looking up definitions to decipher them. Nothing. You research everything you can on the internet, searching for the answer somewhere. 

You talk. You tell anyone who will listen your birth story in the hope that if you just say it enough times and get enough comfort that you will be able to come to terms with it. But each time you tell it you just find yourself getting sadder and angrier. So you stop trying to tell it over and over. You try to put it out of your mind.

You blame everyone involved - your nurse, doula, midwife, doctor...but it doesn't matter. Not one of them remembers your birth. You're the one left with the pain. You're the one left with the unanswered questions.

And all the time you wonder why. Why are you so upset? You have a healthy baby. You are safe. Your body has healed from the beating you called birth. It was fairly normal. No crazy complications. No coerced procedures. No emergency C-section or anything quite so dramatic. Just a normal birth gone a little off on an unexpected track. You feel traumatized, but how can you call it traumatic? It is nothing compared to some of the scarring birth stories you've heard. You can't even acknowledge and validate your pain. 

You hope time will heal you. You think the pain will fade, but it continues to haunt and hurt you. Sometimes you dream about it. Sometimes you still cry about it. You can't stop trying to make sense of it. It hurts you to see radiant new mothers and hear their successful birth stories. Why couldn't that have been you? Your heart longs for a do-over, a second chance, while at the same time utterly panicking at the thought. 

You don't know if you will ever come to peace with it. You don't know if you can ever stop wondering. You don't know if you will ever stop grieving. It still hurts. It hurts so much. Why? What if? Should have…

You thought birth was going to be beautiful. You thought you would come out of it empowered and strong. Instead, you have come out defeated. Scarred. Depressed. 

But you take hold of your pain. It’s ok to feel hurt. It’s ok to feel angry - for weeks, months, years. You acknowledge that you had a horrible, painful experience. You let yourself feel hurt. You stop feeling guilty for not being able to “get over” your loss. You accept that your pain is real...and valid. 

You may not be able to control your pain but you can channel it. After a while you use it to help you heal. You let it drive you to prepare for a better birth next time around. It motivates you to try to help other women avoid what you have gone through.

And slowly, you accept it. You learn to live with it. You learn from it. You know that it will always hurt. You know you will always wonder and wish. But if you can live through a struggle like this, you can face anything. You may not have gotten your birth “right”, but you are empowered. And birth is all about empowerment.

For more resources on coping with traumatic birth and issues that often come with it (depression and anxiety), read 

Traumatic Childbirth
By Cheryl Tatano Beck, Jeanne Watson Driscoll, Sue Watson