Motherhood is a massive transformation...physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s an entirely new identity, and it’s a challenging time of change under the best of circumstances.
But what happens when your journey into motherhood wasn’t the best of circumstances?
What happens when your birth wasn’t what you expected?
After a birth journey that didn’t go to plan, it’s completely understandable for you to feel disappointed, frustrated, angry, or even guilty...and it does NOT make you a bad mama!
When you’re ready - here are 6 steps you can take to process your birth experience and make peace with your story:
Identify Your Feelings
Be honest with yourself - what are you really feeling? This is imperative to healing...recognizing whatever emotions you have and allowing them to exist without judgment. Take the time to grieve what you lost.
By the way, it is totally annoying and frankly pretty offensive when people say "you should be grateful you have a healthy baby” or “at least your baby is ok” -- yes, AND...it’s 100% legitimate for you to feel upset / betrayed / angry / etc that you didn’t have the birth you wanted. Please just know that pretending to be ok is not ok, and will only lead to an explosion of emotions in the future. Let yourself feel the feelings now, mama...and don’t let anyone negate or dismiss them.
Share Your Story (Selectively)
Share your birth experience with someone you love and trust, and ask that they don’t interrupt with questions or critique. This is your time to process and share your story. If you don’t think you have a person who you can comfortably open up to and expect the necessary degree of empathy, speaking to a postpartum doula or a therapist who specializes in birth trauma therapy can be hugely valuable.
If you’re not ready to share your thoughts out loud at all, you can write your story down and note the feeling you felt with each specific moment. Again, try to avoid judging your emotions or your truth...it’s yours, mama, and because of that, it’s beautiful and valid even in the painful parts. If you’re not sure how to begin, the book Writing to Heal is very helpful.
Drop the Blame
We mamas often blame ourselves when things (especially birth) don’t go as planned. There are societal and peer pressures about what a "good" birth looks like, and these expectations often lead us to internalize the responsibility for the outcome. Birth is very tied up in society’s image of a woman’s worth, and that sadly means lots of strong opinions about the “right” way to have a baby. But let’s be crystal clear:
You. Did. Not. Fail. At. Giving. Birth.
No matter what happened, you did the best you could do in a new circumstance with the knowledge you had at the time. You could say “what if” forever...or you could show yourself grace, because you deserve it.
Find The Joy
Important distinction: this is not an “at least” exercise. After you’ve allowed the full spectrum of emotion to exist, after you’ve shared or journaled your birth story, after you’ve stopped playing the blame game...can you identify 1 or 2 things that you absolutely crushed? Nothing is too small; just focus on a couple moments where you are effing PROUD of yourself.
Take Care of Yourself
We can’t stress enough the importance of caring for yourself during the 4th trimester...physically, of course, but also caring for your soul and your emotions. A few tips:
- Filter who comes into your home; critics are not welcome. This is your time to recover mentally and physically...anyone who is interfering with that is persona non grata.
- If someone (hopefully inadvertently) says an unsupportive comment, have a few phrases in your pocket - here are a few I like to use:
- “It didn’t go as I had hoped and I’m still processing how I’m feeling about it - I’d rather not talk about it, thank you”
- “I am feeling tender about the whole thing and would rather talk about something else”
- “I’m still processing - when I’m ready I will reach out”
- “It’s been a little rough and I am staying present to what I do now for myself and my baby, thank you”
Reach Out For Help
Bottom line? You need support. It makes all the difference. If you’re not getting the support you need and don’t know how to communicate what you need, please please reach out for help. This might look like:
- Hiring a postpartum doula
- Hiring a mental health professional, ideally skilled in birth trauma therapy (check out Postpartum Support International to find a provider in your area)
- Finding a local support group
- Involving your partner in therapy conversations
- Conversations with your care provider
- Reading / educating yourself on trauma healing; we highly recommend Heal Your Birth Story