Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Signs of a Traumatic Birth


After W's birth I felt embarrassed.

Surely every mother thinks her labor and delivery was the most painful and dramatic birth ever?

People make pain a competition, and I didn't want to be guilty of that. "Oh yeah, you think you had it bad, but here's what happened to me...." A sort of "I had to walk five miles uphill in the snow barefoot," adapted to the delivery room.

Was my experience really that bad? I got my highly coveted VBAC. I was able to follow most of my birth plan to a tee- did I just have rose colored glasses on when I wrote it?  Of course the actual experience of giving birth is much more intense than you could ever imagine before doing it...so was my remaining angst the result of a novice's unrealistic ideals?

So many questions, and so much embarrassment and confusion. Sixteen months later, the thought of enduring another labor still sends me into panic mode. While I'm {finally} physically recovered, emotionally I still feel scarred.

This isn't easy for me to admit. I wince at the thought of being called melodramatic. While I like to tell a good story with theatrical enthusiasm, when something really, really hurts me, I tend to keep it to myself. A punch in the arm accompanied by advice to "suck it up buttercup" is the last thing I'm looking for.

I've talked with many other mother's about their birth experiences both before and after W's arrival. There is such companionship and commiseration when relating one's birth stories. Who doesn't love to hear one, to share their own, to nod "mmmhmmm honey, totally feel your pain," and to finally experience the delightful realization that you are not alone?!? You are a part of this wonderful club of women who have birthed another human being. Miraculous. Truly, breathtakingly incredible.

All of this talking has shed some light on the issue for me.

Is there such a thing as a traumatic birth? Am I just a big drama queen or a wimp? Why do I feel so disillusioned and hurt by my experience?

Survey says that yes, traumatic birth is a real thing. You might have experienced a traumatic birth if...

1. You can't forget the pain. So many times women have told me that shortly after delivery, they forgot the pain. For some women that happens within minutes or hours, for others it might take a couple of days or weeks. In my case, I still can't shake it, and shudder when I think about it. While I really want to have more children, the thought of another delivery is terrifying to me.

2. It takes a long time to recover physically. Six weeks is what the doctor will tell you, and I know women who've felt 100% down below as early as 3-4 weeks. For me it took seven months, and other women I know have taken nine months or more to heal completely. Not for the faint of heart.

3. You felt unsupported by labor staff. My husband could not have been more amazing in the assistance he provided during our son's birth. He was quiet, attentive, and tuned into my every need.
The hospital staff was another story. Yes, they were nice, and very efficient in their work. I just felt like I was being pushed through their system- like a cow on an assembly line to be slaughtered {ok, perhaps that was a tad melodramatic}. I know they don't have time to pamper every patient, and I didn't expect that. But a little bit of genuine empathy and encouragement would have made a big difference to me.

4. Slow bonding with baby, and no incredible after-birth rush. That amazing feeling of ecstasy and overwhelming love for your newborn that I'd read about in all of my natural labor books? Ha. Nope. No rush of endorphins for this girl. Just stunned disbelief. Had all of that really just happened? Was that really my baby?

While I unquestioningly love my son, more and more with each passing day, I almost feel guilty in admitting that I didn't feel any immediate strong attachment to him. I nursed as soon as possible {and frequently!}, but I was just running on auto-pilot, doing what I knew I was supposed to do.

I've really struggled with disappointment over this.

So where to go from here? 

As previously stated, I know that I still want to have more children. Hopefully a few more. Now I'm wrestling with how to work through my past pain and future anxieties. I don't think I have a perfect solution, but here's where I'm at:

Pray through it. Scripture is crystal clear about how we are to handle our anxieties- with much prayer and supplication. To be an obedient Christian, I need to continually bring my cares to the Lord. While birth is one small event in the grand scheme of things, and I know that I am blessed and my problems pale in comparison to the rest of the world's dilemmas, this still feels like a real trial to me. Instead of stewing over my fears, I want to cast them on Jesus. I am praying that whenever the next baby comes {God willing, in His timing}, He will prepare me for that moment with heaps of grace and healing and peace.

Do what it takes to cope. While I am a big believer in the benefits and beauty of natural birth, I live in a community that seriously limits my options. As a high risk mom, I'm stuck with a hospital that doesn't promote or adequately support natural birth. This is really frustrating to me, but I am trying to remember that even this is all within the realm of God's sovereign will for me.

While not my ideal, I am seriously considering an epidural next time around. I believe that given my limited options for position and other comfort measures, and after the trauma of W's birth, an epidural might give me the best possible experience in welcoming another baby.

I'm still open to attempting a second natural birth, and if water birth becomes an option due to hospital policy changes or relocation, that would be my preference. I have to keep reminding myself that this doesn't make me a failure. The most important thing is not how we give birth. I'd rather be able to enjoy and soak in those precious first moments after delivery with as much peace and joy as possible.

How would you describe your birth experience{s}? Any advice for working through birth trauma?

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