Birth trauma or birth grief can occur after any birth that hasn’t gone as the mother planned. Some birth is stolen by iatrogenic hospital interventions. Some when nature goes awry and unplanned interventions become necessary. The bottom line is that a woman feels that she lost the birth she dreamed of. The way she met her baby wasn’t how she hoped, and she finds herself traumatised, grieving, or both.
Women grieve stolen birth experiences very deeply, but their grief often remains private because modern birth culture maintains that a healthy baby is the one and only goal. The roots of “the healthy baby lie” are found in the reality of birth. The outcome is unpredictable and one potential outcome is, quite undeniably, death. But to women, birth means a great deal more than being alive afterwards. Birth is the introduction to their baby, it matters a great deal.
Mothers spend many months imagining that first meeting with their baby, sometimes many years. They long to fall in love like never before, when they set eyes on them. The reality is, sometimes things go off course – women are not so stupid that they can’t grasp that – but when they reach out to tell their stories they are often told one of two things; that they should focus on their healthy baby; and that they had unrealistic expectations of birth. But it is not unrealistic to expect that you will feel joyful after giving birth.
Birth grief and trauma remain a taboo subject. Secrets held in the hearts of women who feel inadequate, alone and broken. Often when a baby is born under traumatic circumstances their mother feels at a loss to understand why she can’t just focus on her healthy baby. Somehow, even when her mind can not identify what is wrong, her body knows.
Cellular memory fills her mind and body with feelings often too hard to identify, too deep, too primal. It tells her that the birthing journey is incomplete. She did not welcome her baby in her own loving arms. But society denies her reality. She ends up forcing herself to ignore the feelings, often being critical of herself and her mothering.
To our modern birth culture, the emergence of a baby is birth, but to a whole woman – her mind, body and soul – birth is far more. It is the rite of passage into motherhood, it is the meeting place of mother and child, it is the end of a private and sacred journey and the beginning of one they will share with the whole world. Whether that occurs under ecstatic circumstances or terrifying ones can have lifelong implications for women, not just babies.
Women do not grieve for birth because their expectations are too high, nor do women begrudge their healthy babies because they grieve for birth. How a woman feels about her birth is entirely unrelated to how she feels about her baby but it may not be unrelated to how she mothers in the early days.
A good birth is more likely to lead to a good breastfeeding relationship. It’s less likely to end in PND. A good birth is more likely to result in the release of the hormone oxytocin. When birth is stolen the initial “rush of love” that some women speak of never comes. Women feel tremendous guilt for that. But the truth is that the rush of love is a rush of oxytocin. It is only released under the right conditions.
It is the rush of love that women want from a good birth experience. They want to feel the way they have never felt before. They want happiness to fill their souls and lifelong memories to be created in that instant. Yet all too often they aren’t. All too often the first meeting is beset by a drug haze, unnecessary pain, suffering, and misery. Many women don’t even remember meeting their babies. Sadly, there is often a great lack of empathy from those that surround her as well.
When we tell traumatised women to ignore the pain of birth trauma. That they are being selfish, that their expectations were unrealistic. That their baby is healthy so “just forget about it” we demonstrate a clear lack of understanding, teetering precariously on the edge cruelty. Women don’t want good births for any reason other than that they want to meet their babies with unadulterated joy. All mothers want to tell their child how overwhelmed with love they were when they first met one another. They want to feel strong and competent as they embark on motherhood. That’s not unrealistic. it’s the finest demonstration of selfless love there is. To suggest otherwise is the height of ignorance.
FOR FURTHER READING
For The Love Of Birth! Think Of The Hormones