There is no timeline for healing after birth trauma or grief. Understandably women who are suffering from either or both of them will likely be shocked or upset by that, but it’s the reality. There is no way to predict how long it will take to process trauma or grief. It’s not all bad news though. There are some ways to find breathing space within the intensity, and manage the pain whilst you wait.
Trying to force yourself through the intense feelings won’t help. So many people deny the reality of women who experience traumatic births by not only invalidating but shaming them – “Be glad you got a healthy baby, some women can’t have children” – that it might seem like the only way to cope with your trauma. But pushing it away and trying to force yourself to be happy won’t work, ever. You need to give yourself permission to feel what you feel.
It’s hard to find space, but, to be contradictory, it’s actually easier than it was two decades ago. There are online support groups for birth trauma, and even some professionals who are starting to work with traumatised mothers. Most women will encounter thoughtless comments and a lack of understanding from one or more people in their lives, but there really are some amazing birth trauma support groups on line these days. One of the best things about birth trauma support groups is that you’ll find other women who are prepared to talk to you about their own healing timeline.
It’s important to support yourself yourself as best you can through the intense grief and trauma. One of the most crucial things you can do is to protect your mental and emotional space from people who make flippant or insensitive remarks. Develop a ONE STRIKE policy. Your mother in law says to you “At least you got a healthy baby” and that’s it! You never mention it to her again. Now is not the time to explain to her why she is wrong, and any attempt to do so may leave you even more upset and uncertain.
There are very few women with birth trauma who never encounter a thoughtless remark. So it’s vital that you are extremely gentle with yourself. Don’t criticise the choices you made, or the actions you took. Now is not the time for that. When the trauma subsides it will be plenty soon enough to hash it all out, and decide whether different actions might have led to different results. In the period of intense grief and trauma, the most important thing to do is simply FEEL.
There are no wrong or right feelings.
Let’s repeat that because it’s one of the best things a woman with birth trauma can hear.
THERE ARE NO WRONG OR RIGHT FEELINGS.
Whatever you feel is ok! So give yourself permission to feel it, without criticism. We might be critical of ourselves when we blame others, or when we are angry, but let’s be real here. Blaming someone else, or being angry at them is just a feeling. If you set them on fire, that’s a problem, but simply acknowledging that you’re angry is harmless.
Despite what the modern self-help gurus would have us believe about blame and anger, those feelings – although hard to sit with – play a vital role in healing. And not just blame or anger, there are countless complex and uncomfortable emotions you might feel on the way to healing. Try to name them. Do any of these resonate with you?
You may feel just one of these, you may feel them all. Perhaps there wasn’t anything on the list that described the way you feel. Keep looking until you can identify as many feelings as possible to describe how YOU feel.
The way you feel can change from day to day, hour to hour. That is the nature of both trauma and grief. Be kind to yourself, don’t expect yourself to have a good handle on everything, expect yourself to be human. Have no expectations for your feelings, just let them flow through you.
When we expect ourselves to heal on some kind of a timeline, when we push aside our difficult feelings, when we deny them, we extend the period of intensity. Don’t expect that you will be “over it” simply because some arbitrary period of time has lapsed since the event. You have a lifetime ahead of you with your baby, and in that lifetime, different stages of healing will arise. Complete healing is a fallacy.
What happens to women who live with their birth trauma and grief for a long time, is that they become comfortable with it. So although there is no official timeline of healing, peace does seep back into your soul gradually. Birth trauma never goes away, but it doesn’t need to. You come to feel safe with it. Safe enough to support other women along the same path. Safe enough to contemplate another birth. Safe enough to see that birth trauma and grief, become a part of you that you really aren’t all that uncomfortable with, and eventually you can’t imagine yourself without it.
Don’t let the journey scare you. Think about it like this. We all had a pet we adored when we were children, we’ve all buried a beloved pet. As time has passed, the grief lost its intensity, lost its power to make you cry so easily, but you still remember it well. You can tell your children about it when they face the same situation.
This too, shall find its place within you, and become just another part of who you are. Will you help it find its place, or will you push it away desperately, denying its potential for transformation? To deny the power it has to become a stepping stone to a deeper connection with yourself?
Birth trauma and grief can be terrifying, but you have the power to use them as your own paintbrush.
The first six months of birth trauma are a period of ebb and flow, and often at the six month mark it hits quite ferociously. Then again at the one year mark – first birthdays can be incredibly difficult! – and again at the eighteen month mark. You never know which milestone will knock you over, but here’s one thing you can know. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
All over the world are women who have felt this way. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, it only matters that you get up and keep on walking. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to feel whole again, it only matters that you accept the person that you are today. It doesn’t matter whether you manage to convince other people that your feelings are real, it only matters that you can convince yourself.
Honey K: My birth was so traumatic I became suicidal six months later. I was desperate for help and ended up being hospitalised. I realised I had to get well again to be there for my family. It’s been a decade now, and I’m a certified childbirth educator and doula, helping other women to be empowered at their births.
Lacey K: I felt so alone and terrified in the early days. I told people I was a failure and they all told me I wasn’t because my baby was healthy. That only made things worse. Luckily I stumbled onto a birth trauma support group and started to see that I wasn’t alone, and that a healthy baby wasn’t the only important thing.
Alisha V: I was desperate for someone to tell me how long I would feel “like this” for. Of course no one could tell me, because there’s no official timeline for this stuff. It wasn’t until I let myself actually feel what I felt that it started to let up. It was so hard to admit to half of those feelings, but once I exposed them, I felt lighter almost immediately.
So if you are sitting with grief or trauma as you read this, and wondering how you will ever recover, remember these ten simple things:
- Name your feelings
- Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel
- Protect yourself first – Don’t try convincing other people that your feelings are valid
- ONE STRIKE AND THEY’RE OUT
- Reach out – Find people who “get it”
- Feelings are never wrong or right
- Have no expectations of yourself or your healing journey
- You will change, but you will still be YOU
- Give yourself space, you will find peace again
- Don’t seek a timeline of healing, create your own!
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