How do you stand by a friend going through a difficult time? What steps can you take to ease their struggles? We all ask these questions when a friend loses a job or goes through a breakup, but there are other events that people need to be supported through, too, like a traumatic birth. Birth trauma isn't something openly discussed on a regular basis, but it happens. When it happens to our loved ones, it’s up to us to be help them through it. So what are some things to say to someone who experienced birth trauma?
How you choose your words matters significantly, especially when it comes to birth trauma. If, for example, the mom in question is non-religious, you might want to avoid using religious connotations as a source of comfort, as they won't actually provide the type of support the mom really needs. If you’ve never experienced a traumatic birth yourself, you’ll want to avoid comparing her trauma to a trauma you’ve experienced that is completely unrelated. That sort of comparison honestly helps no one. If you’re not too close to the person, you might want to keep your condolences short, sweet, and far from personal.
As someone who’s been through this sort of trauma, I know I wouldn’t have wanted strangers asking me questions about my experience, but I did welcome friends who made an effort to check in on me. I also realized that, because birth trauma is rarely discussed, very few people know how to support a mom through it. So, if you are looking to help a new mom in your life, here are just a few acceptable things you can say:
“I’m So Sorry This Happened To You”
Just like when someone has lost a loved one, you’ll want to begin by offering your sincere sympathies. This is the sort of statement that is welcome from anyone, whether they're a close friend or not. It honestly doesn’t take much effort, other than simply saying you’re sorry.
“How Are You Feeling?”
As you might imagine, birth trauma can leave you all sorts of shaken up, both physically and emotionally. I’ve spent years battling the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that resulted from my two traumatic birth experiences. It’s helpful when someone asks me how I’m feeling today, and every day, honestly.
“How Are You Doing?”
I experienced some pretty unpleasant tearing after my second traumatic birth, and it took a long time before I felt physically OK. If you know the mom well enough, and she has physical pain, it’s nice when folks acknowledge it and ask about your healing process.
“How Are You Handling Motherhood?”
First off, not all traumatic births end in the ability to parent a live baby. I know, I lost my first baby after my first traumatic birth. However, if you know that the mom in question is now parenting her child, you can certainly ask how she’s doing as a new mom. Most new moms will welcome being asked this particular question, because they often need someone, and especially an outsider, to vent to or even gush to about all their new experiences (both the good and the bad).
“Would You Like To Talk About It?”
Sometimes moms want to discuss their trauma, but they feel like no one wants to listen or that it’s strange, or uncomfortable, to talk about. Open the floor for them to be able to discuss their trauma if they want to.
“You Don’t Have To Talk About It If You Don't Want To”
You never want to press someone who’s been through something traumatic (birth related or not) to discuss what happened. Even if you’re curious, you must always wait for the person to choose to share or not.
“Can I Get Or Do Anything For You?”
You’re always welcome to drop by (preferably announced) to a new mom’s home to leave a care package. However, if you want to get more specific you can ask the new mom directly if you can bring something by or do something for her. Maybe she just wants you to bring a bag full of fast food, or maybe she forgot to drop off an overdue library book and could use the help. Whatever it is, just be sure you’re able to commit to helping if you volunteer.
“What You Went Through Is Incredibly Difficult, Painful, And Scary”
Those who experience trauma often need to feel validated in their pain. There are times folks will tell a person that’s been through trauma that they’re making a big deal of things, that they need to get over the event, or that they should just toughen up. None of that is helpful. What is helpful, however, is recognizing just how much pain and heartache and trauma hey have been through.
“It’s OK If You’re Still Recovering”
No matter what difficult times you’ve been or are going through, there will always be someone telling you that you’re lingering on it for too long, as if pain has some sort of expiration date. It doesn't.
Not only should you validate their experience, you should also remind them that it’s completely OK to take all the time they need to heal. In fact, you can even remind them that healing isn't a linear process, with a beginning and an end. Instead, it's usually ongoing and circular in nature. One day they may be perfectly OK, and the next they may be struggling.
“Have You Considered Talking To A Therapist?”
Seeking out mental health help can be crucial to healing from a traumatic birth. Loved ones can listen, but they might not always be able to help you develop proper coping mechanisms. If your friend is interested in seeking help, but is unsure of how to go about it, you can always volunteer to help find them a mental health professional that takes their insurance and/or isn't too expensive.
“I Love You And I’m Here For You”
More than anything, folks who have experienced trauma simply need to know that you’ll be there for them. Trauma can feel extremely isolating. Your friend likely feels pretty alone in their struggle, but they will appreciate if you make an effort to let them know how loved they are.