It happens every time a friend asks me if I want to have any more kids. My heart races a little, my palms sweat just a bit, and I have to quickly shake my head. “No,” I tell them. “I think I’m probably done.” Some folks don’t understand because I’m still in my early thirties and only have one child. I'm rather used to their concerned and somewhat surprised reactions, though, as this is just one of the many struggles women who’ve had traumatic births know too well. Honestly, until I hit an age where procreation is no longer possible or at least assumed, it’s one that I will probably continue living with on a pretty frequent basis.
My first birth experience was wholly unexpected. My daughter came early, at just 22 weeks, and as a result only lived a few hours. The entire process, from the minute my labor started to her death, left me permanently scarred and I still struggle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. Add to that initial and heartbreaking experience the experience that was the birth of my son, two years later and a home birth turned hospital birth, and you can imagine I’ve become something of an expert in birth trauma and birth-related PTSD. Honestly, I guess I don't really know anything different.
So, when someone tells me they (or a loved one) has undergone a traumatic birth, I’m always ready to listen and give advice because while we have all had different experiences, there are certain difficulties that go across the board. I know that regardless of our unique situations, there are some struggles only women who have experienced traumatic births understand and, well, knowing you're not alone can make all the difference.
How Hard It Is To Listen To Other People’s Birth Stories
It’s not that I don’t care about other people’s birth experiences. It’s that most of the time, their stories are ones of beautiful labors and deliveries that went off without a hitch. They were in labor 2 or 12 or 20 hours, and then they pushed and then they had a healthy baby. While I’d love to not feel this way, I am often plagued with jealousy because I wish my experiences had been free of trauma. And when they do happen to be traumatic stories, they can sometimes (not always) be triggering. It’s tricky.
Replaying The Traumas Over And Over Again
While this is technically a sign of PTSD, it can also just be part of the actual healing process. Those of us who’ve been there often replay our traumatic births over and over again in our heads, wishing it had gone down differently. Maybe the baby lives, or we don’t endure an injury, or we don’t get bullied, or our baby is in perfect health. In the end, we know we can’t change the past, but that doesn’t mean we don't spend our time wishing we could.
The Constant Fear Of Becoming Pregnant
Over the past couple years, I have spent way too much time worried about the possibility of me being pregnant. Even when I was on the pill I was terrified and took extra precautions to avoid pregnancy. Basically, I want to be sure I never get pregnant again (unless I am absolutely positively without a shadow of the doubt ready and have a stellar OB/GYN team and therapist and I'm extremely close to an incredible hospital), and I’m sure many others can relate.
The Extremely Difficult Decision To Keep A Pregnancy Or Abort
When I got pregnant with my son, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through with it. As a pro-choice person, I weighed my options but in the end, I really wanted to try again. Still, this decision was exponentially more difficult after I’d been through a traumatic birth experience because I knew how complicated birth can get and how pregnancy does not always mean you’ll get a baby in the end.
The Magnified Feelings Of Fear Of Abortion Procedures
Having an abortion after experiencing a traumatic birth (and especially after the birth trauma is related to child loss) is often even more difficult. One can already be triggered by medical procedures, especially gynecological ones, so the stress prior to the abortion can be exponential. That said, I found that while I was terrified of my own abortion post-birth trauma, it was actually much easier and wholly un-traumatic compared to my two births.
The Difficulty Of Finding An OB/GYN That’s Right For You (If You Go For It)
Good doctors are hard to find, especially ones with the bedside manner to carefully treat those of us who’ve experienced birth trauma. Some doctors simply don’t understand or care to understand how painful these traumas have been for us. We’ll often end up having to “interview” several before finding the right fit for us.
Not Always Feeling Comfortable Around Babies
I don’t know if this lasts long for others, but I know (at least at first) that I wasn’t comfortable being around infants after my birth traumas. Perhaps this was due to my loss and my subsequent NICU baby, but seeing healthy babies just upset me to the point that I wanted to cry. Again, this is nothing against the babies or their parents, but rather personal triggers that sometimes occur after trauma.
Feeling Triggered When You're Near Or In A Hospital
One of the reasons I chose to attempt a home birth after losing my daughter was because I thought I would feel more relaxed and safer at home. This might seem counter-intuitive to some, but because I believe my loss was due to pre-term labor, and I was already within “safe” delivery dates, I assumed everything else would go smoothly. Traumatic births can cause many people to feel overwhelmed when they're in a hospital, even when they technically might be safer there.
Being Terrified Of Losing Your Baby Throughout A Subsequent Pregnancy (And Long After)
Every parent’s biggest fear is losing their baby, but no one understands this more than those who have actually lost a baby (or come close). If you’ve had a traumatic birth, there’s a good chance you fall into one of these categories, and one thing we often end up struggling with is the overwhelming fear of losing one of our babies. Even after they’re born, this preoccupation haunts us.
Being Unable To Watch Childbirth Scenes In Movies Or TV
Few things are more triggering than reliving a traumatic birth on screen. Years after my own traumatic births, I still have trouble watching medical shows or scenes of this nature. FYI, if you’re reading this and have been through birth trauma, avoid watching Grey’s Anatomy for a few, um, years.
Worrying Excessively Over Friends’ And Relatives’ Births
Whenever a friend tells me they’re pregnant, I have two thoughts. The first is the usual “Yay! Congratulations!” while the other is irrational (or maybe only slightly rational) fear that they might end up having a terrible experience and/or losing their baby. It’s an awful thing to think, and I tend to keep that second part to myself (unless they ask about my previous traumas and loss), but so far, that second thought is pretty unavoidable.