When I was pregnant, I envisioned the perfect birth. After all, childbirth is supposed to be a beautiful moment I'd cherish forever. But things didn't go according to plan, and labor and delivery took a turn for the terrifying. Thankfully, however, I did learn that there are ways you can help yourself heal after a traumatic birth. While it may not seem like it at first, birth doesn't have to be the pivotal part of your motherhood story. Sometimes, it's simply a moment you endured, survived, and moved on from.
Both of my childbirth experiences have been traumatic, to tell the truth. During my first pregnancy I went into preterm labor at just five months gestation. I had to be rushed to a hospital, where I received nothing but bad news after bad news. Hours later, I gave birth to a baby girl who weighed less than a pound. A few hours later, she passed away. When I finally got pregnant with my son, I thought the second time around would be different. I planned things out, hoping that I had anticipated every possible issue and prepared myself to the best of my ability. Instead, I was rushed to the hospital again, and ended up badly injured as the result of giving birth. Once he was born my son was taken to a NICU 30 minutes away, where he remained for the next two months.
But I am still here, and while I don’t know that it’s possible for anyone to fully heal from so much trauma, I am in a much better place than I was previously. I have researched and reached out, put in the work, and now recognize that there are definite methods to help me on the path towards recovery from birth trauma. Here are some tips on how to get yourself there, too:
Talk About It
It might be difficult at first, or you might want to tell someone every single detail. Either way, an important part of healing from any trauma is recognizing it and discussing it. There’s even some indication it may be even more helpful to discuss your birth trauma with your own mom. If that’s an option, by all means, give her a call and talk it out.
Go Easy On Yourself
Every mom puts entirely way too much pressure on herself, and moms who have experienced birth trauma are no different. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect at every moment of every single day (or ever, really). Allow yourself the space to grieve and process.
One thing about trauma is that it often coincides with guilt. A new mom might feel awful and like she's to blame, as if she somehow brought the trauma onto herself or her baby. She might feel such intense guilt she can barely function.
At the end of the day, though, you simply need to eliminate these insidious thoughts by learning to forgive yourself. You’re a good mom, and the trauma you experienced is not your fault.
Ask For Help
Even if you don't think you need help, trust me when I say you do. Why? Well, because every mom could use a little help. It can be as simple as asking your friend to watch the baby for a few hours while you relax, or hiring someone to come by once a week (or month) to help with the cleaning. Either way, don’t feel like you must do everything on your own.
Find A Good Therapist Or Counselor
I know some folks don’t feel like therapy is right for them, but hear me out. All a therapist (or counselor or psychologist) is at the end of the day is a neutral sounding board. You do most of the work. You talk through things, and they simply guide you along.
EMDR Therapy Might Be Especially Helpful
Aside from standard talk therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has proven to be especially effective for survivors of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And guess what? Birth trauma can indeed result in PTSD. Ask your therapist if they are certified to provide this specific treatment, or if they can point you in the right direction.
Try A Birth Reclaiming Ceremony Or Other Ritual
I had never heard of birth reclaiming ceremonies when I first experienced my trauma, but I can see how helpful and effective they might be for some moms. The basic idea is that you try to recreate your birth experience as you would have liked it to happen. Some people get help putting it together with their doulas or family and friends.
It might not be for everyone, but any kind of ritual to help heal the pain could be helpful.
This might be nearly impossible if you’re fortunate to have your baby with you after your birth trauma, but hear me out. Few things heal the body like getting lots of rest. Your trauma may have yielded some physical ramifications as well, but even if it didn’t, emotional trauma can take a toll on the physical body. Getting lots of rest is generally always important.
Indulge In Self-Care
Self-care is important for all people, and I'd argue it's especially important for all moms. I would also argue that it's essential to the survival of those who have experienced trauma. Whether it’s going to yoga class, taking regular walks, enjoying a monthly massage, luxuriating in a warm tub, going bowling with friends, knitting for an afternoon, or simply finding some time to read, alone, a few times a week... focusing on yourself, and only yourself, is a vital part of healing. Make sure to schedule it into your daily life, whether it's five minutes or five hours.