Becoming pregnant again should ideally be a joyous occasion, but trauma from a past birth experience can stir up conflicting emotions. It can be challenging and frightening to even think about and prepare for another birth experience, when trauma looms. I know it was for me. I had a traumatic birth experience with my first, and it took me some time to be able to even acknowledge my fears and be able to work through them.
There are many ways one might be traumatized during birth, such as:
-Things changed suddenly and you felt voiceless, and out of control -You planned for a completely natural birth, but complications arose and you felt unprepared and lost -Your needs were dismissed and ignored -You were coerced to consent to procedures -You suffered obstetric violence -You experienced pain to the point of suffering -You were afraid that you or your baby might die -Your baby needed support in the NICU -You had physical trauma/birth related injury with a difficult healing process or that you are still living with. -You suffered loss
I surely haven’t exhausted the possibilities of birth traumas. Every birth has so many variables–there are an infinite number of ways each can unfold. I also acknowledge that trauma is experienced at different levels, and some is much more severe than others. I am grateful to have learned much through my trauma processing and to have something meaningful to share from it, yet it may be inadequate for very severe trauma, like loss.
Whatever the level of trauma you may have experienced, it may take some time before you even feel comfortable to begin the healing process. Ideally, you do this before you become pregnant again. In my case, I found myself caught off guard by the fear that arose when we conceived our 2nd. For me, the trauma of my unmedicated birth, taking a sharp turn into an emergency c-section after pushing to no avail for 6 hours, was buried beneath the joy of having my son with me. Years went by, and the most trauma I felt was a dissociation reaction with my scar. I did not acknowledge that aspects of the birth had been traumatic until becoming pregnant again stirred those buried feelings to the surface. Suddenly, there was an urgent need to work through my trauma and I found that the first step toward healing is simply acknowledging that the trauma is there.
This happened quite abruptly as those feelings were stirred up as soon as birth was in the immediate future. I was forced to acknowledge it, but it would have been better if I had done so of my own volition, earlier. Either way, after you take this first step, have grace with yourself about when you are ready to take the next. It was a good while after I acknowledged my trauma before I was ready to address it head on.
There can be many layers to trauma. An unplanned C-section is not traumatic for everyone. I have seen them go either way. Oftentimes the difference lies in how it was handled–were the people entrusted to your care communicative and kind? Did you feel seen and heard? This is one layer to consider in preparing for your next birth-the environmental layer.
What environmental factors may have directly impacted my traumatic experience?
Environmental factors include the people present at your birth: your care provider, nurses, hospital staff, and doulas. It also includes the birthing environment: the hospital, birth center, home…
When you are ready to address these areas, you may find that you didn’t feel safe and/or supported with your past team or at your past birthing location. If that was the case, perhaps you can do something to change your environment next time. Then we move on to the next question.
What internal factors may have contributed to your trauma?
Preparing for birth is deep work. To be blunt, it is not enough to follow the doctor’s orders. Birth challenges us, stretches us to our absolute limit, as a transformative rite of passage does. Some people may experience trauma because they were unprepared. They may have thought, well I’m going to get an epidural, so I don’t need to take any birth classes. They may have actually been too afraid of birth to prepare for it, and were in denial of the inevitable, which is a particularly rough place to be. Still others may experience trauma because they came to hold a very rigid view of how birth would be, and it ended up very different.
Considering how these two factors impacted your trauma is so helpful for finding a way forward, so that you can release the fear of the same thing happening again.
"The same thing happening again" was a very real fear for me, and I think for many people. When I acknowledged that I had felt at times unsafe and unsupported in my hospital setting, I had the information I needed to work to relieve that fear. Even though I did end up returning to that location, I hired a doula to help advocate for me. I immediately felt safer. I was also very afraid that the same labor complication would return, (the unbearable urge to push before I was fully dilated). I talked through this with my doula and with another mother who had had a similar birth story and they both helped me realize that every birth is different, and that there were things we could try that I had not known at the time. One of those things was to be open to using medication if it just meant getting over that hurdle. I had had a pretty rigid, albeit, positive mindset when I went into my first birth experience. An epidural was absolutely not on the table in my mind. With my 2nd birth, I was able to add some flexibility into my mindset, while still prioritizing a natural birth.
I’m glad I had roughly 9 months to work through all this, because it did take a long time. There was also a spiritual element to my inner work, that I won’t get into at this time, but that may be an element for you as well. Having grace and patience with yourself is so key. At times you may need to process in solitude, and other times, with a trusted friend, partner, therapist, doula etc. However you go about it, it is brave, noble work that will most certainly have a positive affect on you and your next birth.