Grief And Guilt {The Birth Trauma Experience}

by Birth Without Fear on November 22, 2013

Trauma after the birth of a baby is a ‘special’ kind of trauma.

It’s a bittersweet kind of trauma. It’s a silent kind of trauma. It’s an invisible kind of trauma.

And if your baby is healthy, it is usually considered an unjustified kind of trauma.

I suffered from birth trauma. It was agonising, painful, and heartbreaking. I was alone, and misunderstood. It began the first night, a few short hours after the birth of my first daughter, from the moment my partner went home for the night. I was alone in the dark in my single room with this tiny little newborn. I held this chubby baby girl in my arms, and felt nothing but sadness at the experience we had gone through together to bring her into this world. I’d feel a stab of shame every now and then, and scold myself for being so ungrateful – my baby was here, wriggling in my arms, and I had the nerve to even consider mourning the experience that brought her to me. I would quickly go back to the sadness, mourning the loss of a dream – a beautiful and empowering birth experience. That night was the beginning of a four year battle with birth trauma.

My grief was deep, and some days I felt I was drowning in it. I floundered, being hit by waves of sadness, disappointment, and anger. I replayed the labour over and over in my head. I beat myself up with ‘what if’ and ‘if only’. I felt responsible; I blamed myself. I felt cheated, let down; I blamed my partner, I blamed the midwife, I blamed everyone. I tried to pinpoint where it went ‘wrong’, where I  went wrong. News about new babies had me sobbing, even watching birth scenes in movies was painful. A phone call from my sister, hours after the birth of her son, left me feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, and I hid behind shelves in the department store I was in and I just cried and cried. I bitterly wished for every woman to have a horrifying experience, and I felt an unimaginable hurt when I saw women emerging from birth empowered and ecstatic. It wasn’t that I wanted every woman to experience the pain of birth trauma, but I just wanted to them to know my pain.

 

I suffered terrible postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, even though my trauma largely went unacknowledged. Where it was acknowledged, it was usually deemed unwarranted. My experienced was pushed away and minimised by well-meaning but hurtful comments from others…

 “Years ago, you both would have died. Thank goodness for modern medicine.”

“It’s just one day in your life.”

“You were probably never going to give birth naturally anyway.”

“It’s probably because of your birth plan. You can’t control birth, you know. If you didn’t have such high expectations, you wouldn’t be so disappointed.”

“At least you are both alive and healthy, that’s what really matters.”

The comments were so hurtful. I felt like very few people understood. What about me? I would think. How can you say I am healthy? I feel like I am falling apart. Does my mental health not matter? I should have been overwhelmed with love for this tiny little bundle of joy, but instead I would hold her, look at her, and wish that I felt something. I was numb.

Sometimes I retold my birth story. I rarely came across anyone who had a story like mine, and people would cringe and exclaim “oh my goodness that’s terrible”, and then tell me their story. Sometimes they would have their own war story to tell, and I would listen and we would joke about never doing that again… But that wasn’t what I wanted.

I craved validation. I craved acknowledgement. I just wanted to tell someone my story, have them hold me as I cry, and look me in the eye and say: “I’m so sorry. You were cheated. You deserved better. You should have been able to birth the way you wanted. Your pain is justified. You have every right to grieve, without guilt.”

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Maybe your birth trauma hit you straight away, or maybe it slowly grew, beginning as a nagging feeling you didn’t quite understand and growing into a deeper pain. Maybe your plan for birth went way off course, or maybe you didn’t have a birth plan but you wished that you had. Maybe you sometimes think that you weren’t informed about your choices, or maybe you think your pain could have been eased if you knew, and expected, less.

Maybe you had a caesarean. Maybe you had an instrumental vaginal birth. Maybe you had an unmedicated birth. Maybe you birthed in a hospital. Maybe you didn’t make it to hospital. Maybe you birthed in a birth centre. Maybe you had a planned homebirth. Maybe you asked for pain medication, and didn’t get any. Maybe you asked for support in a drug-free birth but was pressured into using medication. Maybe you had an unexpectedly fast labour, or an unexpectedly slow labour. Maybe you refused a procedure, but it happened anyway. Maybe you wanted a certain procedure, but no one listened…

Or maybe, none of this happened. Maybe it’s not about how you birthed. Maybe you birthed exactly as planned – but your trauma relates to how the nurse spoke to you or looked at you or ignored you…

Maybe you feel unsupported, alone, unjustified, silly, or even selfish. Maybe you’re sad. Disappointed. Angry. Hurt. Jealous. Afraid. Ashamed. Guilty. Responsible. Maybe you don’t feel any of those things…

Birth trauma can happen to anyone, in any situation. Birth trauma can happen to you, and even to your partner. Your experience is totally unique, and it doesn’t matter how anyone else feels about their birth or what anyone else would have done. Birth trauma is about how YOU feel about YOUR birth. Birth trauma is about YOU and YOU alone.

But make no mistake, you aren’t alone. Right now, thousands are alongside you, silent in their trauma and suffering.

Birth trauma is real. And needs real support.

To the mothers out there, dealing with birth trauma, I want to offer you my empathy, and my deepest condolences. Birth trauma is real. Your pain is real. Your pain is justified. You deserved a wonderful birth experience, and it is unfair that you didn’t get that. You deserve support. You have the right to grieve without guilt.

To the partners, friends, family, midwives, doulas, doctors, nurses, acquaintances… offer your empathy, and your deepest condolences. Birth trauma is real. Their pain is real. Their pain is justified. They deserved a wonderful birth experience, and it is unfair that they didn’t get that. They deserve support. They have the right to grieve without guilt.

 

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{ 107 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia November 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Amazing post. Thank you. My birth was mostly a good experience. However, I wanted a natural birth and ended up begging for an epidural after two hours of painful pushing without feeling any urge. I will never forget what the nurse (one who had just come on shift) said when I asked how much longer. She said “She is not coming out if you push like this.” It stung.

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Stacy November 22, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Thank you for writing this. I had planned an all natural, drug free, water birth at a birthing center with the care of midwives and after 20 hours of labor, 7 hours of which was spent pushing it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. I had to transfer to the hospital and have a c-section. This was something I hadn’t even planned for. I had done all of the research about birth and found the best ways to do it for me, and I was completely against having a c-section. In the end it was my call to have it, because I knew something was wrong, I could just tell. I knew that my baby wasn’t moving at all despite all of my pushing. The c-section was traumatic for me. And I felt so guilty because my baby girl turned out to be healthy and perfect. But it wasn’t what I had planned, it wasn’t what I had wanted. And I am angry about it. I am angry at my body, at my midwife, at the whole experience. I still cry when I read birthing stories or see births on television. Even though the surgeon and my midwife told me afterwards that there was no way she was going to come out naturally, it still didn’t make me feel better. My daughter will be turning 1 in a couple of weeks and I am so blessed to have her and I love her more than anything, but I am still angry and hurt over my birthing experience, and I still feel guilty for feeling like that. I have this giant scar to remind me of what I went through, a scar that I don’t like to look at or touch, because it reminds me of how I failed, how my body failed. And you’re right, I don’t feel like anyone understands what it is like for me. Reading this warmed my heart. It is comforting to know that other women feel the same way and that it is alright to feel the way I do even though I have a perfect, healthy, beautiful daughter. Thank you for sharing this.

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Ang November 22, 2013 at 10:34 pm

You did not fail. You did not. And if anyone tells you that because you ended up with a C-section you must be inferior – punch them for me! You did not fail mama, you did not.

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Brandi November 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Thank you .

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Annie November 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Thank you. You put into words so much of what I feel about my birth experience. And the guilt that I’m left with, both because I have a healthy baby (so shouldn’t I just be grateful?) and because I feel like I didn’t do enough to prevent what happened. It helps so much to know that there are other people out there who feel the same way and can put it into words better than I could.

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Melissa from Birthtalk.org November 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Thank you so much for this post. Birth trauma is real. For the past ten years we’ve been supporting women in their healing journey after a traumatic birth. It can be SO hard to receive validation and acknowledgement of what a difficult road a woman is travelling in these circumstances. We need stories like this to help raise awareness further, and encourage women to speak out and seek support. Sending you many hugs, and thank you to BWF for publishing this heartfelt post.

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Sharayah November 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm

I had heard of birth trauma but never related myself with it. Never related my anger, sadness, emotionless, behavior to be anything of birth trauma but it makes sense now. My birth was 15 months ago and I still have lows. Thank you for mentioning c-sections. I was induced at 39 weeks and after 17 hours of no progress but 1 inch of dilation my OB looked me in the eyes and said I could not birth naturally, needed a c-section immediately. At 21 years old with my first child, I was scared. I started to cry but I got myself together. In the OR I lost so much blood that i lost consciousness. I remember them saying “he’s a big boy!” and i saw the top of his head. The nurse came to me holding him and I was out like a light without even touching him. They rushed my partner out of the room and my son went to the NICU for meconium aspiration. When I came too and was sent to my room I was not able to have my son for 11 hours. I had to pump the colostrum that he was supposed to be drinking. I had to sleep in a cold hospital room with an empty uterus. Without my baby.

At my 9 week check up I asked my OB if next time we could try for a VBAC and she told me “some women can not vaginally birth a child and you are most likely one of them”.

It killed me. Later that day I was talking to my partner and my mom and I was sobing that I am broken and can not birth a child and they looked at me with confusion. They kept saying things like “He is here and he is healthy and so will be you next babies” and “why are you taking this so hard?” Its like no one understands. You understand. Thank you for this.

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Renee Bergantino November 23, 2013 at 8:22 am

If/when you have another baby I highly suggest you do a lot of research on vbacs and get a second opinion with a vbac friendly dr. you were induced and it is possible your body wasn’t ready to go into labor and if your body isn’t ready it will fight the Pitocin. our bodies were made to birth! I am so sorry you went through all of that.

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maria November 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I had a similar experience. I was induced at 41 weeks because I wasn’t dilating and I think doctors feel the need to follow some kind of schedule. I still wonder if I had just waited would I have given birth naturally. My doctor said the same thing that I can’t give birth naturally. That just made me feel so inadequate and didn’t resolve my what ifs. I was in labour after being induced for 18 hours and I ended up going backwards instead of progressing andd so the doctor said that’s it you need a c section. For weeks I’ve felt bad about the birth and now also the doctor left trailing membranes so I was on antibiotics for a week. I couldn’t breastfeed and again felt likee a failure. Now I’m dealing with recurring mastitis and feel so lost and angry at my body.

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Jess November 22, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Thank you – you’ve put into words everything I’ve felt since the birth of my son 18 months ago. I was shattered after being treated like an animal. I’ve fought back hard, making official complaints to the hospital, AHPRA and RANZCOG. I’ve made my voice heard on other channels, to expectant mothers, so they can be protected from my experience. After being diagnosed with an acute stress reaction which then developed into PTSD, I sought psychiatric help, and have been working my butt off to be healthy, because the unprofessional and abusive actions of one person will not define me nor the size of my family. I am 7.5 weeks pregnant with my second child and although I am apprehensive, I have built a team around me who will care for me, protect me and respect me as I take on the biggest challenge of my life so far.
I don’t believe this trauma has made me a ‘better’ person (one of those comments I’m still hearing). What I do know though, is that I am not alone, and that I can hopefully be an example of what’s possible after birth trauma. I choose to draw a line under my birth trauma journey at my next birth, because that is where it finishes.
Thank you again Alisia, you’ve reminded me that I am not alone, and that I am not some freakish aberration for feeling the way I do.

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Roz November 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Thank you.

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Ashlee November 22, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Thank you so much for your strength and vulnerability in writing this post. I also had a severely traumatic birth experience and can identify with many of the same feelings: Guilt, Shame, the “what ifs”, anger, numbness with my newborn, and extreme fear. As a first time mom, the nurse felt I did not know what I was talking about when I said I needed to push. She also did not believe that the epidural had not worked and was sure I could not feel anything… but I could feel everything. Because of her refusal to check my dilation, I went from 6 cm to 10 cm in fifteen minutes and the baby started coming out. She would not call the doctor until I burst into tears. The doctor barely made it into the room and my baby came in two pushes, resulting in 25 stitches. I wish she would have listened.

I have learned that next time I will need to be a much stronger advocate for myself and my husband now knows how to be a better advocate as well. I am praying for a different experience next time. Thank you for being honest and not trying to mask your anguish. It is very healing.

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Josee November 23, 2013 at 10:32 pm

It`s hard to advocate for yourself when you are in so much pain. Be kind to yourself. You did the best you could at the time. I wish she would have listened to you. I had incredibly fast labours too (I went from 2cm-10cm in 10 minutes) and the baby was born 22 minutes after. 3rd degree tears and the dr. barely made it. But he was my most positive delivery.

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Lauren S. November 22, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Thank you for a wonderfully written piece. It’s just nice to know you’re not alone. The emotions you describe are what I went through, I had planned for a natural birth (although in a hospital) and ended up with anything but. I had pushed and pushed but at 16 days past my due date I was induced. I was induced for 24 hours straight and was given double the ‘normal’ amounts of pitocin because my body wouldn’t labour. I finally dilated and pushed for over 2 hours before they told me it was no use, because of the induction my baby boy had lodged himself in the canal face up and being that he had a large head (and came out on the large side at 9lbs 8oz) they told me c-section was my only option. Through the ordeal I had been given an epidural that wore off and was now getting a spinal tap in the OR. I remember the cold OR room and them having the pull the baby out twice because of how stuck he was. The doctors and nurses were great but I was taken to a ward room (no privates available) and my husband went out. I was numb from the waist down, alone, unbelievably sad and not quite sure how to look after my son. My birth trauma stayed with me for a couple of months, it was really bad the first couple of weeks and I just cried at home. I’d look at him and feel guilty for not being grateful that my baby was here and healthy but I felt like a failure, how could women have been doing this for thousands of years but I couldn’t. My son is now 7 months and I still feel sad when I see and hear about happy birth stories, I still feel a longing to have a happy birth story so I try to stay focused on the good health and fantastic personality of my gorgeous baby boy. Thanks again for giving us all a voice.

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Bethany November 22, 2013 at 7:19 pm

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

I really needed to read this. This is exactly how I felt after the birth of my twins. Everyone was elated that I delivered 2 healthy boys vaginally…except me. I LOVE them more than anything, but I am still trying to sort out why I felt nothing after I had them. It eats away at me some days and has made for a very difficult time, but I am currently seeing a counselor and will be signing up for a ‘Making Peace With Your Birth’ workshop and a ‘Breastfeeding Trauma’ workshop(yes, it exists), in the new year. Its nice to know I have company on this journey.
Thank you again, so much

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Emma November 22, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Thank you.

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JW November 22, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Amazing post, thank you for this. None of us should have to be alone in this trauma. I, too, had PTSD and PPD after my first birth. It took a while to find peace with it. But with help from family and a great therapist I did. My love goes out to everyone who has experienced birth trauma!

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Beth November 22, 2013 at 7:44 pm

The triage nurse mistakenly said I was 7 cm dialated–we found out several hours later I was only 3-4. Coupled with the fact that my mother and grandmother gave birth to their kids-all of them- in less than five hours–my twenty-eight hour labor (20 of which were active, back to back contractions with no pausing for rest) was excruciatingly long. I begged for short-term narcotic which didn’t seem to work (somehow that was more of a slap in the face, because if I had to veer off my natural birth plan it should at least work!). I didn’t dialate to 10 cm in the end, and though I felt the urge to push, I had to painfully try not to, for an hour. I had the misfortune of feeling every contraction during these last four hours in my femur area–the worst pain of the whole birth, including my daughter’s 2nd degree-tearing exit. Because I didn’t dialate past 9.5, the dr and the nurse held my cervix open during every push. Every moment of my beautiful daughter’s birth was traumatic, even for her with the cord wrapped around her neck. She was stunned and had to be revived by the pediatricians. For weeks I cried about my failures to endure, to dialate, to bring her to me quickly, calmly, healthfully, after all of those books and classes. I was-and am- still horrified by it and dread doing it again to give my daughter a sibling. Other women I talk tell me their birth experience was ‘fine’ or chastise me for not getting an epidural. Your post is SO appreciated. Thank you.

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Leah November 22, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Thank you for this. I needed this. It’s been almost eleven months and I still can’t talk about it or look at the pictures. Thank you for the acknowledgement.

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Heather November 22, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Thank you for this post and thank you everyone for their candid comments. I finally have a name for what I experienced with the birth of my son. I have worked through my trauma and look forward to birthing my next child in six months. I see my experience as a work of God, to teach me and to grow me – and it did. I hope you all find how God worked in your situations. Again, thank you.

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Kari November 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Thank you for posting this!!! I felt this and still do on occasion. I have four beautiful children, four entirely different birthing stories, some great and perfectly as planned and others not good at all. But I continue to thank God and count my blessings daily. Thank you for helping me to feel less guilty about my negative feelings around some of my birthing experiences.

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monika montes November 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Alisa you are a blessing to so many women out there.. God bless your heart! Great article and it touched me to realize how many other women will feel touched and understood by your words as well! THANK YOU

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sara November 22, 2013 at 10:08 pm

This is very well written though I never went through birth trauma some would considered it. I was in labor for 18 hours after 4 cm I dilated really fast went from a 4-8 in 20 mins where the rest of my labor I was at an 8 for along time I went in at 7 am didn’t give birth until 5:25 am. I didn’t have a birth plan all that I knew was an epidural. I knew if I set one and it didn’t work out I would be upset so I didn’t, my daughter turned to her side before she entered the birth canal we didn’t know she was sideways. I got the epidural everything was fine and then we waited along time. Somewhere around 11pm I was starting to fill alot of pain on my right side my epidural was wearing off. She had me completely thinned on the side I was laying on, I ended up with an infection and a fever around three they had me start pushing it ended up thinning me out all the way she was too far down to do an emergency section and he couldn’t turn her cause my birth canal is small but big enough I can give birth she didn’t strech me the right way I ended up with. An epsiotomy and a third degree tear he had to used forceps to get her out. All that matters to me was that she was healthy I don’t regret how my experience was she made me forget everything

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Sheri November 22, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Wow. I feel like a complete failure after 3 of my 4 childbirth experiences proved me utterly incapable of birthing a healthy baby vaginally. I’m a doctor and I couldn’t even prevail over other doctors bullying and fear mongering. Everyone else thinks I’m nuts. It feels so good to be validated by somebody.

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Amy November 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I feel as if someone has relived my life and has put into words EXACTLY what I’ve been trying to say this past year. I’m sobbing. I thought I was the only one…

Thank you-so very very much

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Shanon November 22, 2013 at 10:20 pm

This post made me bawl my eyes out.

I experienced birth trauma. And, like you, I experienced countless WOMEN and others telling me that I shouldn’t dwell on it, that none of it mattered because my daughter was alive and healthy.

Every birth on tv or in movies made me cry. It felt so unfair that I had such negative feelings tied to what was supposed to be the most amazing moment of my life. Instead it was a moment that I was not even present for – instead I missed the first hours of my daughter’s life and nobody – not ONE person – understood my pain. Missing my daughter’s birth continues to haunt me to this day and I cannot help but blame myself.

Thank you for another amazing post – it is good to know that I am not as alone as I often feel.

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Some Midwife Chick November 22, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Dearest Mamas,
I am so so so sorry. I am heartbroken hearing your stories. I am so sorry for what you have experienced. I wish I could take it away or make it right. Thank you for writing this. I’m sending you all ‘lots of good juicy healing vibes and ‘lots and ‘lots of love.

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Irene November 22, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Thank you so much for this post! I had no idea that there was such a thing as birth trama, but I experienced it with my fourth child…even my midwife said I looked “shell shocked” in the delivery room after giving birth. Days later, I didn’t know how to explain what I was feeling. I was still reeling from the birth and overcome with guilt.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I now have a name for what I went through and am comforted knowing that I am not the only one that has experienced this!

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Me November 22, 2013 at 10:42 pm

The guilt is so hard to swallow, even 15 months later. It took me a year to even begin trying to write our birth story. Even then, I only got about half way through and have yet to finish. All of the what-ifs kill me. And the overwhelming guilty conscious of thinking “I was selfish…” shames me into not opening my mouth to even begin trying to explain to anyone how I feel. I have a happy and healthy baby boy. According to everyone on the planet, that should be enough. Why is it not enough for me?

I still think about it every single day. Every hospital I pass, every pregnant woman or new baby I see, every birth story I hear brings it immediately back. I find my mind dimming the details, but not the fierce emotions, pain or shame.

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Melissa November 22, 2013 at 10:47 pm

I never realized I had birth trauma with my first until joining the BWF community. I thought the nightmares, fear, and reliving the birth over and over were just sorta par for the course. I’m 24 weeks with my second and working hard to overcome my fears for this birth. Thank You for this post!

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ARL November 22, 2013 at 10:48 pm

First comment on this blog, but a long time reader. No one ever talks about birth trauma, so I didn’t realize how many moms are affected by this very real and raw experience. I had a wonderful pregnancy and a horrible induction at 42 weeks and a day, that resulted in a 3rd degree episiotomy and a 9 pound newborn with a broken arm and a ripped scalp (from the vacuum extraction). I had a birth plan, I thought I was prepared for every decision I would have to make, even the dreaded C-section. But I wasn’t prepared for doing my absolute best and still hurting me and my baby in the end. Besides reeling from pain and exhaustion and guilt and fear, my partner wasn’t prepared to support me and I felt completely alone. With this beautiful new baby. And that is all anyone would talk about. “It was all worth it because of the baby.” But that is so dismissive and the most hurtful thing to say to a brand new mom who is just getting used to this culturally projected reality of “kids first, moms last, always”
It’s now been 2 years, and even though I still have the disbelief, anger and hopelessness I felt then pocketed away in my psyche, I feel strength in my resolve to make my next birth experience more supportive of me. I hope that my first experience will make whatever may happen easier for me to deal with. I also pledge to help any of my friends who are headed towards their own birth experiences in anyway I can to empower, soothe and validate them. If I can help it, I don’t want anyone I care about to feel like I did, no matter their experience. It is articles like this that make me more empathetic in general to mom-kind, and that help to empower, soothe and validate me. Thank you.

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Kim November 22, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Thankyou, Thankyou THANKYOU!! I’m sitting in the car reading this one iPad as my very healthy beautiful 4 month old daughter sleeps in her car seat, tears streaming down my face. I am in no way happy that anyone else feels this way, but very happy to know I’m not alone. I swear I could of written that word for word. with an unwanted drug free labor (I wanted epidural THEY told me they had called the anaethestist-I later find out they never did) pushing out a 9 pd 4 baby, episiotomy and 3rd degree tear (which the stitches broke and am still not healed and my DD Is 4 months) finished off with a massive hemorrhage and retained placenta, 10 mins after she was born I was rushed to surgery to wake up 3 hours later, followed by blood transfusions It was the shittest day of my life, not the happy joyous experience I thought it would be. I pretty much cried for 5 days straight in hospital. I have PTSD. I am the most bitter person when it comes to birth now. I don’t want anyone to go through what I did, but I always wonder WHY ME!?

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Theresa Penrose November 22, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Thank you.

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Candiace November 22, 2013 at 11:13 pm

You know, I had a birth plan as well – Natural, no drugs. I didn’t mind having it in a hospital. No one in my family supported me in going to a Midwife.. no big deal. But I ended up having a c-section. It took all of the patience and steadiness for me not to get upset when the doctor came in and told me I was getting a c-section, then having the nurses hurry to prep me. “If you don’t take off your gown we’re going to have to cut it off”… I calmly took it off in a hurry… My father came into the OR with me, and as I was getting the epidural I just purposely gave myself into the experience… I purposely forgave myself for not getting the beautiful birth that I wanted for myself and my daughter. I purposely forgave myself for not being strong or ready enough for a natural labor. I forgave myself and every time I got upset I forgave myself again and again. When I knew there was a chance of me getting a C-section I did everything I could to make it up to my daughter. I got a cord blood kit over-nighted to the hospital so we could save her cord blood. I also saved the placenta and had it encapsulated so I could have that to help me with hormones and post-partum depression. It’s also good when babies get sick. I did everything I could to make the c-section more ok then it actually was to my heart and mind. Now I sit.. a mother that has a daughter, a mother that has a scar. A mother that didn’t feel her child coming out of her as she came into this life. As I laid there on the operating table with a piece of fabric blocking the view, I heard my daughter’s cry, and I released myself to her new life and cried in ecstasy of the beauty of HER. My father took pictures of her all covered in white, and she was briefly shown to me as they cleaned her and covered her up. After crying for a couple of minutes I became completely silent… I focused on how they were now stitching me up, closing up one of the most sacred parts of my body.. and I forgave them… and I forgave myself. If you know you did everything you could then their is no reason to keep mourning. I’ve been through so many bad things in my life.. I KNOW what a bad experience is. I know what’s it’s like to hurt… physically and mentally. This experience wasn’t going to be bad because I KNOW life comes in all ways and all forms. I had to give myself up to the experience. The next time I get pregnant, I will try for a VBAC. I’ll keep myself more fit during the pregnancy. I will do the hypnobabies again. I will find a good midwife or doctor or both. I will do everything I can, again, to have a beautiful birth. Until then, I stand as a new mother. A new mother that did everything she could. And I love my baby.. and I know that not because I look at her and feel happiness, but because when I touch her the feeling is electric and I want her to always feel good. She’s my best friend and I want her to stay healthy and happy. She deserves that. I do too. So do you.

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Andrea November 23, 2013 at 12:28 am

Thank you for writing this. Had a horrible birth experience and 25 months later I’m still teary about it. I had 2 epidurals, pb medication, forceps, was cut, covered in blood and my daughter born not breathing. She is now a healthy 2 yr old who is such a beautiful soul, so kind and caring, gives me so many hugs and love. I fear for the next pregnancy, I fear of a repeat performance. I fear my dislocated tail bone will hinder my dream of a “perfect birth” I fear I might not conceive again. I fear I will not be able to give my all. I pray I never see the inside of a NICU again :) thank you :)

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Melodi November 23, 2013 at 12:40 am

I read this and got chills.

I was dx with PTSD as a result of my birth experience. In a nutshell, my son was breech. I went into labor early. Was told by my OB I was safe to go home though I was positive it was time. By the time I got downstairs I had a foot coming out. Went to l&d alone. Had a strange doctor rush me into the OR, and start cutting without confirmed epidural success. When I screamed I was told to stop being dramatic. I woke up 4 hours later to my son being transferred to another hospital because he had a heart defect that ultimately required several surgeries to correct. He was 4 days old before I was allowed to hold him, much less see him. I had the kind of trauma that invokes the overwhelming fear of everything an anything.

My son is 8 and now a big brother. Having a second baby healed me. I heard all the things you mentioned. Being sad or disappointed… It doesn’t render you ungrateful. It means you’ve experienced something painful, and no matter how it turns out, you still have to cope with the pain.

Thank you for writing this. It must have taken so much to be so transparent. But it is appreciated. I wish I would have read this 7 or 8 years ago.

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Allie November 23, 2013 at 1:06 am

I feel this pain daily with a beautiful, healthy, 6 month old 35 weeker…
I was asked “Do you do drugs? Are you a smoker? Do you have an eating disorder?”, when I checked in.
The nurses swore to me that I looked 25 weeks.. I knew I wasn’t… I couldn’t help but wonder where MY obgyn was during all this… finally they told me she was on Vacation.. I was extremely hurt and dissapointed that the doctor I knew and trusted wouldn’t be delivering my baby. 7 hours in they decided an ultrasound to see how big my baby was was the only way to prove I wasn’t lying!.. I’ve never touched drugs, I’m small.. but average. I had gained 30lbs in my pregnancy.. to their surprise she wasn’t even low birth weight! 12 hours in they decided at 3CM I HAD to have my Epidural then… it slowed my labor to almost a stop. After 28 hours I gave birth to a 5lb 7oz 19 &3/4 inch long beautiful baby girl. The NICU team swept her away and I didn’t see her for almost 2 hours… I had minimal tearing, 5 stitches and I was done… 48 hours later I left the hospital with my tiny sweet healthy little girl. We had trouble with the latching but that was the only thing! I pumped and pumped. Every 2 hours.. washing pump parts, feeding baby, sleeping 30 minutes, & pumping again.. 10 days later I started bleeding uncontrollably.. I checked back into the hospital and the ER doctor was convinced I was bleeding from my stitches in my cervix (which at the time, I had no idea were even demolished) 5 hours later, no medicine to stop bleeding I was transferred to the OB unit.. where my doctor finally came and they realized I wasn’t bleeding from my cervix… after 12 hours of medicine to stop the bleeding, loosing conciousness twice & hearing them call for the heart defibulator, i started praying for God to let me live to see my sweet baby girl to grow… when I finally came to the ultrasound tech was working to see why I was bleeding.. come to find out pulling the umbilical cord isn’t the preferred way for OB doctors to deliver the after birth.. I had retained placenta, inside me for 10*** days!.. after a D&C I was feeling a little better.. I was finally able to go home!.. little did I realize after almost bleeding to death, I’d be a little traumatized. 3 moths passed and I was laying in bed, still crying, while I had everything to be happy about. I finally called the Dr.. I had Postpartum depression… who wouldn’t!? My milk dried up from the medicine, I hsda preemie at home who needed me, & I had almost left her, forever… in this case I will say, Thank God for modern Medicine.. Zoloft was there to help me bond with my baby, for me to be happy again! Although it wasn’t beautiful, its my story.. & I’m thankful for my life and my Sweet little girls! ♥

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Lisabeth Brock November 23, 2013 at 1:19 am

Finally, a birth and aftermath story that sounds familiar. I am both saddened and relieved to discover that there are so many of us who have suffered this way. My son is nearly 4.5, and I am still not “over it.” Our birth experience and the resulting issues have clouded every aspect of our relationship, as well as affecting my desire to have any more children. This is not something anyone could have prepared me for, and no one I know has been able to help me or come close to understanding. I appreciate your courage and transparency.

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Deborah November 23, 2013 at 2:16 am

I am so sorry to hear about your birth experience. Mine was far from perfect, if there is such a thing, and it was a little scary at times. All of this was forgotten when my son emerged. I cannot even begin to imagine what you went through and for so long. The fact that no one took the time to listen to you and see the distress you were in is appalling! Thank you for sharing your story and I hope that others Moms can see that they are not alone if they are suffering at this time.

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Bekki November 23, 2013 at 2:58 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article! I have been inwardly struggling since the arrival of my son in March with the feeling of being cheated of the birth I wanted for him. I have felt sad and hurt. I have gotten angry and have cried. Then I felt guilty for having these feelings. I am glad to know I’m not alone and that someone understands my need for a grieving time. My son is very healthy and happy and I am thankful for that, but it doesn’t change what happened and how I was treated with very little respect for my feelings. I appreciate you sharing your story for those of us in the same (or similar) shoes.

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Krysten Leigh November 23, 2013 at 4:51 am

Thank you for writing this. I never knew, that what I was feeling, was felt by so many other mothers, i’d never even heard of birth trauma, and it completely makes sense. My first labour went okay, but I was alone, and confused, and scared, and so uninformed, and didn’t know what was happening, I will never forget how scared I felt throughout the entire ordeal. My second labour, two and a half years later, I was a little more informed, I knew I wanted a water birth… i went drug free throughout both of my labours. But my last labour went for an hour and a half. Most women have these incredible birth stories… mine…. mine was an hour and a half, it was barely an experience. i went in to labour, i never got my water birth, I was confident that i could birth my baby, though… it went so fast i feel like i had no experience, i had no birth experience. I just remember the intense pain my body was in, working so hard, to birth my baby faster than my body should have allowed. It was so hard… i felt so cheated out of an experience, but sure, everyone told me, at least you have a healthy baby, some women have 36 hour labours. yes, im greateful for my healthy baby. I’ll never forget the guilt…

I just wish i had a birth experience…
it was barely an experience.
something i have never gotten over….
I feel exactly the same way you do… :(

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Kristen November 23, 2013 at 5:47 am

Thank you so much for writing this. My twin are 8 years old, and I still feel guilty about their birth. Having another baby two years ago was also difficult. They are beautiful, healthy kids, so I have always felt shameful that I can’t seem to shake the guilt of their births. They all came early. They all had to come by C-section even though I never wanted that. I felt numb for my twins whole first year. I went back to work at 8 weeks postpartum with no problem, and I really can’t remember much past that. I remember that not only did I fail at their delivery, but I also failed at breastfeeding them. I tried and pumped and fell asleep pumping many times because I was so absolutely exhausted. I pumped and gave them every bit for six weeks, but it was never enough. When I stopped because my husband convinced me that I was too exhausted to be a good mother, I felt like an even bigger failure. I remember holding them and looking at them, but feeling nothing. That made me feel guilty too. I have struggled through, and life has gone on. The pain has numbed over the years. My third baby has been much better for me. I still struggled with having a c-section over natural birth, but at least I had a plan this time around. She came before the planned date, though, and I wonder if I would have truly had her in labor, or if they just decided to have the c-section because it was convenient for them. I was able to breastfeeding her until she was 6 months old, which is better than the first but still not what I wanted. I felt pressured into stopping because of my job. I feel guilty that I have to have a job while my babies are little. They deserve so much more of my time than I can give. I will be ok because I am strong, and I have a strong relationship with God, but it is nice to hear validation for my feelings. Every time I have tried talking to anyone about these feelings, I get the same kind of responses you posted- it was just a small part, everybody is fine now, oh, you are silly, etc. Thank you for recognizing that there is pain and remorse, even if we have the most precious rewards.

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Louisa November 23, 2013 at 7:18 am

Thank you for posting and to all the commenters. I was with midwives and had a doula at a hospital with a relatively low c/s rate, and still ended up with a c/s after being induced at 8 days late in my opinion unnecessarily. I keep wondering why I am still thinking about it constantly 4 months later. It is nice to know there are so many of us and that is normal. I can’t help wondering why there are so many of us though… is it the messed up system of labor and birth, unreasonable expectations, or…

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Amalie November 23, 2013 at 7:47 am

I love this article so very much! Thank you for sharing. I went through 5 years of this, thinking there was something wrong with me. I would cringe and then cried every time I thought back to my 2 nightmare experiences, and they were affecting other areas of my life, but I would keep pushing them away, wishing that I did not feel that way. When I found out that I was pregnant with #3 I was determined to do things different. I found a midwife who would work with me having a vba2c. I wanted to do a homebirth. I knew my body, I knew what I was capable of. It was not until I sat down with my midwife and my husband and started to tell my previous experiences that I realized how traumatized I truly was. My midwife was horrified with what I had gone through, but she was very supportive. She talked me through much, but it was my husband who truly helped me. He had been dealing with a lot of his own issues with what had happened to me. I was not alone in my trauma. With our first child I spent 35 hours laboring, being psychically examined by doctors like it was an olympic sport. At one point they brought in med students and no less than 5 doctors and they wanted to do an exam in front of them all. Thankfully I had 1 doctor who was considerate because he saw how horrified I was and he kicked everyone out of my room. There was much more to it but the end result was a caesarean. With my second birth was where my husband experienced most of his trauma. After being threatened (not kidding) that no other doctor would take me if I tried to have the baby vbac, I submitted to the caesarean. After the baby was born they took her away with my husband and sent me to recovery. I spent 5 hours in recovery with the nurses refusing to allow my family to come to me, I was not allowed to see my baby, and they ignored the doctor’s call twice when he told them to send me to my room. I had an emotional breakdown and all they did was ignore me. I did not know that on my husband’s end the nurses refused to tell him anything. They refused to let my parents come to see me. He didn’t know if I was dead and they were just not telling him. Their excuse for keeping me so long…I was bleeding. My doctor said it best, “DUH! That’s what happens after a caesarean.” We talked and cried through the memories, and having our #3 was truly a healing experience for us both.

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Liane November 23, 2013 at 9:18 am

I know all of the voices here. As a midwife, I try desperately to avoid the traumatic experiences in the first place, though sometimes it is out of my hands…. I also have tried to create a space for processing and healing through a workshop combining art and group support/discussion. If roughly 20% of women experience PTSD or post-traumatic stress syndrome because of events surrounding their birth, we need to continue to find ways to make a difference. Much love to all of you that have felt this type of pain. Give yourself time and space to process and heal. It’s a HUGE deal. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but also know that you are strong and resilient and you can heal.

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Steph November 23, 2013 at 9:36 am

I honestly thought I was stupid for thinking I was cheated for not knowing my birthing rights and feeling cheated out of a stress free birthing experience. I was in the hospital a total of 6 days and during that time I was manually stretched without my concent, scared into several types of inductions, and left cold, shaking, and terrified on an OR table for a little over an hour, naked from the neck down, while my doctor went to go deliver another woman’s baby. I’m greatful for my little boy, and that he got here healthy and unscathed. However I can’t help but feel cheated that my husband and I didn’t get to see him be born (he wanted us to see him at the same time) and I feel extremily cheated that I was never informed, I just went along with what each doctor said and it was a constant scare tactic my whole pregnancy. I want to be able to go back to those nine months and not live every day in fear of something going wrong, I want to go back and be celebrated and be able to join in in the celebration and sit in wonder and awe of what my body did. And thanks to sites like Birth Without Fear I have the information I now need to have a birth plan that is suitable to me, and be able to surround myself with support for a VBAC in the future.

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Allison November 23, 2013 at 10:37 am

I’ve never really felt the sting of birth trauma. Three of my four births were at home and just as planned. The one that was in the hospital wasn’t bad. At all. But it wasn’t what I really wanted. And I still felt like a failure… because my midwife couldn’t make it to my house in time and I didn’t want to have an unassisted birth! I made the choice, and I felt like (and still feel like) it was the right choice. But not what I really wanted. So only on the slightest level can I even try to relate. But this has made me even more aware of how I listen to a mom tell her birth story. That when I think I’m trying to help by offering the silver lining, I’m just shutting her down. Thank you soooo much for sharing. You have helped me become a better listener and friend!

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Eveline Reinke November 23, 2013 at 10:37 am

Thanks a lot. I always wanted to listen to those words! I deserved support and the way I wanted to give birth. And my pain was real. I also had such comments!

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Courtney November 23, 2013 at 10:42 am

I have never heard about this, but it makes sense. I have dealt with many ups and downs about my experience. Thank you for sharing!

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Julia November 23, 2013 at 11:34 am

My birth experience was not what I expected I was not happy…… I was tormented after words by my husbands family and he was very unsupportive. We got divorced when my son was 8 months.

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Michelle November 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm

My labor was perfect. Everything went exactly according to plan, and I got to deliver just the way I wanted to.
So people just could not understand why I fainted when we drove near the hospital a few weeks later. Or why I had nightmares and flashbacks that made me scream out loud. Everyone was confused as to why I couldn’t walk down the same street that my husband and I walked down during my early labor pains.
Everyone kept repeating to me about how it was perfect. It is unimaginable to some that something could be both perfect and horrifying. I was frustrated because as soon as people found out that my labor went well, they just stopped listening to me.
I have to remember that not everyone has had a baby, and many who have have also suppressed or forgotten the shock and trauma of it all. Thank you for voicing your trauma. I feel like the trauma of labor is undercover or secret, and that is just not healthy.

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Ginger November 23, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Very well said! I am tired of our society playing this down. For many mothers this is a BIG deal!

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Kelly November 23, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Thank you! I went into sudden labor at 30 weeks so my entire plan flew out the window. I had an emergency c-section and didn’t get to hold my baby for 2 days after that. The whole hospital stay was horrible and I felt belittled every step of the way. I saw my baby 12 hours after birth even though the nurse was supposed to wake me up as soon as all the testings were done, and then the nicu nurse asked me if i even cared about my baby because it took me so long. I still struggle with all those feelings 5 months after. I feel intense jealousy whenever I see those first happy family photos right after birth and those lucky parents who get to take their little ones home when they leave. I feel so angry at the emergency room doctor who brushed off all my concerns when I came in to say I thought I lost my whole mucus plug, and had spotting the week before and refused to do any testing because it was “normal”. I feel so much guilt for not perusing my concerns and believing that it was normal symptoms when I thought that something was wrong. I feel responsible for them being born so early and having to stay in the hospital for 2 months. And I feel so sad knowing that I’ll never get to experience the birth that I had hoped for.

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Yes November 23, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Thank you.

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