I spend a lot of my time talking about how birth can be amazing, about how birth doesn’t have to be scary and I believe that. Birth can be so many things. Scary, exciting, joyful, painful, wonderful, and heartbreaking. Sometimes it’s all of these things at once plus more. However, for those of us out there that have experienced trauma the thought of giving birth can also seem bone chillingly impossible. There are women who have given birth and experienced horrible things that have left their minds, bodies, and soles changed. There are people who have experienced sexual assault and abuse and are now being asked to “relax through the pain”, give over control of their bodies to an authority figure, or who are having to watch their partner prepare for labor while they are having to dissociate from the whole process. There are couples who have faced infertility and miscarriage who find themselves holding their breath and closing their eyes through the whole pregnancy, waiting for the other shoe to fall. How do these people prepare for labor? How do they find the courage to walk into their delivery with confidence and pride? I don’t know. After I experienced my own form of birth trauma I did my best to ignore my second pregnancy. My plan was to pretend I wasn’t pregnant or giving birth till I was holding a baby. I can’t tell you what worked for me, but I can tell you what I WISH I did. So here is my list of the 5 things I would do to emotionally prepare for birth if I could do it over. (note: this article is mainly going to be focussing on birth trauma and infertility. If you are looking for resources specifically dealing with sexual assault feel free to reach out and I can recommend a few things)
Acknowledge your trauma as traumatic
Like with most things in this life, the first step is acknowledging what is right in front of us. There are many reasons why a person might not want to think of their birth, miscarriages, or infertility as traumatic. The two that I hear the most are some variation on “I’m so ungrateful. I’m pregnant/my child is healthy/I’m recovering great!” or “What happened to me wasn’t so bad. Look at whats-her-face, she had it much worse than me.” Both of these statements have a tendency to end with the question “why can’t I get over this?” We have gotten into the habit of comparing ourselves to others, of measuring our self worth based on someone else's life, of invalidating our own stories and experiences because of what others “are” and what we “should be”. If you find yourself thinking things like why can’t I get over this or I wish I could just move on instead of pushing those feelings away try to experience them and find out why you are having them in that moment. Give yourself permission to talk about what happened. If you need professional help seek it out (and if you want a recommendation hit me up). Pull yourself out of the trap of comparison. Your feelings are your own and your reaction to the events of your life does not make you ungrateful, week, shameful, or a failure.
Work to understand what happened
I love gathering information, but when it comes to traumatic events this can be something that is hard to do at first (especially if you’re working hard to not think about it). That being said, in my experience, once you give yourself permission to think and talk about hard things it gets easier and the process can feel like a release. So talk to your care provider about your miscarriages and what might have been the cause. Talk to your partner about their thoughts and feelings about the infertility. Talk to your doula, partner, and whoever else was at your labor. Ask them what they saw and felt. If you want to, request your medical records. When your perspective mixes with what others experienced your own perspective changes. You can begin to feel validated instead of crazy. You can start to understand that you are not week and in fact the people around you see you as strong and capable. Most of the time you will learn that you are not alone in your grief and pain. And when you understand what physically happened to you you can work to come up with a plan to prevent it from happening again.
Build a labor support team
Do not for a second think that you have to go through labor alone. At the same time, don’t just invite anyone to this birth. If you are inviting someone because you don’t want to hurt their feelings, don’t invite them. You don’t invite people to your labor because you’d “feel guilty if you didn’t” you invite them because they help you feel safe and supported. Once you’ve identified who your support team is start letting them know HOW they can support you. Let your partner know what you need them to do and what would be the most helpful. Tell your sister that she cannot wear that perfume that makes you want to gag BUT she is more than welcome to brush your hair. Tell your doula what affirmations you most want to hear and what phrases should never be said around you. Talk with your care provider about your birth plan and make sure everyone is on the same page. When you go into labor make sure you are surrounded with love, trust, and confidence.
Take an evidence based birth class
Take a class even if you’ve already given birth. Having a specific time each week to focus on your pregnancy with give you and your partner a specific time to talk about the upcoming birth. Use this time to talk about your feelings, fears, wants, and plans. Make sure you’re on the same page and find out how you can both support one another before and after the birth. On top of this, evidence based classes focus on educating people about their bodies and what they can expect during the stages of labor. They also educate couples about their options during birth. A good class will encourage you to ask questions of the instructor and your care provider. It’s my personal belief that this knowledge gives you the power and when you have that power you feel capable. Even if things don’t go exactly to plan you can still have the ability to understand what is happening and to make choices. This perspective and ability can be the difference between a good experience and a bad experience.
Prepare for an amazing birth, expect a unique birth
Your birth can be so many things, including amazing. The one thing that it will for sure be is unique. Each birth is different, just like each child is different. There is no one “right way” to give birth and there is no way to know everything that will happen during your labor. This is one reason why preparation and education are so important. It is also why it so important to talk about and deal with trauma. Traumatic events have a way of making us worry that every event will be traumatic, which is its own kind of trauma. Accepting and believing that this birth/labor/pregnancy/child is unique and will be different is the only way to appreciate the miracle that you are living through instead of fearing the pain that is hiding around the next corner. With the right preparation and support you can walk into your labor feeling capable and strong. You can have an amazing birth!