Talking to pregnant women about my traumatic birth

For a while I told anybody and everybody all about my birth. Then for a while I didn’t talk about it much. I seem to have lately arrived at a middle ground where I feel like I’m not putting too much bad energy into the world when I talk about it, and I only talk about it if I really need to.

Now that many of my friends are pregnant or may soon be, I am thinking about this with a renewed sense of duty as many of them are asking to hear the story. Some cultures have superstitions about pregnant women seeing violence or other disturbing things and I understand that. I don’t want to scare them with my horror story because, well, I don’t want to scare them. Pregnant women need joy, confidence, positive attitudes, ecstasy, love of life, enthusiasm, spontaneity, strength, support, and everything else that is good.

But they also need the truth. Having someone tell them what could really happen, with a kind, supportive, forward-thinking tone could make the difference between being blindsided, and being prepared.

I make sure to tell them what they might be able to control. I say that the only reason I will agree to tell my story is in order to help other people and maybe prevent them from making the same mistakes I did. I learned that the caregiver has vastly more influence than anyone else over the course of events. I learned that a well-trained advocate is indispensable – and that could be a husband or friend, or a doula if they agree to possibly overstep the typical doula role. Next time around I might hire a doula who isn’t answering to any of the major certifying organizations. That way if I need her to challenge a doctor, or even physically step in and protect my body, she will do it.

I also tell them what they can’t control. Even if I hadn’t chosen midwives who were overworked and indifferent; even if I had chosen a better hospital; even if I had had a stronger advocate – I still might have found myself in the care of violent people. Next time I will choose more wisely but I will try to live by my own advice and surrender to not being able to control the world.

I don’t sugarcoat. People know if I try to make it seem not as bad as it was. Then they wonder what I might be hiding that is even worse.

I don’t exaggerate. If I describe how I felt, the story speaks for itself. I have considered which details matter, and they are fewer than I’d originally thought. The most salient point is as described by doula Anna Verwaal in The Business of Being Born: “A woman, as long as she lives, will remember how she was made to feel at her birth.”

Process and outcome are beside the point. The greatest trauma comes neither from the details of process – how one gave birth, whether there was an epidural, c-section, etc – nor from outcome – were mother and baby ok and alive. Given proper respect and support, negative events can be moved through with grace and positivity, but without respect and support, anything can be traumatizing.

Some people are traumatized because they had a c-section while others are traumatized because they didn’t. Some people are traumatized because they were bullied into an epidural while others are traumatized because they were denied an epidural. Even a bad outcome, while traumatic itself, can be accepted with grace if the person feels like she made the best decisions for herself at that time.

So it doesn’t really matter whether I had an epidural or c-section, or whether the person I’m speaking to might choose those or other process-focused interventions. I’m not trying to make a preemptive comment on their upcoming birth – I’m trying to show that respect matters more than all that.

I try to be a conduit for good energy. Telling a bad story, over and over, in all its gory details, is bad for the soul of the teller, the hearers, and the universe. I have needed to vent and process, but I won’t use my pregnant friends to do so. I try to sow the seeds of gratefulness, nonviolence, compassion, and hope that the women I talk to will be inspired to demand the respect and autonomy they deserve.


About investigatingbirth

My investigations of birth began in 2009 when I was trained as a doula. I helped women consider the evidence on common interventions, and helped them prepare for the physical and emotional challenge of giving birth. After some time it became clear to me that there was another type of challenge that I was unable to adequately prepare them for, the challenge of the maternity system. But it was only after my own traumatic birth in 2013 that I realized how little I had understood. I began to ask questions that few around me - doulas, nurses, midwives, doctors - were comfortable hearing. Questions like: Under what circumstances, and for what reasons, do doctors not practice informed consent? How do hospitals deal with other patient populations vulnerable to abuse? How does loss of professional autonomy, for obstetricians, and professional authority, for midwives, impact the quality of care they are capable of providing - regardless of their training? This blog will collect noteworthy information that attempts to answer these and other questions. Most of what you see here will be aggregated from other sources and analyzed. You will also see original interviews, and the occasional opinion piece or personal story, as I try to piece together a clear picture of the system in which American women give birth.
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