Giving birth is arguably the most intense experience we will ever have.
It is primal. It is powerful. It is everything. Vaginal or C-section, at home or in a hospital. Birth is birth—and it rocks our worlds. But while all birth is amazing, not all women feel amazing about their births.
Sometimes our birth experiences leave us hurting, scared and sad. Sometimes we feel cheated. Sometimes we just feel lost and confused.
So when I tell you my birth story, please hold your judgment. I know you mean well. I know you want to help me feel better, to find the silver lining so I can embrace and enjoy motherhood. I want that too—desperately, in fact. But it’s not that simple, especially as I’ve had a traumatic birth.
Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” A birth that leaves us feeling distressed or disturbed is a traumatic birth.
When we give birth, we do so from our core—not just the core of our bodies, but the core of ourselves. We are open and vulnerable during and after birth, and the energy that is around us is the energy that we absorb. It becomes a part of the inner voice that guides us in motherhood.
I need that voice to be one that supports me, fully.
So when I tell you about my difficult experience, please try not to say, “Well, the important thing is that you and the baby are healthy.”
I know that. Of course I know that. I sob over my baby’s bassinet hoping that my tears somehow convey to the universe how grateful I am that the baby is healthy. I smile and say how happy I am because I’m too ashamed, embarrassed or guilt-ridden to admit that my birth left me feeling hollow and sad.
I want nothing more than to move on from my birth experience, but I can’t.
Birth trauma is personal
Please remember that trauma is incredibly personal—what’s traumatic for one woman may not be for another. One woman may be traumatized by a birth that happens very quickly, while another woman would call that her dream birth. One woman may be traumatized by needing to have a C-section, while another would feel relieved by it.
A woman can have a perfect birth on paper but could have been deeply affected by a few careless words uttered to her in passing.
Please understand that I was deeply impacted by my birth. I think about it all the time. I wish more than I can convey that I didn’t feel this way about my birth, but I do.
Words that encourage me to gloss over my experience, or push aside my feelings simply aren’t helpful right now. You mean well, I know, but when you tell me to be grateful, it makes me feel guilty. And when you remind me that I am lucky, it makes me feel alone.
I am so honored to be my baby’s mother, and know how incredibly lucky I am that she is healthy. And if given the choice, I would go through one thousand times worse, one thousand times over, if it meant that I would get the same outcome. She wins, every time.
But that doesn’t negate the fact that I had a really hard birth. I am still a person, who experienced a trauma, and I am hurting.
I need you to honor my experience
I need you to listen. Really listen with an open mind, remembering that my trauma is different than your trauma. Please try not to judge my trauma, or me, while I tell you my story. Please just listen to me.
Please don’t tell me what I should have done differently. Maybe I had choices in how things went down, maybe I didn’t. Honestly, right now I don’t even know. I may want your advice in the future, but right now I’m just not ready.
I need you to just be with me. If you can’t find words to say, it’s probably because there aren’t any. Please don’t be afraid to just sit with me in silence. I know it feels awkward to you, but to me, it feels like home.
Encourage me to get help. Remind me that I am not alone, and support is out there. Help me find a therapist or support group that specializes in trauma and traumatic birth stories so I can work through my pain.
And just love my baby and me.
I know you do, which is why you’re trying to make this better in the first place. So thank you for that. Please know that your love means the world to me, even if I don’t always say it.
A version of this story was originally published on July 20, 2021. It has been updated.