[Trigger warning: This essay describes one woman’s emotional journey with a traumatic birth experience.]
Birth trauma. When we hear the word “trauma,” we often picture a violent or terrifying act. We think about a sudden death, an accident or an abrupt psychological disturbance. And when we pair the word “trauma” with the act of giving birth, oftentimes we think the worst: illness or even loss of a newborn. But if we have a healthy baby, women have no real reason to feel traumatized after birth, right?
Through my experience, I found out this notion is wrong.
Birth trauma is something people rarely discuss or share much about, and I think because of that, most women don’t even know they experienced a traumatic birth themselves. Instead, women—including myself—are left to deal with so many conflicting, confusing feelings, thinking that something is wrong with us for feeling so upset about giving birth to, yes—a perfectly healthy baby.
After studying up on birth trauma, I can now understand that I indeed suffered from it. In fact, if I hadn’t had a VBAC with my second child, I am certain I’d still be suffering from the aftermath of it today.
Not only do people not talk about birth trauma, but worse, it seems that people don’t even want to hear about it. I was quieted, even by my friends, about the trauma I endured with the birth of my first child. Months after my son was born, after I had finally figured motherhood out a little, I began to cope with my trauma.
I felt like I was bullied—yes, after advocating for myself—into a C-section. I had only labored for 18 hours. (I went on to have a 50-hour VBAC, so in looking back, 18 hours feels like a short amount of time.) But because my son was born healthy, I was dismissed. To society, it seemed like I just needed to get over it, that my feelings didn’t matter.
Because of this rejection, I had so much anger swirling within me for months, years even. But the trauma that occurred immediately after my son was born, catapulted a desire within me to have that VBAC for my second go at labor and delivery.
After I was stitched up in the operating room, my body began to shake and I started to gag, then vomit. Immediately, the nurse pumped drugs into me that quite literally knocked me out. I’m unsure for how long. I felt like the joy from holding my firstborn child was stolen from me.
That fact ignited the trauma that would follow.
I remember laying in my recovery room bed with the nurse trying to wake me up to breastfeed my son for the very first time. I started to cry. This is the first memory of motherhood I have—bawling while the nurse held my firstborn to my breast to feed. I was powerless. And traumatized.
A few hours later, after being admitted into our own room, the haze from the drugs still loomed over me. I looked over to find my husband bent over the bassinet gazing at our son. He beamed. I still couldn’t move or keep my eyes open. The first few hours of my son’s life were spent with a very absent mother. Thankfully, he had my husband—but this guilt pulsed within me from that moment and would last for months to come.
My baby blues erupted in the chaos of life at home with a newborn. Because the control of my birth was taken away from me, I felt the same in new motherhood.
My body wasn’t healing at the rate I wanted. My abdomen throbbed and ached. Nursing was impossible. My hormones and emotions left me crying all the time. Yes, things eventually settled down. I was able to find my own joy after feeling like it was taken from me. And I finally figured out motherhood with the thanks of a strong support system, but still—I felt like I was robbed. And maybe you feel this way, too.
Sometimes our birth plans go awry, I understand that. But sometimes it’s more than that. Sometimes the emotional trauma doesn’t go away. Listen to the whispers within yourself, mama. Talk about it. Get help. And most importantly, empower yourself with the knowledge of knowing that you are not alone.
In the end, my trauma fueled me to work for the VBAC I had with my second child—the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Remember, to suffer from birth trauma doesn’t mean that you didn’t deliver a healthy baby. You can still endure trauma despite that. Don’t let people try to silence you.
Empower yourself to work through your emotions. Change your doctor if you feel you need to, try to change your outlook, and don’t brush your labor and delivery aside. Your emotions matter. You experience matters. Your trauma matters. You matter.