Some women plan their births like a wedding, imaging the beautiful, spiritual experience years before conception. Like any experience with high expectations, we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment.
When a woman does not have her birth go according to plan, she can feel a range of emotions that may include disappointment, failure, and depression. Significant emotional birth trauma can occur when birth doesn’t go as planned.
Whether this is your story or if it happened to someone you love, we as a community can learn to validate a new mother’s feelings and participate in the healing. By choosing our words around birth mindfully, we may avoid triggering emotional birth trauma within ourselves and our loved ones.
Healthy Mom/Healthy Baby
“Healthy mom/healthy baby,” is the common response from well-meaning friends and family attempting to console a woman with emotional birth trauma from her birthing experience, and it can be triggering to a new mom. It takes away, or devalues, the experience the grieving woman may be having as if to say- “you don’t have a right to be sad about your birth, you have a healthy baby.” This can be damaging to a traumatized new mom, whose hormones may fuel her soup of emotions. Rather, her grief, anger, and resentment, should be acknowledged and heard regardless of the baby’s health.
Removing this common response is a good step towards being able to listen to a new mom’s genuine emotions.
Natural Cesarean Birth
“I had a natural birth,” says the mom next to you at an initial meeting. Moms swapping birth stories is a common bonding experience, a way to break the ice at a postpartum yoga class that continues through preschool playdates and beyond. But what is “natural” birth?
Ask anyone in the natural products industry and they’ll confirm the word has lost meaning, as it is unregulated and used too liberally. The definition of “natural” is “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.”
Some women use the term “natural” to mean vaginal birth as opposed to cesarean, others mean unmedicated birth, and still others mean home birth with limited to no medical intervention. So what then is the opposite of a natural birth? An unnatural birth? Are women who birth their children via cesarean section or medicated assistance birthing alien children?? No, of course not. Cesarean birth is also natural, all birth is, and using a word that has a direct antonym creates delineation of the other, an “us vs them” situation. Moms who are struggling with emotional birth trauma and feelings of failure from their birth may appreciate a supportive environment and vocabulary rather than ones set up for competition.
It might be helpful to reduce emotional birth trauma to choose words like “vaginal birth”, “unmedicated birth” over “natural birth”.
You gave BIRTH, it’s not just Surgery
When our vocabulary revolves around the surgical part of the birthing experience, it continues to give weight to a procedure that may have been unwanted, unwarranted, and traumatic. “C-Section” is an abbreviation for a medical procedure that leaves out the warm feelings surrounding terms like “birth”. Repeatedly asking about the c-section or when the scheduled c-section is planned effectively takes the birth out of birth.
Instead of referencing the “c-section” consider replacing it with “cesarean birth”.
Seek Out Help From Community
International Cesarean Awareness Network, ICAN, is “a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve maternal-child health by reducing preventable cesareans through education, supporting cesarean recovery, and advocating for a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC)”. https://www.ican-online.org. They have chapters internationally for women to connect in person or online with experts and other mothers. Connecting with moms who have been through a cesarean birth may be helpful for those experiencing emotional birth trauma.
The gentle cesarean technique has been popularized in recent obstetrics literature as a viable option to enhance the experience and outcomes of women and families undergoing cesarean delivery. Gentle cesareans have not been shown to reduce complications in cesarean delivery but do improve the family’s reported experience of the cesarean birth. Different birthing facilities define a gentle cesarean differently, but a 2014 investigation of the technique published in the American Board of Family Medicine (Magee, et al., 2014) medicine included:
- Skin-to-skin placement of the infant in the operating room
- No separation of mother and infant
- Reduction of extraneous noise
- Initiation of breastfeeding in the operating room
- Collaboration among medical providers
I am hopeful that changes to the cesarean procedure may help moms prevent emotional birth trauma from their experience. What do you think about some of these suggestions for mindfully communicating about birth?