by Erin Newton, LCPC
In the last blog post, we touched on how there are different “versions” of your birth story that are helpful for you to write and we got started on the first one, The Big Lie. As a reminder, The Big Lie is a concept from the book, “Heal Your Birth Story: Releasing the Unexpected,” by Maureen Campion and it is your birth story that tells you what happened to you as “no big deal” or “not as bad as it could have been/how others have it.”
This story is the one that does not make others uncomfortable with the reality that your situation was hard for you; this is your “smile and nod” story.
Before we move on to other versions of the story, we have to sort through the real, actual feelings behind The Big Lie.
The basis for most trauma, anxiety and depression is not actually what happened to you, but how you felt in the moment.
Here at Wellness & Company we talk a lot about feelings and being able to recognize them. Dr. K has said before how contrary to popular belief, we actually feel before we think or act but few people stop to tease out that feeling in the moment.
Throughout your birth experience, you had many, many feelings. Some of those feelings were so big that you needed to swallow them in the moment in order to function. That is ok; that was necessary for your emotional survival. Later, when we try to access them, the shame and overwhelmingness of all of those feelings can make it hard to tease out how we really feel, and so we fall back on “everything is fine.” In order to move forward to our next version of our story, we need to figure out how you were actually feeling.
In 2002, Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould, authors of How to Heal a Bad Birth, founded a unique support and education organization, Birthtalk. As part of their efforts, they organized “Healing From Birth” meetings. These meetings were created to address the growing population of women who had many negative feelings about their birth experiences. It was a place for them to vent or cry or sometimes to just listen to other women share their thoughts and feelings. During these meetings, women were encouraged to use the Birthtalk Breakdown tool to help them sort out what happened and how it made them feel.
If we just write out “what happened,” we get a series of steps, likely through early labor, active labor and eventually birth. We get facts, the events that were happening in the moment. But if we add another column to this, titled “how I felt,” we are able to tap into missing pieces of information that are often the key to sorting out our feelings. Wondering what that looks like?
To complete this for yourself, use the left column to list everything that you remember about your birth experience in the order that it happened. You can include anything that you consider to be part of your experience, including things that happened during your pregnancy and before you went into labor if you feel that they are relevant. It’s ok if you can’t remember things exactly. Then, use the right column to record your feelings for each of these experiences. Do not censor yourself during this process – write exactly how you were feeling regardless if you think those feelings were “rational” or “fair” or “nice.” None of that matters here. You do not have to share this exercise with anyone, so there is no fear of judgement from others. If you are unsure of exactly what you were feeling, you can ask yourself some of these questions:
It is normal (and necessary!) for you to uncover feelings you were not aware of during this process. You may write a lot of feelings down, re-read what you wrote and be surprised at a feeling! This is ok! It is all part of the journey of uncovering how you really felt about your experience.
When you are done, take a look at everything you wrote and just start to think about it. Were you surprised by anything? Did you remember something you had forgotten previously? How does it feel to see everything you endured in one place? How does it feel to let go of The Big Lie little by little?
As we have stated in our last few posts, there are important things to keep in mind if you choose to go through the process of writing your birth story:
If you have completed your Birthtalk Breakdown, was there something that really surprised you or something you previously forgot that you now remember? Send us a message about it or comment here if you are feeling brave. Oftentimes women feel alone in this particular situation and are surprised to learn how many women feel just like they do! You may be able to be that comfort for someone else.
Stayed tuned for our next two blog posts as we continue to work on different ways to write your birth story!
Or, check out REBIRTH, a virtual therapy group designed to help start the process of expressing and working through birth trauma while connecting with other birth trauma survivors. The next session of the REBIRTH group starts Thursday, April 2nd at 6:00 pm and runs for ten weeks (skipping Thursday, April 9th). For details, check out Wellnessand_co on Instagram or reach out to me directly at Erin.Newton@wellnessandco.org or 570-689-8130.
Erin Newton, LCPC
REBIRTH is a birth trauma therapy group designed to help facilitate a conversation about birth trauma, postpartum depression (PPD), and postpartum anxiety by exploring topics such as anger, depression, isolation, guilt, and shame. The ideal audience for this group includes mothers who feel they have experienced trauma and/or who feel that they exhibit signs of PPD or postpartum anxiety as a result of their birth experience. Through a blend of psychoeduation, mindfullness exercises, journaling, experiential exercises and talk therapy within the group, group members can begin the healing process of their birth experiences.
The REBIRTH group is lead by Erin Newton, a licensed clinical counselor, a survivor of birth trauma, and a candidate for PMH-C certification, a standardization of training and experience for perinatal mental health specialists.
For more information on birth trauma, how to write your birth story, and processing trauma, consider the following books: