by Erin Newton, LCPC
If you’ve been following along in the series, we’ve accomplished a lot in the last three posts. If you have not been following, go back and read the last three posts to get caught up! Or, jump down to the end of this post if you’re interested in learning more about REBIRTH: a birth trauma support group starting this April! REBIRTH is currently being offered virtually and will also be available as an e-course soon!
Back to our regularly scheduled programming!
This blog post series focuses on writing the different versions of your birth story that you are working through, each one filling a purpose for picking apart the trauma, layer by layer.
So far, we’ve discussed how writing is helpful for processing trauma as it acts as a form of meditation for the brain, and can be a safe place to process feelings.
We started with The Big Lie, which was your story of how “everything is fine” and “no big deal.” Last week, we took that lie and started to become curious about the feelings behind the lies by using what’s called The Birthtalk Breakdown (get your free worksheet here), a tool created by Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould, authors of How to Heal a Bad Birth. Using this tool, you can write down the facts of your birth story alongside the feelings that accompanied them, therefore allowing you to start to uncover what your feelings really are.
By now, you might be having some pretty big feelings about your birth story and some of them may be feelings that you didn’t anticipate. This is ok! The process of uncovering these feelings can be a difficult and scary one and you are very brave for taking it on. If you need more time to start processing some of these, take that time. Maybe the Birthtalk Breakdown brought some things up that you need to sit on or maybe you couldn’t get all the way through it in one session and needed another week to finish it. There is no rush here, no time table. Your healing happens on your own schedule and in your own time.
Once you feel ready to move on, you can begin Version #2.0 of your story. Version #2.0 is focused on writing how your story feels. This is the version of the story that hurts the most. Start your story where you feel it needs to start – this may mean you start at your first contraction, or even when you first found out you were pregnant – wherever you feel your story really starts for you. If you want, you can use your Birthtalk Breakdown sheet as a guide for the facts of the story coupled with the feelings. As you’re writing, resist the urge to censor your story or analyze or belittle your feelings.
Make sure you set enough time aside to go deep into your memory and try to access pieces you might have buried. Don’t worry if this process is slow. When I have assigned this for homework in the birth trauma group, some women started with five words and stayed that way for weeks until they felt they could go further. This is ok. Slow progress is still progress.
What might this look like? Here is an example of what Version #2.0 might look like for someone:
At 35 weeks pregnant, I was admitted to the hospital for monitoring overnight due to low fluid. I was annoyed to have to stay overnight for being simply dehydrated. I felt that things were being blown out of proportion. The next day, I was told I needed to be induced and the induction was started an hour later. I was started on magnesium also in addition to drugs to thin my cervix. I was terrified when the induction started. I was afraid of having to have a c-section, of throwing up, of being in a lot of pain, and of my baby not breathing because it was so early. The magnesium made me hot and sick to my stomach. I was also hungry because no one would let me eat. I felt betrayed by the medical staff who made me feel like I had no other option but the induction. I felt cheated out of the last of my pregnancy. I was also embarrassed because I felt my weight was tied to why they were inducing me. I felt like a bad mom for being so overweight.
Sixteen hours into the induction, they started pitocin. I felt awful, in lots of pain, and helpless. I couldn’t get out of bed or move around to try to make the pain manageable. I felt trapped, out of control, and overwhelmed. After 12 hours of pitocin, I asked for an epidural. This was probably the lowest point of my induction. I felt defeated, embarrassed and humiliated. I felt like I gave up. I apologized to my husband for not being strong enough to go on. I felt like this was what the hospital staff wanted for me to do from the very beginning. I felt like a bad mom and like I failed my daughter.
Two hours after the epidural, I pushed my daughter out in 27 minutes. I felt relieved that she was breathing well and that she did not need to go to the NICU. I was happy that labor was over.The magnesium had to stay on for 24 hours after her birth. The next day they turned it off after 12 because I was so dehydrated. I was frustrated that I still couldn’t eat and that I was still so hot. They also wouldn’t let me shower until they unhooked the magnesium. I was angry the next day when they stopped it early because I felt that meant it truly wasn’t necessary in the first place. I felt like no one listened to me or cared what I wanted or how I felt. It was the scariest experience of my life.
Version #2.1 doesn’t start out as a completely different story. Instead, it’s a process that begins with reading Version #2.0 once, then again, and then a third time, or even a fourth time. After you feel your story is complete, put it aside for a bit. Trust what you have written is accurate, true, and important. When you are ready to go back to it, approach it as if it were your best friend’s story, with all the compassion you would have for him or her. Do not edit it or change it at this point.
Research tells us that healing can take place as we read and accept our story as truly what has happened to us. Up until this point, you may have been re-telling an old story, perhaps a story where you didn’t matter or where you weren’t able to recognize and feel your feelings as they really were. Maybe you’ve been telling your Big Lie to people or maybe you haven’t been telling anyone anything, instead preferring to not talk about your birth story and to avoid others when they try to talk about theirs. This process of acceptance and realization can take time. Continue to re-read your story until you feel that it really is what happened to you. Once you are at that place, consider writing it again, maybe correcting something you’ve been minimizing or adding something you forgot.
As we always state, there are important things to keep in mind if you choose to continue to go through the process of writing your birth story:
If you choose to complete this exercise, what differences did you see in Version #2.0 and Version #2.1? Did you remember something? Feel differently about something? Did you dig up a feeling you thought you buried? Send us a message about it or comment here if you are feeling particularly brave in this moment.
Stayed tuned for our final blog post as we continue to work on different ways to write your birth story!
Erin Newton, LCPC
PS – I didn’t forget! Here’s all the nitty gritty details about REBIRTH: a birth trauma support group.
REBIRTH is an important and intentional birth trauma support group in Harford County, Maryland. This 10-week transformative experience draws on education, experiential learning, and community. Heal alongside other women while processing your own birth story. If you’re wondering if REBIRTH is right for you, please call (570)-689-8130 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – the $100 discount is available until March 27th!
**For more information on birth trauma, how to write your birth story, and processing trauma, consider the following books:
Erin Newton has been working with individuals and families for almost nine years now. She specializes in perinatal mental health, birth trauma, and anxiety related issues. She strives to help her clients feel seen, heard, understood and to give them the tools they need to start their own journey of healing.
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