by Erin Newton, LCPC
Hi friends! We have done so much over the last few weeks! If you’ve been keeping up and completing the assignments along with us, you should be very proud of yourself. You’ve likely unpacked a lot or maybe you’ve simply been thinking more about things than you did before. Either way, I am proud of what you’ve accomplished so far.
If you are just now discovering this blog, this is the fifth and final installment in a series on birth trauma and unpacking and dissecting your birth story and the feelings associated with it, layer by layer. So far, we’ve learned about how helpful journaling can be for processing trauma and how it can be a safe place to process feelings.
We started our birth stories with The Big Lie, which was your story of how “everything is fine” and “no big deal.” Then, we took that lie and started to become curious about what the feelings behind it were using what’s called The Birthtalk Breakdown, a tool created by Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould, authors of How to Heal a Bad Birth. Last week, we took all those facts and feelings and wrote two different versions of the same story, the first one focusing on all the feelings your birth story brought up for you, and then you had the option to revise that story or to instead focus on re-reading and accepting that your version and your feelings are accurate and complete.
If you’ve been completing the assignments for yourself, you may have three stories (or maybe just two, if you decided that your Version #2.0 was complete), each very different from each other. You also have a chart with facts of your story on one side and the feelings that each fact created for you on the other. You might be able to see by now the progression from what you’ve been telling people about your feelings and your experiences and how you actually feel about them. Maybe you’re remembering things you thought you forgot, maybe you’re feeling a lot better…or maybe you’re feeling worse having to think about and sit with things you’ve been avoiding for a long time. Maybe you’re asking yourself, where do I go from here?
But first, let me pause and tell you that in less than ONE week my birth trauma support group, REBIRTH is starting up again. And this time, it’s all virtual, which opens the door for mommas to be supported who are outside Harford County, 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 email@example.com
The last part in our series, Version #3.0, is about going after the sore spots. There are pieces of your story that are especially jarring for you to write and remember. These are the places to start digging deeper for your trauma. The places where you felt the most alone, the most scared, or the most angry. The part of your story that’s the hardest for you to share with others. Ask yourself, where does your trauma exist in the physical world? How does your body physically carry the trauma? Are there certain places or people that activate your trauma for you? Who are you most angry with? Do you have guilt? Do you have regrets?
In keeping with our example from the first two posts, this Version #3.0 might look something like this:
One of the worst parts of my birth experience was the guilt and responsibility that I feel over not going home when I really wanted to. In my heart, I knew that the doctor was bullying me into the induction. I truly felt that there was nothing wrong with me or my baby, but I didn’t feel strong enough to advocate for myself and my daughter. The doctor made me fear that I was jeopardizing her health if I did not agree to be induced and even alluded to the fact that she could die if we went home. Logically, I know that I made the only choice I could have really made in the moment, that 99% of women, when being told with their first pregnancy that their baby would die if they didn’t agree to something, would have done the same thing. But emotionally, I felt like a coward. What kind of mother doesn’t stand up for their child? I knew better, I had read about doctors doing this very thing, and yet when it was happening in front of my I felt completely powerless to do anything about it.
My daughter was born early and small and struggled to eat and gain weight quickly. She didn’t crawl until almost 10 months; she was 2.5 years old before she really spoke in sentences. I tried through all of this to stay positive, to say that she would do things in her own time, but deep down, I was scared and I felt guilt that my inability to stand up for her was responsible for her physical shortcomings. Another piece of me, a much darker and shameful piece, resented her. She was a walking, breathing reminder of the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to me. This isn’t her fault and she does not deserve to be treated differently, but there are days I wonder if I do. Do I hug her less than her sisters? Am I less affectionate towards her? Am I harder on her? Does she feel that I struggle sometimes to connect?
This sore spot explored one big feeling in several different ways – guilt. Guilt for not doing more to prevent an induction, guilt for her child not developing as fast as maybe she could have, and guilt for her actions now, even if they are based in fear and not reality. You may have lots of sore spots to work out, and that’s ok. Start with the one you think you can work with first and take it apart, bit by bit, and hold it up to the light.
Whether you’ve completed this entire series or just pieces of it, you should be
It’s hard work to confront feelings you would rather leave buried and to remember things you would rather forget. You may feel a lot better if you have done some unpacking of your trauma…or you may not feel as good as you thought you would. Please understand that for a lot of people, these exercises are a starting point for them, but not an end destination. A therapist trained in trauma and/or women’s issues can help you get the rest of the way there.
So what does healing from birth trauma look like? Healing happens slowly and requires time; every woman must heal at her own pace. Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould, authors of “How to Heal a Bad Birth,” state that this process is often like peeling back the layers of an onion. Once you begin to understand how much birth matters, and really acknowledge how much you have been hurt, you may do some crying and grieving, develop a new understanding, and feel better about things for awhile. Then something might happen – you see a birth on tv, your baby’s birthday rolls around, or you become pregnant – and you fall apart again, more layers start to peel. For many women, healing is not a straight-forward process. On any given day there may be anger, guilt, shame or maybe all three at once! After months of talking and grieving, you may feel you are finally healed, only to be triggered by something else you didn’t realize you had to work through, and then you will work through that, and another layer of healing will begin. Like healing from all things, it is a process, and one that cannot be rushed. The very fact that you started allows for some healing that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Throughout this series we have talked about healing and pain and trying to move on. We’ve tried to quantify what these exercises will do for us and that there is value in sitting with big feelings, even when this is the last thing that we want to do. But what do we really mean when we say healing? Do we mean that we don’t think about our experiences anymore or that we simply aren’t triggered by them? Do we mean we “get over it”? What does that even mean?
I haven’t discussed my own trauma much in this series, but for me, it means I no longer hate hearing the birth stories of other mothers. I no longer avoid baby showers and find excuses to do other things during family gatherings when the story moves to birth. I can tell my own birth story now, and while the last two stories of my younger children are more positive, it is that first story that gave me my daughter. It is the first story that made me a mother.
What healing does not mean, however, is that you no longer feel any effects from your trauma. My daughter turned 11 this past September. This year, just like with the last 10, I knew exactly which day in 2008 that I was admitted for monitoring, the very time that they started my pitocin drip, the exact moment I admitted defeat and cried for the epidural. The day of her birth is a joyous day…but it’s also a devastating one. It is the anniversary of a trauma and even though every year it gets a little easier, even feeling healed from that experience does not mean that it is forgotten.
Perhaps what healing really means is peace. Peace with the person you thought you would be but couldn’t, peace with the doctors who treated you, peace with your partner who felt as helpless and unable to speak up as you did. But most of all, peace and understanding with yourself. Peace with the decisions you made when you had no other choice.
As we have stated throughout this series, these are the important things to keep in mind if you choose to dive deeper into your trauma:
Thank you for your willingness and openness to explore your own trauma. Remember that the work you have done here is just scratching the surface. A qualified professional can help you go further with your healing, should you feel that you need it. Your experience and your pain matters. And you matter too.
Erin Newton, LCPC
Are you feeling like this process has helped you start to unlock something, but you’re not sure where to go from here? Check out our FREE guide with the ten signs of birth trauma.
Or, consider whether the Rebirth group might be right for you! You have one more week to join us and REBIRTH is now being hosted virtually! 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.
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: