by Erin Newton, LCPC
About a year ago, I attempted to run the Walt Disney World Marathon. It was such a hot day, that race officials ended up shortening the course, and I missed getting to finish the entire 26.2 miles by minutes. When I tell you I was completely devastated…this is an understatement. I was all the feelings! Angry, hurt, sad, embarrassed. I had trained for five months to run that race! 80 runs! Almost 500 miles! And in the end, my greatest fear realized: I couldn’t do it. I cried that whole day. I cried finishing the race. I cried on the bus back to the hotel. I cried in the shower. This big huge thing I had planned and practiced for and had such high hopes….in the end, complete and utter defeat.
We plan and prepare, we pray and we envision and we just know that at the end, it will all be worth it. It will be this beautiful, happy experience. Everyone is happy with a baby, right?
But what happens when we have the baby, but not the way we planned or hoped for or wanted?
Some of you might think this analogy is silly. Some of you might try to tell me that I really did run a marathon (I know, I know. 24.7 miles is really far! But it’s not a marathon…).
Try to resist that for the moment and be curious about this: Isn’t this similar to how we discredit moms feelings after birth? We tell them that they did a great job, that they had the baby, that the baby is healthy and that’s all that matters. But that loss of what they wanted, what they planned for? That trauma? That matters too.
It seems to me that an awful lot of people feel that they don’t need to process their trauma, and that in time, it will just go away.
am I right? Actually…no, no that’s not right.
Time alone does not heal trauma. Man, I really wish it did! I wish I could tell you that a year after this race it didn’t hurt to look at my medal anymore, that I feel better about what happened that day because a whole year has passed. But that’s a lie. I feel pretty much the same.
I remember learning this several years ago and being completely blown away by it. A traumatized brain has an underactive thinking center, an underactive emotional regulation center, and an overactive fear center.
This means that if you’ve experienced something traumatic, you are now biologically wired to have trouble thinking clearly, difficulty regulating your emotions, and to experience more stress, fear, and hypervigilance than someone who has not experienced it. When I say “biologically wired” I mean that the grooves and divots in your brain literally change.
So if you’ve experienced birth trauma, those effects will not just go away with time! They need to be processed and untangled. You need to feel heard and seen. We’ve talked about this before on the blog, but it bears repeating: a traumatic memory often feels alive, raw, or stuck. Over time, your story continues to feel unfinished, like there are pieces of it you just can’t let go. You may be able to manage or face the pain, you might get really good at looking like you’re ok, but you just can’t make it all go away. You continue to feel triggered by certain things. Your trauma experience continues to define and control aspects of your life.
It is also normal after a traumatic experience to feel that you are making something out of nothing, overreacting, hanging on to the past, or feeling like your experience isn’t “bad enough” to feel the way that you do. I feel this way telling my marathon story, but I also know (and I want you to know) that what is hard for me is hard for me. And what is hard or hurtful for you, is hard and hurtful for you. It does not need to be worse than anyone else. There are no comparative suffering medals. You are allowed to feel however you need to feel.
If you are feeling this way about your experience you are not overreacting! You are suffering in a very real and important way that deserves treatment. You deserve to get the help and support that you did not have during or after your birth experience. You deserve to feel better.
If you are struggling with a traumatic birth experience, the REBIRTH therapy group could be the place for you! The REBIRTH group is a birth trauma 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 traumatic birth experiences. The Rebirth group is led 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.
The group meets virtually on Tuesdays from 7:00 – 8:30 and begins February 2nd. The group will run for ten weeks, ending on Tuesday, April 6th. Contact Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-689-8130 to register.