By Erin Newton, LCPC, PMH-C
Three and a half years ago, I shared with all of the internet that I had a traumatic birth experience with my oldest daughter. If you read that post, it starts off by saying that it’s been 11 years. Well, now it’s been 14 years (HOW) and many blog posts later. I created an e-course and we did a webinar. I’ve worked with mamas with similar experiences and we’ve cried and laughed and they’ve healed and you know what? I think I’ve healed more too. My memories of her birth are further away now, harder to touch, nowhere near as close to the surface. More and more pieces have filed away and that’s how trauma is supposed to work.
I thought for the blog today that we would tackle the concept of “good” birth stories versus “bad” birth stories. A big goal of the birth trauma therapy group that I run is for moms to fully understand the experiences they’ve had, unpack why those experiences are causing so many upsetting feelings for them, and have a greater acceptance for those feelings. In the third week of the ten week group, we work on addressing the concept of a “good” birth versus a “bad” birth. And you may be asking yourself now – what makes a birth good or bad?
If you surveyed a bunch of moms, I would bet that an awful lot of them might say that a vaginal birth without medication is a “good” birth and a c-section, even a planned one, would be a “bad” birth. Unfortunately, our society places a lot of judgment on women and moms in just about every aspect of their lives and parenting – and often this starts with how a woman chooses to birth…or in lots of cases, is forced to birth. Collective society often judges that “good” equals a woman not accepting help for her pain and delivering her baby “herself,” rather than her baby being delivered surgically. And conversely, we often think of a “bad” birth as one where mom needs or asks for a c-section or even pain medication. So, are all c-sections bad and are all vaginal births good? Um, no! And if you planned one type of birth that “failed” and you had to give birth another way, is that always going to be traumatic? Again – no, not necessarily.
Language is important, friends. And when it comes to birth, it’s really really important. I want everyone to start thinking about the language here differently. I want you to consider the terms “good” and “bad” in terms of birth differently than you might have before. Rather than placing arbitrary judgments on them based on the events that happened, I want you to consider that what matters more than what happened is how a woman felt while it was happening.
The big question here is: What determines trauma when it comes to birth? Why are some vaginal, unmedicated birth traumatic and why are some c-sections, even unplanned ones not? What do women need for a “good” birth, for a birth that they would consider not traumatic? It’s pretty simple really:
In essence, they need to be treated like human beings, like their feelings matter – because they do. Over the years, the theme of most of the women I’ve worked with who have experienced birth trauma is that they feel like things were done to them, rather than they consented to a specific treatment. They’ve told me they feel like a baby vessel rather than a person with their own concerns and needs. Those feelings breed trauma. Those feelings make their birth feel bad.
What this new definition means is that you can likely no longer tell a good birth from a bad one if you are not the owner of the experience. Your own biases and judgments may lead you to look at a woman who had a fast, natural, vaginal birth as someone who in fact had a good birth! You hear women say this all the time, don’t you? “OMG I wish my labor was that fast! Mine took forever!” But if you ask the owner of the experience, she might tell you that her pain was overwhelming, she couldn’t get on top of it, and she felt abandoned by her partner at that moment because they couldn’t do anything to help her. If you ask her, she might tell you it was definitely not great, maybe even “bad.” We can no longer just say that what happened during a birth experience determines how traumatic or not traumatic it was – we really have to look at how mom was feeling during it to figure that out.
If you’re a therapist who has a desire to help other moms untangle their own “bad” birth story, I’m so proud to announce the Rebirth Therapy Group Curriculum is finally ready! This one of a kind curriculum is for therapists and other mental health professionals looking to run a supportive and educational therapy group for mothers who have experienced birth trauma. It includes everything you need to start your own birth trauma therapy group, including educational videos for the therapist, group format guide sheets for each week, handouts, articles, and even suggested homework assignments for group members. And as a bonus, the ability to purchase mugs, notebooks, and even one-on-one consultations with yours truly! The curriculum investment is $249, but from now until December 31st, we are running a holiday sale that discounts it to $199! That’s less than $20 a week for everything you need to start your own group. I’m really excited about it and hope you are too. It’s been in the works for the last year and I’m so glad to share it with all of you.
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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