The birth story of my first son is a doozy. It’s something I’ll only talk about with other moms—battle-hardened, thousand-yard-stare-having, talking-over-toddlers-without-missing-a-beat moms. A bright-eyed, newly pregnant, first-timer doesn’t want to hear about a traumatic birth, so I tend to keep the details to myself.
The thing about birth is that everybody seems to think that the only thing that matters is a healthy mom and a healthy baby. For those who have had a birth experience that’s less than ideal, that belief can devalue your feelings and make you feel even more isolated than you already do. Whether you hoped for an all-natural water birth and ended up with a c-section, struggled with postpartum depression, had a baby in the NICU, or found that you weren’t producing enough to breastfeed, it can bring up feelings of sadness, concern and inadequacy.
I Found the Need for a Plan
I was admitted for an induction at 39 weeks due to gestational hypertension. I had a loose idea of a birth plan which consisted of, “I’ve never done this before, let’s keep expectations low and see how it goes.” I was expecting surprises but I didn’t expect my labor to lead me down a long road of physical and mental recovery.
When I got pregnant with my second, I was thrilled. After the first week or so the shine began to fade as I realized I was actually going to have to have this kid. The thought of returning to labor and delivery brought back a lot of feelings that I had pushed aside from my experience with my first. For the sake of my growing baby and my mental health, I knew I needed a plan in place.
While not without complication (I’m good at being pregnant, but things tend to fall apart at the end), the birth story of my second child is an incredible contrast to the first. I rolled with the punches, maintained my sanity, and am finally experiencing the blissful postpartum period that I missed out on the first time. It was not by chance, or by grace. It was with hard work and the help of professionals that I changed my path the second time around. While I know that everybody has a different experience, I wanted to share what worked for me in the hope that it could help another mom who struggled with a traumatic birth experience.
I Found a New Environment
It was important for me to shed my relationship with the practice and hospital where my first son was born. I knew that having a clean slate would help push aside the feelings of having “been there before” when it came to delivery. Before I left, I scheduled an appointment with one of the founders of the practice. I had questions about how and why things happened the way they did and why certain decisions were made. When I was in labor, I felt as though my voice and choices were taken from me. We discussed my case in depth, and I was able to voice my concerns about my labor experience and traumatic birth story. This meant a lot. I wasn’t asking for apology, I wasn’t expecting any action, but it was reassuring to know that my questions were answered and concerns addressed.
With my second son, I went in another direction. My new practice came highly recommended. I made the decision to advocate for myself from the beginning and never left an appointment without feeling like my questions were being answered. I was open about my previous experience and concerns from the beginning and felt as though every effort was made to accommodate requests and put my mind at ease.
I Found Help
I had terrible postpartum anxiety with my firstborn. I tried to avoid medication as long as possible but eventually ended up willing to try anything. The first medication we tried did not work for me but about a week after starting the second it felt like the sun was coming up again. I was no longer a nervous wreck, the panic attacks began to subside and I started to feel like my old self. Since I did not intend on my OB being the prescriber for a long time, I elected to find a psychiatrist. My doctor is incredible. She is kind, smart, accessible, and helped me understand what I was going through. I did not choose to see a therapist during this episode because my response to the medication was incredible.
Once I found out I was pregnant with my second, I made an appointment with my psychiatrist. This was less about my status (I was doing very well), but more about getting my “team” in place. We discussed the pros (many) and cons (not many) of staying on my current medication during pregnancy and what we would do should I feel as though my mental health was a struggle. I also decided to see a therapist to break through the PTSD my first labor had caused.
If I hadn’t gotten pregnant again, the stress would have sat in a box inside of my mind until it slowly melted away. The thought of having another baby was essentially putting me back into the war zone. I only saw my therapist for a few sessions, but she provided me homework and cues to work on that would help me realize that this experience was different than the first. I worked on exposure and visualized my ideal birth story to commit to memory. One of the best exercises was a loud mental “STOP” whenever my brain tried to make the comparison between delivery number one and upcoming delivery number two.
I Talked it Out, A Lot
Really. To anybody who would listen. I reached out to new moms to let them know that postpartum mood disorders are real and I was there if they wanted to talk. It is so important to break down the stigma around mental illness and the belief that every birth is perfect. I cried on my husband’s shoulder when I was afraid, nervous, or overwhelmed. I didn’t let my feelings simmer. I didn’t give my fears power. I spoke them out loud. I made friends with them. I allowed them to exist, and I owned my struggle with traumatic birth.
My Traumatic Birth Story Changed on Round Two
My second delivery was not perfect. I had a lunch time OB appointment and was found to have elevated blood pressure. The PA recommended I head to triage after work for some labs and monitoring. By the time I arrived, my blood pressure was at a dangerous level and I was informed the baby was coming that day. Not cool. I was only 35 weeks pregnant. I had so much left to do to prepare and this was absolutely not in my ideal birth experience.
The difference this time was that I had a team in my corner and tools in place. My anxiety was controlled with medication and the therapist had provided me tips to cope with unexpected events. I was in the hands of a team I respected, and had met the doctor on call before that day. I spoke up for myself when I had a question or when things didn’t feel right instead of watching action unfold around me.
My husband arrived just in time for me to get admitted to my room while we waited for the OR to be prepped. He didn’t leave my side as we welcomed a healthy baby boy into the world. Even when my son was taken to the NICU for monitoring of his little lungs. I had faith in myself, my team, my hospital. I didn’t fall apart because my foundation was strong.
Even now, weeks into my experience as a mom of two, I am at peace. I am mentally sound and truly loving the newborn phase which is so incredibly different than it was a few years ago.
I am so proud of myself for acknowledging what was wrong and allowing myself to be rebuilt. Postpartum anxiety and depression, PTSD, traumatic labor, regrets, and doubts are all real. They are scary but survivable. A traumatic birth story does not have to be the only story. It is my hope to keep the ball rolling with outreach, dialogue, and good care so that every woman can have the experience she deserves.