As we celebrate my firstborn's 6th birthday tomorrow I've been finding myself reflecting back to my last days of pregnancy with him, his birth and my emotions around it at the time. Impatience, anticipation and so much unknown or unawareness as I better call it, summarises my emotional state quite well. I knew nothing as I know today, thought I had it all worked out and was so eager to experience birth and meet my baby boy! This post is not about his birth as I wrote about down his birth story previously and you can read it here but more around the feelings I hold today about it all unfolded...
I meet many women in my work as a doula who hold tremendous guilt, sadness and feelings of trauma towards a previous birth. The first thing I notice is that many women haven't dared to acknowledge or express their feelings about their birth as they feel they are invalid or 'shouldn't be felt'. As a society we are not very good at encouraging women to feel into their births, in particular if there are negative feelings involved and a live baby at the end. I can't quite wrap my head around this 'just get on with it' attitude when we as the birthing women are the ones needing to take care of the baby afterwards and it also assumes that our emotional experience as a human being doesn't matter or is irrelevant. Where has this come from? We are more than vessels and as mothers our emotional wellbeing matters tremendously for the lives of our children. It is clear to me that a lot of women carry unresolved emotion with themselves surrounding their birth experiences and how important the work around this is.
Secondly I observe that most women, whether they've had a positive or negative birth experience, have difficulty in giving themselves true credit for what they as an individual did on their baby's birthday. It takes a lot to hear a woman say 'I feel proud of my birth' and when my clients say this postnatally it is one of the most beautiful and satisfying things in my ears. Giving birth involves a lot of courage, strength, endurance and self sacrifice, no matter how you give birth and you deserve to realise and acknowledge your contribution towards bringing life into this world. You are allowed to feel proud.
But coming back to myself and my feelings around my own birth. It is a fair statement to make that in the early years after my son's birth I did hold trauma and heavy, oh so heavy guilt on my shoulders. Guilt for not 'trusting the process' by agreeing to an induction at 10 days past my due date, for being naive and not empowered to say 'no' when the 10th doctor came in to check my cervix and 'see if I can stretch you' to finally reach my bag of membranes after two days of prostaglandin gel treatment. Horror when I recall that moment in the shower of the delivery suite on my own, slipping and falling straight onto my belly causing me to rupture my membranes. Feeling 'weak' for asking for an epidural when I overcontracted on the synto, lying on the floor not being able to move and thinking I'm losing my mind and feeling oh so fucking alone (excuse the language) - my husband being quite lost himself not knowing how he could help me. I thought I was made to give birth and here I was lying on a bed, immobile and my baby was being extracted from me by forceps. For quite some time I did not believe 'I gave birth to him' but he was rather 'dragged' out of me. I didn't give myself any credit, felt shame for having 'failed' at the task at hand.
But I acknowledged those feelings and began working through them. I looked them straight in the eye and began to deepen my understanding of the process birth as I started my doula studies and with it came an appreciation of what had actually happened during my own first birth. I allowed myself to cry quite a few hot tears that rolled down my cheeks, feeling the sadness...and what followed was a liberating sense of compassion. Compassion for myself, my choices, my contribution during my birth, how much I had given and the resilience I showed in my postnatal recovery, being a mother lioness with all my heart and senses the second my son had arrived in my arms. And the greatest gift has been to acknowledge that I made the decisions and did what I could with the knowledge I had at the time. That is all I could have ever asked of myself and it was instrumental in finding peace of how I gave birth to my first son. I gave my all and my everything.
So on my son's 6th birthday and my 6th anniversary of being a mother I will feel pride and happiness. Pride of the beautiful, confident, strong, smart, funny and energetic boy he has grown into. And peace for what I did over the course of three days to bring him into the world which, most importantly, deserves my own credit and acknowledgment. His birth is a part of my and his life story forever and tomorrow I will celebrate it with joy.
And to you, mama, if you are holding feelings about your birth experience(s) that are lying heavy on your shoulders or you have never allowed yourself to truly, deeply look at then I can only encourage you to embark on a path of healing. Recognise and validate your feelings, seek a deeper understanding of what happened during your birth (you may find reading your medical notes helpful in this process or to debrief with a birth professional such as a doula) and work towards a place of recognising your contribution and feeling compassion towards yourself. You deserve to feel proud of your birth, no matter how it unfolded.