If you’re a woman whose expressed any disappointment or sadness after your birth experience, there’s a phrase you’ve definitely heard:
This is such an obvious statement, that it never needs to be uttered. There is a shame that exists around giving birth and not being completely happy with the experience — and it’s isolating and damaging for women. New moms, you are allowed to feel shitty about your birth. It doesn’t make you a horrible mom or insensitive person.
My first birth ended in an emergency c-section that terrified me. My son’s heart came to a near stop, which took me from a delivery room to an operating room. The doctors, the rushing, the panic — all of it was terrifying. I just remember thinking, “Terrible things happen to people. Why should it be any different for me? My baby is going to die.” He didn’t. He was born healthy and beautiful and for that I was grateful. But it didn’t erase the shock of the experience. My memory of the whole birth is clouded in panic and horror. It was incredibly hard for me to recover emotionally from the fear that I experienced in those moments leading up to his birth.
I cried almost every day for three months after that experience. I wouldn’t even be able to count the number of times someone said to me, “Well, the most important thing is that your baby is healthy.” I wanted to say, “Really? No shit.” I felt like I was failing my first parenting test by being unable to shove all of my own feelings aside and just be thankful that I had a healthy baby.
When someone goes through something hard, there is a knee-jerk reaction to remind them that it could always be worse. All this does is make a person feel guilty about their totally valid feelings. Women who’ve experienced birth trauma — even women who simply didn’t enjoy their birth experiences for reasons that have nothing to do with trauma — are allowed those feelings. The birth of a child is a transformative, life-changing, stressful event. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to have feelings about the way it went down?
The implication that a woman should completely dismiss her own feelings because she has a healthy baby is patronizing and cruel. It’s basically saying – you don’t have a right to feel the way you do, because people have it way worse than you. Yes, there are women whose babies die during childbirth. That is catastrophic, not traumatic. The two situations have nothing to do with each other – they simply aren’t comparable. Reminding a new mom that something terrible could’ve happened to her child is an awful way to try and comfort her.
If you know someone has experienced a difficult birth, here’s what you can say:
You made it.
I’m here for you.
Resist the temptation to make everything about the baby. A woman who’s given birth is still a human being, too.