I had an incredible, drug-free natural birth with my son and felt like I could leap from tall buildings and conquer the world at the end of it. But for 10 years I still felt as if something was missing.
That something was the fact that I had not been given the opportunity to push my baby out. Despite labouring well, the obstetrician came in during my pushing, turned on all the lights and insisted I get on the bed for him to exam me. Then when my pushing slowed down he took over using ventouse to suction my son out.
This lack of control and inability to birth my baby always left me with a feeling of failure and wanting. Had my body failed me? I never got to experience the complete miracle and power of pushing my baby out of my body.
When I was fortunate enough to became pregnant again ten years later I felt deep down it was my opportunity to prove to myself my body could birth a baby unassisted and to somehow rid myself of the feelings of failure and longing. As I said to a friend, it was a chance to achieve what I had not been able to achieve first time around and have a redemptive birth.
I didn’t stop to think what would happen if things didn’t go to plan second time around and how I would feel if my power was taken away from me again.
Debby Gould, former midwife and co-author of How to Heal a Bad Birth: Making Sense, Making Peace and Moving On, said many women seek redemptive births and it is an attractive idea to try to redo things, but she warned it is not always the answer or the best approach.
“Although it might be tempting to just focus on having a healing birth this time, this is potentially a trap that can lead to further trauma, grief or loss, if the last birth has not been explored. Even if the subsequent birth is positive, it may also highlight unresolved anger and grief from a previous birth or perinatal experience, which may come up unexpectedly after the recent birth," she said.
I was lucky second time around. I did get the birth experience I longed for. In fact, I probably got a whole hour of intense, full body expulsive pushing. I remember thinking, "why won’t someone just come and get this baby out of me?"
However, despite now proving to myself, what I already knew – that my body can do what it needs to – I do still feel a sense of loss and probably even more anger over the fact that was taken away from me first time around.
Debby said she strongly urges women to work through any trauma before a second birth. Her book has several chapters explaining how to heal from a bad birth and how to have a better birth second time around.
“It is vital that women working towards another birth after a traumatic birth are not making their decisions from a place of fear. By reflecting on the previous birth, gaining new information about what happened, understanding more about why it was traumatic, and exploring the feelings that have arisen, the woman has more tools to make decisions going forward. She can use this new information to make choices based on knowledge.”
“When a woman has the opportunity to explore what an empowering birth is, and what her needs are, often reflecting on what she missed last time, she can gain insights that can help her in considering what will make this next experience positive and empowering for her,” Debby explained.
Monique Bowley and Bec Judd deep dive on the beautiful act of labour, speaking to mums and experts. Post continues after audio.
She said women should consider, who they want to have supporting them, what environment they want to be in, what type of health care they want and what will help them feel central to the experience.
Debby recommends the following steps to heal a previous negative birth experience:
1. Acknowledging an awareness that you have of being impacted by your previous experience and that it is perhaps not fully resolved.
2. The opportunity to debrief your story, with somebody, who is able to acknowledge what you have been through and its possible ongoing impacts - with empathy.
3. Validating what you have been through and its significance as well as gaining insights to make sense of your experience - with someone, who understands birth and birth trauma.
4. The opportunity to process and understand your feelings around your experience.
Tips for making space and working towards an empowering birth:
Have the opportunity to make sense of, process and heal your previous experiences.
Access information that allows you to understand the value of the birthing process for mothers and babies, and that it has an impact - birth matters.
Understand what makes a birth "good' or 'bad' and work towards a good birth, whatever the path, allowing for you to feel empowered, confident, positive and strong, going into parenthood, this next time.
Learn how women's birthing bodies work best, what support is needed and what to do if a different path to what you had imagined is taken.
Learn how the health system works so you can be central to your team and negotiate what is important to you.
Identify what you need to feel safe and supported in birthing.
If you're interested in the book, How to Heal a Bad Birth is available in paperback and eBook.
In celebration of 150 episodes of This Glorious Mess - our podcast for imperfect parents, we're dropping out first ever show for some cringeworthy listening goodness. We're taking to it the beginning and answering the tough questions - How did you know you were ready to have kids? Are you the kind of parent you thought you'd be? And what makes a family?