Birth Story- The Hard Way

*Trigger Warning: This blog post is dedicated to, for and about women who have carried negative feelings about their birth story.  This is not everyone's story, and this is not a post for everyone.  But it IS a post for more of us than are recognized.  Thank you for reading.*

Every time I go to a postpartum appointment, I ask my clients to re-tell their birth story.  I know I was there, but I don't get an emotional payout from your birth.  I was not the one in labor, I was not the one looking forward to that day for 10 months (maybe more)!  I was not the person in the room who loves you more than life itself, so while I have my own version of your birth (which I will write out for you if you purchase packages 2-4), I want to know YOUR version of events.

I love to hear the stories of how you felt loved, or how you laughed more with your partner than you thought you would, or how close you felt to that person during labor.  I love to see the sun shining in your faces as you think back about the positive memories.  I do love a good birth story.

But that's not why I ask.  I'm asking because I'm your doula, and because my job doesn't end with your birth. I'm trained to watch out for things in your birth story that might be triggers for you, things that might be jumping off points for larger emotional concerns down the road.  I'm listening for what you remember about your birth, how you feel about it, if you have more ups than downs, or visa versa.  I'm listening to my gut, as I watch your face(s) recount what is most certainly one of the most memorable days of your life, for better or worse. 

I like to keep this part of our postpartum meeting to just the people who were there in the room, so you don't feel like you have an audience, and also so the audience doesn't feel the need to respond or make you feel better when really, you might just feel... not ok.

I cannot stress enough the value of rehashing your birth story honestly.  Time and time again, I've had a mom tell me "she's ok" but then crying during her birth story and being embarrassed about it.  Or spend the next 5 minutes trying to reassure me that "she's fine".  Mom, you're not ok.  If you cry anything other than tears of happiness when you tell your birth story, you're not ok.  But here's the thing:

**Its ok that you're not ok.** 

If your story was in some way exhausting, tiring, frightening, overwhelming, sad, scary, disempowering, out of control, or just plain too much, then you should honor that.  Don't pretend it's something that it wasn't.  This is not the time for "fake it 'til you make it".  Even if everyone else in the room thought it was beautiful and perfect and didn't see anything wrong, but you felt "off" or angry or hurt or afraid or anxious, then THAT is your story.  And its ok if your story isn't all sunshine and roses.  Its your story, and you should stick with it.  When you can, sit with those feelings of depression/anxiety/fear/emptiness and just let them be.  Don't imagine them to be more or less than they are, don't try to figure out why or assign blame, just let them be.  There was a reason you felt that way, and no one should take that away from you, especially yourself.

Also, please don't let it be said that "Well, you had a healthy baby, and that's all that matters."  Of course it matters.  Its the main goal of childbirth for every parent.  But a "healthy baby" does not necessarily negate feelings of sadness or disappointment in a labor gone awry, or a birth that looked totally different than you had planned.  You can have a healthy, happy baby and be JOYFUL that he arrived and has added to your life in tremendous and beautiful ways, and STILL be upset about some aspect of your birth experience.  One doesn't cancel the other, both of those feelings are real, and its important that you not squash one because its not as nice, or its harder to handle, or it makes people uncomfortable.  Its the truth, and truth is ALWAYS important.

 La Llorona (The Crying Woman), Pablo Picasso, 1937

La Llorona (The Crying Woman), Pablo Picasso, 1937

One of my most important jobs is to "hold space" for a mother to tell her birth story.  To remind her that her story is hers.  It was real.  And no matter what anyone else
 ever says, it was not less than theirs, it was not false, they couldn't "have told you it was going to happen that way", it was not in your head; it matters.  Retelling a difficult birth story is not about "dwelling on the difficulties", its about listening to your story, sitting back and realizing that your birth story WAS amazing.  New life always starts with birth, no matter what your birth looked like, and that IS amazing.  But for now, its ok that you're not ok.

I also want you to know that you're not alone.  You are not the only person in the world to feel this way, and the weeks immediately following birth are a hard time for just about every mom.  But if your feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, or just general "craziness" persist longer than a few weeks, I want you to tell someone, specifically a professional.  It can be hard and overwhelming to think of even mentioning it, but its the reason your OB/Midwife asks, "So, how are you doing?" at your 6-week checkup, and its the reason I ask for your birth story; we want to know how you are honestly feeling, because we know how hard birth and the early postpartum period can be, and a hard birth can set you up for a more difficult time postpartum.

So I thank those of you who have shared your stories with me.  I apologize to those moms who I tried to make feel better, back when I was a young mom who didn't know any better.  And I have space if you want to share your story with me now.  I love a good birth story.  Even the hard ones, even if you are not ok.

Victoria McCollum

Victoria McCollum is a birth and postpartum doula and owner of Doulas of Fredericksburg, in Fredericksburg, Virgina. She resides there with her husband and three precocious sons.