I am damaged. I’m broken. I should have done something. I felt powerless. My body failed me.
I hear many negative feelings and beliefs that surface after a birth trauma, but these are some of the most common. I told myself these after my first son was born.
I felt shame and anger. Every time someone said, "well at least you had a healthy baby" I wanted to scream, "yes BUT....(all the aforementioned thoughts).
You can feel pain or disappointment about your birth and still be happy about your baby. These are independent feelings and thoughts. We are humans with complex emotions.
One in three women are experiencing traumatic births or birth injuries and we're not talking about this enough in the women's wellness community. For teachers and coaches like me who support women, this means over 33% of the women we work with have experienced some type of traumatic birth and/or are dealing with an birth injury.
After working with hundreds of women in Chicagoland and online, I've realized that one of the most troubling aspects about birth trauma is the isolation and lack of acknowledgement
Mamas - I say this with deep love and support - do not let anyone brush aside your feelings as if they don't matter. Your feelings matter and you matter!
I want you to know that whatever your feelings around your birth are...they are VALID.
And if you want to talk about them, you are allowed and you are supported. You can email me at anytime (email@example.com) if you want to talk privately or need recommendations of licensed counselors who specialize in prenatal/postnatal depression, anxiety and birth trauma.
Please also know that our small group classes and private lessons are a safe space, free from judgment, and you are welcome to share in that forum.
If you have a friend who needs to read these words, please share!
A Tale of Two Births
My first birth: From Planned Hypnobirth to Emergency C-Section
I was 41 weeks pregnant and having off and on mild contractions for days. I kept thinking “this is it” but then they would stop. I did all the things I heard would “induce labor” and finally started getting regular, strong contractions.
I ended up laboring for 36 agonizing hours without medication. About half the time I was at home and half the time I spent in the hospital.
At 3 am, my OB, who was not supposed to be in until the next morning, showed up and I knew something was wrong. She said my baby was in distress and I wasn’t progressing. I was only 4 cm dilated. After 36 hours, I was only at a 4. How in the hell!?
I now understand that my baby was most likely improperly positioned and his head was not placing enough pressure on my cervix to dilate. I was having the agonizing contractions, coming right on top of one another because my body was working so hard to descend baby’s head, turn him into the proper position and dilate my cervix. My body was fighting a losing fight.
I hadn’t slept at all for 2 days, hadn’t slept well for weeks, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. I couldn’t fight and there wasn’t even time to make an informed choice, to debate or have a conversation about induction. And I’ll never know what could have happened or if I could have even handled another 10 hours or longer of the induction process.
I was rushed to the OR for emergency cesearean surgery. I was laying on the cold table shaking because they had to quickly pump so many drugs into my body. I felt so scared, so alone despite the 10+ doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists and students that were in the room.
I hardly remember anything else. It’s all a haze.
I remember asking if my baby was ok because I couldn’t see him and I didn’t hear him cry. There was a high curtain and I was so out of it. No one showed him to me. I found out that my now-husband, Kevin was with him in an adjacent room. My baby was whisked away to be weighed and measured.
At some point, they let Kevin come back and he told me that Aidan was ok. Apparently, I told him to go back in the other room with Aidan. I was scared for myself, but I was even more scared for my baby. I didn’t want him to be alone.
My labor was so long, but the actual birth happened so fast. It felt like I was wheeled into the OR, strapped down and my baby was ripped from my body.
I had all these hopes and visions of my baby being placed immediately on my chest for skin to skin contact and to initiate breastfeeding within the first 30 minutes. Now I couldn’t even hold him or see as he was taken to another room.
I don’t know how long it was because it seemed time stopped and it took forever to get put back together and closed up.
I have photos of holding Aidan in the recovery room and remember a nurse helping me latch in the hopes of initiating breastfeeding, but everything else from those few hours during surgery and after is still extremely blurry.
It was only much later in the morning when the drugs started to wear off that I emerged a bit from the heavy haze.
I’ll talk more about my experience with breastfeeding, healing from my emergency c-section, and the immediate postpartum period in next week’s blog.
My Second Birth: From Planned VBAC to Gentle Surgical Birth
Fast forward 24 months and I was again past my estimated due date, uncomfortably pregnant with another boy and trying all the things to get labor moving.
I had a new OBGYN with my second pregnancy and he was amazingly supportive of my choice to attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean).
He was willing to let me go to 41 weeks, provided everything still looked good in my ultrasounds, before discussing induction.
As I mentioned in last week’s blog, towards the end of my second pregnancy, I continued my yoga practice, focusing on childbirth prep. I surrounded myself with support from my wonderful doula, prenatal massage therapist and acupuncturist. They all gave me wonderful advice and I was going to weekly appointments.
At my 40 week doctor’s appointment, my OB recommended a check and I accepted, despite my better judgment. As I knew I would be if I didn’t hear the answer I wanted to hear, I was disappointed that my son was still high up and my cervix was barely a fingertip dilated.
My anxiety started kicking in. The old trauma from my previous birth bubbled to the surface...and even though I knew I had more tools, more support and that I was more open to the outcome, I still was scared.
What if I went through a long induction, followed by another long and painful, yet unproductive labor, ultimately ending in another emergency cesarean? Could I handle that physical stress again? Could I handle that recovery?
I called my doula and arranged a meeting so we could talk through everything, which helped calm my anxiety. She recommended more tricks to try to get things moving and to create a more peaceful environment at our home.
I started my maternity leave and my husband and I made the decision to send Aidan to my in-laws house so we could focus on relaxing and moving my body to help give the baby the best chance of coming on his own. We created a retreat-like atmosphere at our home and I started going to more frequent acupuncture to induce labor and I got a labor induction massage.
We took walks (which was challenging considering it was early January) and I did lunges on the stairs and tons of figure-8s on a birth ball. I followed the Spinning Babies techniques and practiced the yoga poses I knew would give baby the best chance of getting correctly positioned in my pelvis. I took EPO and drank the recommended teas, took warm baths with oils and practiced the Ayurveda Abhyanga technique (self-massage).
All of this work led to nothing...other than some minor contractions, but nothing consistent or measurable.
At 40 weeks plus 4 days, my husband and I trudged back to the hospital for an ultrasound and non-stress test which my doctor recommended since I was trying for a VBAC and was past my estimated due date.
The non-stress test looked ok, but when the tech looked at my amniotic fluid levels, she noticed they were low. The on-call doctor came in and recommended that I be admitted until she could call my OB to come make a decision.
I was admitted into the Family Birth Center and my husband and I hung out in a labor and delivery room for a few hours until my OB could get there. He said I had Oligohydramnios (lower than normal amniotic fluid levels), but gave us the ok to go home, provided I come back in 2 days for another fluid check. As you can imagine, my emotions were all over the place. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster, thinking I was going to have this baby that day to being sent home.
Back at home and with my 41-week induction deadline looming, I went to one final acupuncture appointment and then eased up on my efforts to put myself into labor. I was exhausted from trying so hard, worried about my fluid levels and resigned to leave my labor to the Universe.
I drank A TON of water based on recommendations that I could regenerate some of the fluid I had lost, rested and watched tv, enjoying my last relaxing moments of pregnancy.
At 40 weeks plus 6 days, we packed up our bags and headed back to the hospital for our ultrasound appointment, knowing that we would likely be having this baby in the next 48 hours.
My fluid level was very low, much lower than 2 days before... and once again, my OB was called in. He told us he wasn’t comfortable waiting any longer, but he would ok the induction if I wanted to still try for the VBAC. He explained the choices of the induction and the gentle cesarean to us then we spent about an hour talking and weighing our options so that I could make an informed choice.
I went back and forth, but ultimately decided to move forward with a gentle c-section.
I was fearful of going through a potentially very long induction since my body wasn’t showing any signs of going into labor naturally. I was worried that would put my baby in distress and potentially ending up in another emergency situation. I felt relief and very little fear. I was at peace with my decision.
My OB was able to meet us back in the birth center in an hour, so I started preparing myself, practicing deep breathing and short meditations. I was surprised how relieved I felt that I didn’t have to go through the limbo phase any longer. I was going to meet my sweet baby boy in a little over an hour!
I felt a deep sense of calm knowing that I made an informed choice based on what I thought was best for my own well-being and the health of my baby.
The Gentle Cesarean
A gentle c-section or as I like to call it, a “gentle surgical birth” is a cesarean surgery where elements of a “natural” birth are incorporated. Individual hospitals and OBs have their own preference and policies, but here’s how mine went:
Once I was wheeled into the OR, the lights were dimmed, except for immediately over the lower half of my body. It didn’t feel as sterile and cold. Music was turned on over the speaker system - we love classic rock so we listened to a classic rock station and all sang (even my OB!). The doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists spoke in quiet tones and didn’t “chit chat.”
My arms were left free and not strapped down, so I could hold my husband’s hand. My spinal block was administered slowly and purposefully by the anesthesiologist, who was a complete rock star. I was numb from the chest down within a few minutes.
I wanted to let myself relax naturally using my breath and meditation techniques so I requested to not receive any sedatives or anti-anxiety medication. This was a complete personal preference because I wanted to feel present and not spaced out...I remembered how awful and hazy the medications made me feel during my first c-section. I did accept Norco (Acetomeniphine plus Hydrocodone) after my surgery for pain and attempted to stay in front of the pain while I was in the hospital. I stopped taking it after 3 days, but again, this is complete personal preference. I took it for a week with my first c-section.
I breathed deeply and continued to breath into my ribs and chest (not belly) throughout the surgery. My husband was able to sit next to me and held my hand until they lifted Finnegan out.
The biggest and most impactful difference of the gentle cesarean was that I could watch if I wanted to through a clear plastic curtain! To be clear, the thought of seeing a lot of blood or organs makes me physically ill...but to be able to have the choice to look down and see my little Finnegan lifted out was mind-blowing! In a typical c-section, a high sterile drape separates the top of your body from the bottom, so you cannot see anything that’s happening, including when baby is lifted out.
During the surgery I closed my eyes or kept my eyes towards the ceiling or on my husband’s face. I asked my OB to let me know when he was pulling Finnegan out and then I would look. I have tears in my eyes writing this as I think about how I saw his face. I got to see him come into the world...it was truly one of the most magical and healing moments of my entire life.
A nurse immediately wrapped him in towels and handed him to my husband, who put him up to my cheek and chest. I got to stare at him and feel his skin for a few moments before he was whisked away. He needed to receive oxygen, as many c-section babies do because they have fluid in their lungs that would be naturally squeezed out during the vaginal birth process. While he was given oxygen, weighed and measured, I was getting put back together and closed up. We chose to forego or delay the rest of the common newborn procedures (first bath, eye ointment, Vitamin K shot, Hepatitis B vaccine). He was then wrapped in blankets and given to my husband.
When we got to our room after surgery, my husband put him right on my chest for skin-to-skin. I rested with Finnegan and my husband in our nice queen size bed with a ton of pillows and my Boppy. I still had that disconnected from my body feeling, but wasn't as dazed and hazy as I remembered with my first birth. It is strange how the feeling starts to very slowly come back into your body after a c-section and you don’t even realize the pain or that you just had major abdominal surgery until hours later.
My doula arrived shortly after surgery and stayed with us for a while. She brought us snacks and gave me some breastfeeding tips. Finnegan was doing ok with his latching but he did seem very sleepy, just as I remembered Aidan was. She asked me about how I felt about this surgical birth..did it feel like it was a birth experience? I could answer “yes”... honestly it felt like a “real” birth. Not what I expected, but a night and day experience from my emergency c-section.
I saw my baby as he was lifted out of my belly. I felt his soft skin against my cheek and chest. I touched his body with my hand. I heard his cry next to my ear...these were magical moments full of grace. Moments I didn’t have with my first son...moments I thought I would never have.
And I made the choice. I decided. I felt empowered and at peace with that choice. It wasn’t stolen from me.
I didn’t feel any of the anxiety, the shame, the guilt or the feelings that my body failed me.
It was a deeply healing experience from the trauma of my first cesarean.
I’ll talk more about my physical experience healing from my gentle c-section and my experience with breastfeeding in next week’s blog.
Hopefully, you can take something from my experiences. I’d love to hear what came up for you while reading or if you have any thoughts to add! You can leave them below or in the Facebook Group.
*If you need support or postpartum counselor recommendations, please send me an email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. You do not ever need to suffer alone!