Birth Experience

Why Does the Birth Experience Matter?

11 Comments 03 March 2010

Two days ago, I began publishing a series of posts pertaining to the “Birth Experience.”

My intention is to inform women about common, often unnecessary interventions that stray from the belief that as women our bodies are designed to give birth.

I hope to draw attention to the risks associated with specific pieces of the “managed” birth pie including using Pitocin to induce or augment labor, epidural anesthesia and lastly, cesarean sections.

Interesting fact - the rate of cesareans performed are higher amongst those who have been induced or received an epidural.

The first half of this series is about birth management & common medical interventions used during labor.

I hope to provide information so that if induction, edpidural use or cesarean section come up, you feel more educated about these topics and more comfortable discussing your options.

But what, other than the physical risk factors of using Pitocin to induce, an epidural or c-section,  does all of this information have to do with the birth “experience”?

Well, I’ll tell ya. Let’s talk about the emotional risks of overly-managed, medicated labor and delivery and unnecesareans.

Post-Partum Depression Pertaining to Negative or Traumatic Childbirth

Every expectant mother hopes for a safe birth.

Beyond that, we plan for a birth that is not only safe, but hopefully beautiful, challenging and rewarding.

When circumstances arise that inevitably prevent the “perfect birth” from playing out the way we envisioned, it is natural to feel a little let down (or a lot let down).

When this happens, when the birth experience is less than perfect and mom feels upset, she should be treated with care.

Mothers need to be helped and taken care of after pregnancy.

That feeling of being let down or disappointed can turn into sadness and depression remarkably fast.

Perhaps she planned a natural birth and ended up “caving-in” by accepting an epidural. It is common for first time moms to feel unprepared for the level of pain they felt during contractions.

In other scenarios, the ob might tell a mother that her pelvis with too small to birth her baby vaginally and orders an c-section due to CPD (although true CPD is quite rare).

When birth doesn’t go to “plan,” a mother may feel as though she (or her body) failed her and her baby.

There are cases when through research after birth, some discover the various positions or coping mechanisms they could have tried to progress labor.

Thus a disappointing or traumatic birth experience leads to feelings of inadequacy, failure and/or resentment. That can have extreme consequences for mom, baby and their immediate relationship.

Approximately 15% of mothers suffer from some type of post-partum depression.

The symptoms of post-partum depression are lack of interest in your baby and other activities you once enjoyed, feeling overwhelmed and detached, hopelessness.

To me, 15% seems rather low. Perhaps because most mothers wouldn’t be so bold (or brave) as to say what they were feeling was true depression. Rather they might quietly say they felt a little let down.

Which brings us back to a quote I mentioned in the introduction of this series. If a mother births a healthy baby, no matter how she had to birth – whether it was traumatic or manipulative, she often hears, “you should just be happy you have a healthy baby.”

That single phrase touches a real nerve in many mothers. Their response is overwhelming.

And keep this in mind – a mother will remember her birth story for the rest of her life. The birth experience IS important!

Here are some replies by real women with valid feelings:

“I heard those words after my unnecessary cesarean- they cut like a knife. It was like I owed credit to my doctor that my child was alive and well, instead of I had a healthy baby because I did my best to make sure I had a healthy pregnancy. My cesarean was traumatizing, and recovery was tough and I felt guilty enough for being so gullible in letting the c-section happen in the 1st place because it wasn’t a peaceful birth for my daughter either- those words just piled on more guilt.”

“(it makes me feel) like my feelings don’t count…like I am just a baby machine and I should take everything bad that happened and put it in a box and forget it…its something someone that has never experinced birth trauma would say.”

“I was induced for medical reasons on my due date with my middle baby. I still am upset with that birth experience…. I mean I am happy she is healthy but she was not ready to meet the world yet. I feel like I didn’t give her the start in life that she deserved.”

“As a second class citizen. I had all my babies in hospitals, I didn’t know I had a choice. I would have loved to had them all at home. My first three were mostly uneventful, really my second and third daughters. My first daughter was traumatic due to induction, episiotomy . My last was a c-section, it was AWFUL, the recovery was horrible, I had a giant hemotoma under my incision, etc. I only wish I had known I could have a birth at home with a midwife, I would have.”

“I felt like I was put in a box. I felt like I couldn’t possibly rejoice and breathe a sigh of relief that- in spite of all of the trauma my baby was healthy- and at the same time grieve and mourn the very real physical, mental and emotional trauma I had been through.”

We’re talking about one of the LARGEST most incredible moments of a woman’s life! It’s not every day a woman gives birth to a life.

When a woman’s wedding cake tastes like crap, if she didn’t land the part, if a relative passed or is going through a hard break-up, her closest friends and family members don’t say, “tough shit.” At least the good ones don’t.

Rather, a good friend lends a listening ear. A good friend gives hugs, sympathetic cards and flowers, they do not say “get over it.” And the one who is feeling low gets to vent, thus encouraging feelings of acknowledgment, validity and ultimately, relief.

I encourage you to leave your thoughts and comments below.

Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. Andrea says:

    I really do appreciate this, the idea that a woman has the right to a good birth experience is something that is not talked about in our culture. So I am always so happy to see it being brought up.

    I would love to see this expanded to also touch on birth related PTSD. It is only recently becoming recognized as an issue that has resulted from the highly medicalized nature of modern birth, but is not widely accepted and certainly not widely understood.

    Also, I think this essay, “You Should Be Grateful” from BirthTruth.org is a perfect companion piece to your article. http://www.birthtruth.org/grateful.htm

  2. Ana says:

    I wish that mothers were attended to just as attentivly after the birth as they were during the birth, or even when they were pregnant.
    The birth doesn’t just happen to the baby, it happens to the mother as well, and I feel like once a woman gives birth that she is in many ways ignored as all attention is focused on the new baby.
    It is VERY important to support the mother after the birth; no matter what sort of birth experience she has had, traumatic or not, she is entitled to the same care and respect that she received before she ever held her child.

  3. Missy says:

    Thank you so much for this. Our daughter was born 15 months ago and although we’ve always had a wonderful bond, I still think about her birth almost every day. My pregnancy was perfect and yet, because I gave birth in a hospital vs at home, I was induced because my water had been broken for a few hours and I wasn’t progressing as quickly as they liked. My birth experience became totally controlled by the CNM, instead of by my instincts as we had planned.
    We are pregnant again and, now knowing home birth is an option, are having an experience my whole family can participate in. I am hoping my daughter’s presence in this birth will help to heal the scars of hers.

  4. bringbirthhome says:

    @Missy – I hope you can find healing through your next pregnancy and childbirth, and continue to find forgiveness through the unconditional love of your daughter. Many blessings on your journey! Keep me up to date!

  5. VW says:

    I’m having this debate with my husband over and over again. Even though I was thoroughly educated and planning a homebirth with a midwifery practice with excellent stats, I ended up with a hospital transfer, epidural, forceps, episiotomy, baby in NICU, the works. I don’t have anyone to blame (besides my body) -my caregivers were respectful, I was given choices, but life just served me a shit sandwich, so the choice was between forceps or c-section. I don’t have PTSD, but I continue to have some very strong disappointment and grief over my daughter’s birth. My husband says this is all due to my “natural childbirth philosophy” and if I wasn’t so strongly attached to it, I wouldn’t be feeling bad (and he says he hates “the philosophy” now).

    I haven’t figured out how to respond to this in such a way that makes him understand that this is a) a backhanded way of blaming the victim, and b) like saying to an amputee that they shouldn’t feel bad about having lost a limb -after all they have 3 others, and are still alive, so what’s the big deal.

    Any idea how to respond to this?

    • bringbirthhome says:

      Dear VW, While I know it must be extremely hard to hear those kind of comments from your husband, who you want complete understanding and support from, try to recognize his words as just that – in his way, he sees his comments as supportive. It sounds like he doesn’t blame you for what happened, he blames the idea of natural childbirth, and the attachment we, as expectant mothers, get to the “perfect” birth. To him, if it weren’t for that philosophy, you might just be grateful to have a healthy baby.

      As for your comment about b) the amputee argument, if you rephrase that sentence just a little bit, to say, “you have every right to feel bad about the loss of your limb. It is a very sad thing that happened, and I understand your mourning period. However, each day you grieve the loss of your arm, try to take a moment to be grateful for what you do have. Do not dismiss your feelings of disappointment, but be careful to also not forget about the blessings still in your life.”

      That is what I would say to you. Much love!

  6. Sandi says:

    You know, I actually had an intervention free homebirth with our first, and he was healthy as a clam, but to be honest, I actually felt sort of traumatized by the level of pain I experienced. I really was not prepared for it, despite all I read and watched and prepared. Maybe you just cant prepare for that. But I screamed, and screamed terribly in the end, is the truth. I am so glad we had him vaginally, and unmedicated, but I do feel that I might have felt less scared and alone at a birth center (our primary midwife flaked on us and sent only her apprentice, who was great but advised me poorly not dew a 2nd/3rd degree tear and I had a TERRIBLE recovery due to that). I also lost a liter of blood. Not trying to scare anyone. I still believe and support homebirth, but for us we will be in a birth center next time. And hopefully I will be more prepared for just how bad, how very very bad, the pain can really be. Honestly, I felt like someone was stabbing me with a knife. I am still trying to grapple with it, and our sweet baby boy is 7 months old. Is this normal? I have enjoyed motherhood so much, and thankfully suffered no postpartum depression (though I did have some symptom of ptsd after the birth, related to the birth experience, not motherhood). But I do need to speak more about the pain. I feel like that was very downplayed by women I talked to and our birth class or other birth stories I read and I dont know how to deal with it. I am a very sensitive person, and I guess for me its still running through my mind. I wish I could forget how bad the pain was.

    I am still glad we had him at home, though, because our birth plan was followed to a T, but I was wondering, has anyone else felt this way after their birth? how do you find healing for the trauma you experienced, even if it was natural and only related to birthing your baby? Thank you for your comments!

  7. Michelle says:

    Hi all. this is an awesome site. i am currently studying to become a midwife and as part of the course we have to choose a research topic. I have chosen to look into the birth experience and its effect on the mother, family and subsequent pregnancy/birth. I would really appreciate any input offered, confidenciality is guarenteed. I am happy to put my email address up but Im not sure of the protocol from the site owner


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