Healing from any negative experience takes time. Healing from a negative birth experience takes time, patience, understanding, self love, and compassion. There are usually many layers to the hurt. It’s not as simple as XYZ happened making me feel like ABC. Instead, we may not even understand where exactly our hurt comes from or why it hurts so much. This is especially true for our society constraints, which only “allow” us to grieve if something is wrong with the baby. It is unacceptable to have pain, hurt, trauma from a birth experience that results in a lovely, healthy baby. That needs to change though. There are many wonderful articles and blog posts about how ridiculous it is to expect that “healthy baby” is all that matters, so I will not bore you with yet another one. Instead, I would like to focus today on one way that helped me. I hope it helps.
I don’t talk about my daughter’s birth very often. There are many wonderful aspects of it, but they tend to get lost in the hurts. It will be her 11th birthday soon, and I will be writing down her birth story for the first time, so I will not write it here. I will, however, give a brief summary of pertinent details.
I became unexpectedly pregnant when I was 17. I chose to go the OB route because I was scared and desperately wanted to be “normal”. I realized my OB was not for me when I was around 5months. I brought up episiotomy and asked that IF I had to have one, could I please have _____. She told me that didn’t exist. I countered with a recent article I’d read about it, stating the source. She again told me that didn’t exist, I was wrong. I knew then we might have some problems. I attempted to switch to another doctor, but I wasn’t strong enough to fight yet. When I came in two days before my due date, in early labor, my membranes were swept without my knowledge or consent. I only found out by accident. When I requested pain relief at the hospital I was told she said no because “she (me) won’t want that”. A nurse told my family and me that I must have done something to upset her because she was obviously punishing me. She laughed at my tears when I felt like a failure for getting an epidural. She barked at me that I was pushing incorrectly. She practiced cutting on a piece of paper before slicing into my skin in exactly the way I had asked her not to. She pulled on the cord in an attempt to speed up delivery of the placenta, and then roughly retrieved it manually (in pieces) when it broke inside me. After the birth, she refused to sign my release forms until my daughter was nursing to her satisfaction, and told me that if I left before then, my insurance would refuse to pay (I found out later that was a lie). I was in heaven with my daughter. I was amazed by how much I loved her from the moment I saw her. She was the most exquisite being I had ever come into contact with. I was also exhausted, hurt, traumatized by my treatment. I desperately wanted to sleep but didn’t because my daughter wasn’t “allowed” to be in the room if I was asleep. I wanted to go home. I wanted to bask in the glory of my baby but could barely keep my head up.
For years, I didn’t really talk about it. I worked through my feelings, or at least I though I did, by learning as much as I could about pregnancy, labor and birth. I chose a compassionate care provider for my next pregnancy and had an empowering home birth. In 2007, I attended a Labor Assistant training workshop. During the workshop, we role-played. I was given the role of a teenage mom with an angry nurse. My dear friend, Molly, played the angry nurse. As we acted out the scenario, I was shocked by my body and spirit reaction. I trembled and tears welled up in my eyes. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was scared. I laughed it off at the time, but when I went home that night I kept mulling it over. My body remembered the trauma from so long ago. It reacted in a way that I had no control over. Obviously, I was not healed.
This is evidence to me of how vitally important it is to our well-being that we take the time (however long that is) to fully work through our trauma. It may come up when we least expect it.
To finally get to the point of this post, one part of my healing that I found incredibly helpful was telling the OB exactly how I felt. I realize that this won’t be possible for everyone, but I suggest that you at least write him/her a letter about the way you were treated. Be as mean as you want. Tell that person everything you need to. You can always edit or change it later, if you want to. But get it out!
For years, I walked around saying “Someday, I’m going to tell her how I feel. I’m going to let her know the pain she caused.” I got to know an even worse side of this particular woman when lobbying for midwifery in my state. She testified against (even referring to a baby as “like a tumor” that needed to be “removed” from a woman’s body), only increasing my anger and hurt towards her. I couldn’t believe the gall she had to speak when I knew the horror she was capable of. In 2007, after a particularly ruthless speech by her, I finally decided the time was right. I felt I knew exactly how to phrase what I wanted to say to get my point across.
I re-introduced myself and then I thanked her. I told her that it was because of her behavior during my daughter’s birth many years ago that I would fight until I couldn’t fight anymore for legal midwifery and support home birth . I told her that it was because of her I was going to be a midwife. She reacted exactly the way I thought she would, calling me obnoxious and walking away. I was shaking as her back turned, but the weight that lifted off my shoulders was incredible. In a way, being able to confront her was more empowering than my subsequent wonderful births.