Like every pregnant woman, you think about the moment you will give birth to your baby.
It is hard to imagine what it will be like until you are actually doing it.
There’s nothing to prepare you for how intense and powerful birth can be.
Birth is primal. It is amazing. And no matter how you give birth, the moment your body releases your baby into the world is a mind blowing experience.
But not all women experience birth as an amazing and ecstatic event.
Many women are left feeling scared, alone and devastated after birth.
They might feel as though they’ve lost something important, or grieve over something they didn’t have.
6 Things I Need You To Do When I Talk About My Difficult Birth
When they talk about those emotions, these women need to feel held and heard, not judged or dismissed.
If women talk about their difficult birth, it’s not up to anyone to tell them how they should have acted, or what they should be feeling.
When a woman talks about her difficult birth, here are 6 things she needs you to do:
When people have difficult stories to tell, half the battle is to be heard. We might want to tell them what we think of their story, or what we would’ve done differently. That’s because we have opinions and stories of our own.
But when we listen without bringing ourselves into the conversation, then we are hearing their stories. When we listen without giving our opinions and remember instead a time we have felt let down or hurt, then we can offer empathy.
Some people feel the need to say something but don’t have the words. It’s ok to sit in silence.
No two people experience the same thing in the same way. People can experience completely different things and have similar feelings about the outcome.
Empathy comes from a shared feeling of understanding. You might have had a positive birth experience, or you might never have given birth, but you can probably remember being let down by a friend, or losing something very important to you. Those feelings of sadness, disappointment or grief can be used to convey empathy.
Rather than say, ‘I know how you feel’ (because you don’t), you can listen with compassion and understanding, and validate the other person’s feelings.
After a difficult or traumatic birth experience, a big part of the healing process is feeling validated. That means having someone acknowledge that what you went through was hard for you.
You don’t have to see other people’s experience from the same perspective, or even agree with their response to it. Perhaps you don’t think you’d feel the same way if you were in their shoes. But openly acknowledging it was hard for them, and recognising why, is a way of validating their experience.
#4: Be Present
You might have heard the term ‘holding space’, but didn’t really understood what it means.
When we ‘hold space’ for someone, it means we walk alongside them on their journey – without judgement, without trying to fix or alter their experience, and without trying to control how they feel.
Holding space offers unconditional love and support to the person who is going through a transformative stage, whether that is processing anger, grief, or feelings of loss and disappointment.
We hold space for people when we don’t take away their power by trying to fix their problem, when we don’t shame them by suggesting they should’ve done things differently, and when we don’t overwhelm them with more information than they can handle.
Most of us want to feel as though we’re doing something practical to help. This is partly because we aren’t taught to deal with other people’s pain and trauma. Practical support can be useful, but it’s important to check whether or not it’s needed.
Some women aren’t able to process their birth experience until they feel more settled with a new baby; the truth is, this time might never come. As the birth experience entrenches their feelings of anger or sadness, their lived experience of motherhood is affected.
Practical support can help a new mother feel ready to care for herself and to seek a way to understand and process her difficult birth.
The support might take different forms – for example, setting up a roster of family and friends to cook meals and help with household chores, or getting together to organise the gift of a postnatal doula.
Women tend to feel they aren’t entitled to feel bad about something that is meant to be positive. A woman who has had a difficult birth might feel it’s better to say nothing, or to push her feelings down – often with disastrous results.
Encourage her to talk when she feels ready. Show her you can be trusted to do whatever will help her feel safe to open up. Remind her she is important and cared about.
For some women, a difficult birth story needs deeper processing. They might not feel capable of doing this without specialised support.
We can encourage women to access the support they need, and help them feel comfortable in reaching out. This might be done through birth debriefing or by seeking support for