Even the neatest, nicely typed out birth plans can end up being thrown out of the window during childbirth and if it has, there are things not to say to the traumatised mother.
After months of meticulous planning and preparing, it can be a shock to accept that the longed for birth will not become reality. Some women find it this difficult to accept, and many find themselves grieving for the birth they didn’t experience.
For some women, what they did get was a traumatic, clinical, disempowering or distressing birth. A birth reclaiming ceremony can be a very healing thing for these women to do.
Society seems almost uncomfortable with the idea of a woman feeling disappointed with her birth experience. There is an assumption that as long as the baby was born healthy, then a mother should want nothing more. The truth is, however, that women do want more. Of course, a healthy baby is by far the most important concern, but that doesn’t mean that women are happy to settle for less than desirable birth experiences. Studies have shown that up to 45% of new mothers have reported experiencing birth trauma.
Medical interventions, emergency c-sections, induction and episiotomies – these things may be necessary at times, but that doesn’t mean they are welcome. Do not assume that just because an intervention was deemed necessary, your friend welcomed it with open arms. She may feel raw, disappointed, guilty and let down by her body, as well as being overjoyed about the birth of her beautiful baby. All of these feelings are valid, normal and healthy.
Things women do not need to hear when birth doesn’t go to plan:
Sadly, most women are met with almost choral-like dismissal of any negative emotions they may feel about the birth.
Tips Not To Say #1: “All That Matters Is That The Baby Is Healthy!”
This simply isn’t true. Of course, any mother’s first priority is the health of her baby, but that doesn’t mean her own health no longer matters. Yes, if the baby is healthy, it is wonderful, but that doesn’t take away from the shock or hurt women experience during medical birth interventions. If the mother is upset that she was cut, medicated or drugged during the birth, then this matters too.
Read more about the harms of saying all that matters is a healthy baby.
Tips Not To Say #2: “I’m Sure It Was Worth It”
Please do not exclaim what damage to the mother’s body you feel is acceptable during the birth of a baby. It was not your body, or your birth, and this means that you simply cannot speak for its worth.
Tips Not To Say #3: “Hey, At Least It Was… [Insert Here]”
Whatever you’re about to say – quick, pain-free or a good way of avoiding vaginal birth – just don’t. Please do not try to dismiss the birth experience as a convenient way of bypassing the less pleasant aspects of birth. A quick birth is not necessarily a good thing, and a medicated pain-free birth is not everyone’s idea of heaven. Some may long to experience a vaginal birth, and by joking about how they lucky they were to avoid it, you can leave them worrying that their feelings aren’t valid.
Tips Not To Say #3: “Pass The Popcorn… [Rolls Eyes]”
Ok, you’re unlikely to actually say that phrase, but as a society we tend to approach birth like a freakshow. Traumatic birth experiences are re-told, often for dramatic effect, as though they are simply horror stories. Birth is an extraordinary experience, and this is probably one reason why we discuss it in such a dramatic way. It’s important to remember that your friend isn’t just telling you her birth story, she’s telling you her story – something that happened in her life. Please react as you would to any other emotional or upsetting news, with empathy and compassion, not as though you are taking notes so you can later share the story with friends.
Tips Not To Say #4: “I Don’t Know Why You Even Bothered With A Birth Plan”
This is an incredibly unhelpful comment, but sadly one that many women quickly get used to hearing. All pregnant women are aware that births don’t always go to plan, that somethings unforeseen circumstances dictate a change in direction. Women still write birth plans for a number of reasons – firstly, they are advised to by their healthcare professional. Secondly, it helps them to communicate their wishes to the team delivering the baby, so things like immediate skin-to-skin may still happen even if birth doesn’t go to plan. And finally, it helps women to prepare for birth. By writing a birth plan, women learn about the different birth options available to them.
Tips Not To Say #5: “Very Few Women Get The Birth They Want”
You may think that this comment is normalising the woman’s feelings of disappointment, but in fact she may simply feel that you are brushing her concerns to the side. As you may know from your own experience, knowing that terrible things happen to other people to provides little comfort in times of emotional hurt.
Tips Not To Say #6: “Anyway…”
If a woman has chosen to share her raw feelings about the birth with you, please do not change the subject.
It can be hard to hear that your friend is upset, especially if you are cuddling her beautiful newborn baby in your arms at the time, but you need to offer her support. Put aside your feelings of discomfort, or the fact that you don’t know what to say, and support her by listening to how she feels. Do not change the subject, give her the space and time to tell you how she feels, and make sure she knows that you are there for her, and that her feelings are normal and nothing to be ashamed about.