Today I have the wonderful Lizzie Carroll from Sprout Doula & Hypnobirthing Services guest posting again on a topic I know many people, including myself, can tend to be a little unsure about – how to support a friend after they’ve experienced a traumatic birth.
I think it’s quite normal to feel like you want to tip toe around the very topic. Nerves and innocent ignorance can get in the way too, but Lizzie has suggested some very helpful tips. If you haven’t read any of her wonderful posts yet, you will find them at the bottom of this post.
Tips for supporting a friend after a traumatic birth
Imagine this scenario:
Your friend was planning an intervention-free waterbirth at her local birth centre with a lovely midwife she had spent her pregnancy building a relationship with. She takes every opportunity to tell you how much she is looking forward to the birth.
Her birth announcement states: Things didn’t go to plan. Emergency c-section this morning. Baby girl. Mum and bub okay.
What do you say? You don’t want to make her feel bummed about missing out on the birth that she wanted. And maybe she had a really great caesarean – after all, almost everyone you know has had a caesarean and no-one is upset about it.
So you send her an upbeat message: Really glad that you are well. All that matters is a healthy baby anyway. I can’t wait to meet her!
Of course, not all caesareans are traumatic and we could use any number of examples here to make the point. Maybe your friend was planning on getting an early epidural but was denied one because she was too far along in her labour when she arrived at hospital. Perhaps she was planning an elective caesarean but went into labour before it could be done. Maybe she was looking forward to her waterbirth with her midwife in attendance but had a 15 minute labour and birthed, alone, on her kitchen floor.
Any one of these scenarios could be considered traumatic. And there are many women who would consider some of these scenarios as their “ideal birth”.
So how do we travel the minefield of post birth emotions? How do we help our friends to debrief their birth (if they need to)? How do we talk to them about their birth in a way that ensures they feel like they are just as important as the baby? And how do we do this without coming across as judgemental?
Just because your friend is well, doesn’t mean that she is feeling good about her birth. And just because her birth appears to be traumatic doesn’t mean that she is feeling traumatised.
Ask her how she is feeling
I know that you are really happy to meet a new baby and talk about the new baby, but mums are a kind of important part of the birth! After my first emergency caesarean only ONE person actually asked how I was feeling. Everyone offered congratulations and advice and wanted to know about the baby. I had no outlet to express my disappointment, my joy, my feelings.
Offer to listen to or read her birth story
This can be really really powerful. If she isn’t ready to share it with you just let her know that you are there to listen whenever she needs. But encourage her to “get it out” – journaling can be a great tool and she is certainly under no obligation to share if she doesn’t want to.
Don’t tell her “all that matters is a healthy baby”
EVER! For a start, she may already be feeling guilty for feeling sad or disappointed about her birth. Don’t add to that. Secondly, mums matter too! Her healthy baby deserves a healthy mum. And this includes mental and emotional health. And her baby may not actually be healthy. Just because she says “all is okay” doesn’t mean baby is healthy – she may just not have the energy to deal with everyone knowing that her baby has an infection or is in the special care nursery.
A note on obstetric violence
Obstetric violence is different, but interlinked, to birth trauma. Birth trauma is about the birth; obstetric violence is about the behaviour of the care providers (whether they be obstetricians or midwives). If your friend states that she is feeling traumatised because of how she was treated by her care providers please, for the love of God, don’t tell her “that’s just how birth is” or “they were just concerned for your wellbeing”. Let her know that you will stand by her and lend her your energy if she wants to lodge a complaint. That you will help her seek whatever justice she needs. Make sure she understands that you believe her and will support her no matter what she needs to get through. If a woman feels that she was violated then she was. No question and no excuse.
You don’t need to solve her problem
When all is said and done it’s okay to tell your friend “I don’t know what to say. How can I help you?” Perhaps you could do a little research and find someone who CAN help her. Chat to a birth doula or childbirth educator in your area who may have ideas for referrals. Birthtalk are a fantastic organisation offering birth debriefing services and there are other birth debriefing counsellors around.
An extra point I would like to make is to ensure that you take care of yourself. If you have had a disappointing or traumatic birth, been subject to obstetric violence or have birth grief it is important to be aware of your own triggers and your own emotional health. Seek the support that you need to feel strong and debrief with someone if you need to. Let your friend know if you are unable to chat with her due to your own triggers.
Always remember – it’s okay to feel however you feel about your birth. And it’s okay for your friend to feel however they feel about their birth. Our journeys are all different and we ALL deserve love, support and care as we undergo the transformation that birth brings.
- How To Care For Your Emotional Wellbeing During Pregnancy - April 11, 2016
- How to Support a Friend Following Their Traumatic Birth - March 7, 2016
This is an interesting article and I can very much relate to it. I had a traumatic shoulder dystocia birth with my first. I had a near-death experience from massive blood loss. My daughter and I needed over a year of physio each. My baby was injured and unable to move her arm or turn her head. It was a very shitty intro to new motherhood. While I have since had 5 c-sections and been so grateful for those, it would have been nice to have a beautiful birth experience. Women who get these are very, very lucky. Not all of us will and I think women need to understand this. Births that go wrong are very common. I laugh now that I ever wrote myself a birth plan back then! My best birth experience was my 5th c-section. My baby was allowed into the recovery room and we were allowed to experience the intense bonding I had never been granted the opportunity to have. That alone, makes baby number 6 the best birth experiene I have had.
This is an interesting article and I can very much relate to it. I had a traumatic shoulder dystocia birth with my first. I had a near-death experience from massive blood loss. My daughter and I needed over a year of physio each. My baby was injured and unable to move her arm or turn her head. It was a very shitty intro to new motherhood. While I have since had 5 c-sections and been so grateful for those, it would have been nice to have a beautiful birth experience. Women who get these are very, very lucky. Not all of us will and I think women need to understand this. Births that go wrong are very common. I laugh now that I ever wrote myself a birth plan back then! My best birth experience was my 5th c-section. My baby was allowed into the recovery room and we were allowed to experience the intense bonding I had never been granted the opportunity to have. That alone, makes baby number 6 the best birth experiene I have had. (Second attempt to leave this comment!)
I love the last point, don’t try to solve the problem because many times people just want to heard unacknowledged.
Listening is usually what most of us really want…
I’ve had a few friends experience very traumatic births and they’ve all dealt with it (or not dealt with it) in different ways. I think not assuming and just being there with a listening ear is the best approach. Great advice :).
It really is very individual how people will deal (or not) with birth trauma. I also found that I dealt differently with my second traumatic birth than I did with my first. Thank you. x
Great post. I had a very traumatic first birth, partly because I was treated appallingly by the birthing staff at the hospital I was in. I got told I was lucky I had a healthy baby … There was really no closure or anyone to talk to and so much of what happened to me was so personal. Physically I’m still paying for a lot of what happened to me. I was diagnosed with PTSD after that birth but I had counselling, and at a different hospital, where the midwives explained what happened to me and why, and where I had a wonderful obygyn and where my birthing team cared about me and my birthing plan, I had a totally different experience with my second birth. (Which I was terrified of). I used hypnobirthing with that, and my then husband had phrases to use to help me, and that helped so much. There were still complications as a result of the damage from birth number one, but it was a different experience and very healing. My obgyn even got me to reach down and help deliver our little girl by grabbing her hands and pulling her up onto my tummy. Such a loving experience and so different from the violation I felt the first time round.
How we’re treated by our care givers can really make all the difference in terms of how traumatic our birth is. I’m so sorry that you were treated poorly during your first birth and so pleased you were treated well during your second. xx