Imagine it’s your wedding day. As you are getting your hair done, the flat iron burns the back of your neck. Your flower girl spills juice all over your dress. The limo arrives and has a flat tire …. it starts to thunder and rain …. the officiate is late …. the cake is dropped and ruined in transport …. a bird poops on your shoulder … the cello player never arrives … and all the while you go with the flow. You’re an amazing woman, and you’re committed to your journey. You nod your head, swallow down your frustration, and keep on moving towards your goal. Later that week, when it’s all over and you’re happily married, you become teary talking with your best friend about what a disaster the day was, and how you wish all that stuff hadn’t gone wrong.
And she just looks at you and says, “why are you complaining? At least you got a healthy partner!”
Yet, in childbirth, this happens more often than you’d think. For many women childbirth can be emotionally and physically overwhelming. The birth may head in a dramatically different direction, away from any preparedness a woman thought she had. Perhaps the entire experience unfolded beyond any of her expectations. For the purpose of this blog the reasons why or how aren’t important. What is important is knowing that just about any one she talks to to complain and process her birth experience with will hush her swiftly and say, “why are you complaining? At least you got a healthy baby.”
Both culturally and personally we fail our new mothers by systematically dismissing them if they dare talk about their birth with regret, dissapointment, fear, unhappiness or hatred. At a time when you want to rage most, when you felt most betrayed by your body, your peers, your loved ones, society even – we tell women to “hush”. The damage is done, now just bear it, little woman, and tend to your baby.
How we respond to our birthing women sets the tone for how we all feel about motherhood. We are second class citizens on this journey. Do a good job in birthing and keeping your kids safe – well that’s all we care about. You, your personal feeling? Eh, not so much. A 2005 U.S. survey of women birthing their first babies revealed that women who had a cesarean were more likely to feel overwhelmed, helpless and frightened. And less likely to feel capable, confident, powerful, and unafraid while giving birth. Offer that survey to a woman with trauma surrounding vaginal birth and you’re sure to get similar responses.
Feeling like a failure about your birth stinks. Add to that people telling you not to worry about it, get over it, that it doesn’t matter – only a healthy baby matters, stinks even more. Let’s be really clear here. NO woman goes into birth wanting to sacrifice a healthy baby for an enjoyable birth experience. It’s insulting and condescending to think so. Every woman wants a healthy baby. But you know what else she wants, and it’s pretty darn important too on the spectrum of human experience? A transformative birth that she can feel powerful about. A birth where she felt the quaking enormity of her ability to move a tiny human through her body. A birth where the magic and colossal nature of creating life in your womb and then bringing it Earth is something that you ride high on for years. A rewarding birth experience.
And if “rewarding” doesn’t happen – well hell yeah, you’re still ultra badass, and let’s all shout out how it sucked together becuase we have your back, come cry with us because your birth does matter! You matter! We want to hear about it!
Recently, our own Kim Collins, co-founder of MommaArts, had the opportunity to bring locally the Exposing The Silence project. As stated on their website, “as many as 1/3 of American women say the birth of their child was traumatic. It’s time to take a hard look at what is happening to American women in childbirth.” It’s an amazing project and we were very proud to take part in it.
We agree with Exposing The Silence. It’s time to take a hard look at how we treat women postpartum. How we listen to her telling her birth story. How we embrace and welcome her tears if the story is a hard one. It’s time to stop making women feel even worse by dismissing their complaints as selfish or vain. Instead – let us all work harder to hold up our friends and loved ones for their most triumphant deed – bearing children and doing so with power and strength, no matter the birth outcome. Power and strength all women deserve to be praised for not belittled.
If you have suffered birth trauma we have two very experienced women in our MommaArts family who can be of help if you’d need support in processing your birth and first year of motherhood. Carley Aroldi holds a Masters in Maternal Health and is a licensed professional counselor in the State of New Jersey. Gail Cirlin-Lazerus is a licensed clinical social worker in the state of New York. We hope you’ll reach out to them through us if you are in need. Or if you just want to share your birth story with someone who’d like very much to listen to you – give us a call.