Healing from Traumatic Birth

The past weekend as I was getting ready to run my first ultra-marathon, I shocked myself by saying to my husband “I feel fortunate to have had JJ’s birth experience; it challenged my mental and physical abilities beyond what any other experience could. And from it I know I am strong and capable. I can access that strength today“. I paused for a moment to realize I had just used the word fortunate to describe the birth of my first son. The birth that for many years left me feeling sad, hurt, angry, defeated, confused, jealous, and insecure. Oddly after the birth of my second son, which many people assumed to be a healing experience, I felt an even deeper pain about my first son’s birth. It was as though I realized to an even greater extent what I missed out on experiencing during JJ’s birth. I carried that pain with me for a long time and sometimes felt ashamed of it. Not ashamed of the experience itself but of the depth of pain I felt from it. Wasn’t I just supposed to be thankful I had a child and that he was healthy (particularly because we had experienced nearly three years of infertility before getting pregnant which added a great deal of guilt to the mix)? That’s what everyone said to ‘comfort’ me. I desperately tried to comfort myself in these words; but by not acknowledging my feelings they seem to grow bigger.

When JJ was nearing four and I was pregnant with my third baby, a dear friend and mentor of mine asked me an important question. Ultimately this simple conversation changed my perception of his birth and helped me to re-frame the experience. She asked, in a gentle, loving, non-judging, openly curious, and genuinely compassionate way, “Do you think you will always feel anger about his birth?”.  My initial and impulsive reply was “Yes, I believe I will. How can I not?”. Although that question stayed with me and I asked it of myself over the next several weeks/months. It helped me realize I had a choice in how I felt about the experience. It also helped me realize that my anger was directed at myself. I was not angry with my midwife or the hospital staff or my husband or anyone else involved in JJ’s birth. I was angry at myself. I needed to forgive myself. And for some reason that can be incredibly tough to do!

Once I started to move away from the medical events of JJ’s birth and really tap into the authentic emotion of it (the emotion I tried to pacify with ‘at least I have a healthy baby’) I began to reflect upon the meaning of his birth in my life. I stopped focusing on what I didn’t get from the experience and started focusing on what I gained from it. This was incredibly freeing because it suddenly opened up so many possibilities to me. And I realized that was true empowerment. We often reserve the word empowerment to describe the beautiful, peaceful, un-medicated births that go 100% according to a birth plan. And I had fallen into that trap; putting birth on a spectrum of empowering to dis-empowering. I no longer subscribe to that linear view of birth. I now realize and appreciate that birth is far too dynamic to regard in such a way.

So my dear JJ, thank you for all you have taught me! The journey to you and the meaning I continually discover from that journey, allows me to find grace and acceptance of myself. And it encourages me to approach new challenges with both humility and courage.  I don’t always find a perfect balance of the two; but their simultaneous existence within carries me through.



Moments after crossing the finish line


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2 Responses to “Healing from Traumatic Birth”

  1. Robin says:

    You always bring such a beautiful light to everything you do. Thank you for your perspective and wisdom. I LOVE that as we watch our children grow we continue to grow with all the experiences and LIFE they bring us, an unexpected blessing of parenting. Thank you JJ for all that you have given & taught me.

  2. Joy says:

    LOVE this. Am going to share with my ICAN group. 🙂