by Liz Grant || Jubilee Doula || Birth Story Healing Half-Day Retreat
Birth shocks and transforms us. I don’t care how many YouTube birth videos you’ve seen, how many babies you’ve helped deliver, or how many childbirth books you’ve read, nothing can prepare you for experiencing the birth of your own child (however it happens) in your own body.
Often, our feelings surrounding our births are complex: we may feel happy and grateful if the outcome of our birth was positive (defined by others as a healthy mom and a healthy baby). However, it can feel scarier for us mothers to admit that our birth experiences also evoked negative emotions in us.
However, it is normal and healthy for a mother to experience a whole range of emotions as she remembers her birth: she may feel surprised, shocked, elated, disappointed, triumphant, frustrated, encouraged, unsupported, affirmed, dismissed, empowered, disempowered, out of control, in control, overwhelmed, resentful, satisfied, unimportant, and in the center of attention — and she may feel all of those feelings at the same time about this single event.
The challenge comes when, after our birth is over, when go home to care for ourselves and our babies, and we notice these emotions surfacing. When we catch glimpses of positive emotions, how do we respond? Perhaps more important, how do we respond when a negative emotion emerges?
The way that we respond to these emotions impacts the women we become. In Penny Simkin’s landmark research study, “Just Another Day in a Woman’s Life? Women’s Long-Term Perceptions of Their First Birth Experience, Part 1), she asked 20 who had birthed in the 1960s and 70s to fill out a survey about their satisfaction with their birth experience and then to write an account of their births. Then she approached the same women 15 to 20 years later to have them do the same tasks and sit down with her for an interview to discuss their births.
Simkin found that the birth of a woman’s first child has an enormous, “lifelong impact on her.” Among the mothers who felt satisfied with their birth experiences, Simkin found that even decades later, these women believed that they had accomplished something meaningful and significant through their birth. They felt that they had been in control or had accomplished a goal through birthing the way they did—and those feelings, naturally, enhanced their self esteem.
But more surprisingly, Simkin found that the effects of a birth could be positive even if the birth experience was negative for a mother. Among the mothers who had a rated their births as less satisfying, Simkin found two distinct categories of moms. One category was perhaps what you’d expect: the women were dissatisfied and believed that the experience confirmed a negative self image of themselves. But some of the mothers with dissatisfying experiences felt anger and a sense of injustice about their experiences, and by facing their anger, they allowed the experience to fuel them to be more assertive in the future. The experience actually taught these moms that they were worthy of something better.
When we face our negative emotions with courage and curiosity, we can heal, and grow, and become better. We mothers can choose to empathize with our past selves and accept the choices we made in the past, knowing that we did the best we could at the time. We can accept our present without judgment. We can face the future without fear. And we can mother with all we’ve got.
To explore your birth story with Liz, sign up for her Birth Story Healing Half-Day Retreat (link here) on May 1 at The Family Room, and courageously face all the emotions of your birth head-on.
To learn more about hiring Liz as a birth doula or a birth story listener, visit her website at www.JubileeDoula.com.