Myths and truths about healing

Q. > “I feel that the only way to avoid a traumatic birth is to have an elective caesarean so I can control everything…is this true?”
A. > This is quite an understandable and common response. Many of us feel nervous about our perceived lack of control in natural birth and believe that this might be eliminated in an elective caesarean delivery. But an elective caesarean is certainly no guarantee against experiencing a traumatic   birth. Whilst it is true that we cannot control the exact path our birth may take (including during a caesarean)  this does not in itself render us powerless and susceptible to a negative or  traumatic birth experience.
 
The key factor in how a woman experiences her birth lies in how she feels  during it. Issues such as powerlessness, fear, isolation, abandonment, and disrespect are common in traumatic birth. All of these feelings can be experienced in both natural and caesarean birth,

The good news is: there are things you can do to avoid these feelings, regardless of  your birth path, and to have a better birth. (For more info see  www.birthtalk.org/BetterBirth)

We can have a positive birth experience whether we birth vaginally or by caesarean. There are many gifts that birth is designed to give us. One gift is the confidence that will extend into motherhood from informed decision making as opposed to being directed by fear.

You may need some more information and support to explore any feelings or fears you have around birth and to be able to gain  information to truly weigh up the pro’s and con’s for you and your family.(see Education & Support page).

Q > “My friend said the only way to get over my traumatic caesarean was to have a natural birth – a  VBAC – next time. Will this fix things?”

A.>  Healing from a  traumatic birth (whether vaginal or caesarean) is not dependant on having a  better experience next time. You can move through and process the  previous birth completely independently of your decision to birth again. In fact, many women finds this takes the pressure off the next baby and birth to be ‘perfect’ & ‘fix things’. It means the subsequent birth can be enjoyed in its own right, rather than as a salve for the emotional  wounds of the previous birth. It also means that if you have finished your family, you can still heal and move on from your traumatic birth.

An important point to remember is that having a vbac next time will not necessarily determine a positive birth experience. More relevant issues are such things as feeling supported, involved, respected and safe. These can be achieved regardless of what exact path your birth takes (although if these needs are met you are likely to have a vbac if that  is what you want!). As always there are no guarantees and, as  already discussed, this is not a main determining factor in your experience  being positive. As such we would suggest that of more benefit and importance  is to work towards an EBAC (Empowered birth after  Caesarean).  (www.birthtalk.org/BetterBirth)

There are many ways of healing from a traumatic birth. Many women are not really sure of why they feel so bad and do not know what they can do about it. Often debriefing your birth with someone who understands the importance of birth can be extremely beneficial. Certain information regarding ‘the purpose’ of birth (beyond getting your baby out) and the gifts it is designed to give us for parenthood may help you identify more fully what it is you are sad about and that what you are  feeling is likely to be very normal considering your experience. This identification then allows us to grieve our losses and with time move  forward.

For women who are traumatised by their birth the fall-out is experienced on a daily basis. Often they experienced  ‘terror’ in their birth and felt that they or their child was at risk of serious harm or even death. Unlike grief, trauma does not heal or lessen over time. Trauma will also not disappear with a subsequent positive birth. Trauma must be processed, faced, talked through and explored to truly heal.

Happily, you can make peace with your birth. The intensity you are feeling can lessen. (more info see www.birthtalk.org/Healing).

This healing process may give you many insights and strengths that you will have for your next birth. And if you have finished your family,  you may, like other women,  find healing allows you to enjoy the family you already have, even  more.

If you are going to have another baby, you can do much to work towards a ‘better birth’ (see  www.birthtalk.org/BetterBirth).

But please know there are things you can do to heal from your first birth regardless of  whether you have more children or not. Please find the information and support  you and your family needs.
 
Q > “Last time was so bad. Next time should I just have a general  anaesthetic so I can wake up with a baby and bypass the whole thing?”
 
A. > Considering how bad your last  experience was, I can fully understand your thought process. However,  to truly make the best decision for you and your family, you need to be  fully informed. This is important so that your expectations are realistic,  and you have the opportunity to get your needs met, and you can feel  confidence in your decision making.
 
Some things to  consider:
It is likely that many of the things that made your  first birth so bad can be rectified in subsequent births.  Birth is not  bad in itself.  Rather, it is how we feel during birth that is a  defining factor in whether we experience our birth as being bad or good.   Start by answering these questions : Did you feel safe?  Did you  feel powerful?  Did you feel acknowledged and an important part of the  event?  Did you feel respected?  If your answer to any of these is  “No”, then you have a starting point to what you may need next time.   It is these things that women report make for a better birth.   Not by robbing themselves of the event completely.  But by  learning about what they can control in birth, and finding out how to bring  these into their own experience.  (see  www.birthtalk.org/BetterBirth)

It is possible to heal and move forward from your  first birth. By processing the experience, and exploring ‘what  happened’, you can make peace with the birth. This may enable you to  see a subsequent birth as an opportunity to create a better experience for  you and your baby, understanding that if you can feel safe, supported, and  strong as you birth, then you are more likely to feel good about the birth.
 
There are specific risks associated with caesarean  sections, for this birth and for your future health, pregnancies and births. (see the Birth After Caesareans Infosheet).
 
Many women who have undergone caesareans under general anaesthetic report it as a negative experience postnatally. They often  experience difficulty bonding and accepting that the child is their own, and  feel emotionally removed from their baby. Accordingly, you and your  baby may have some extra challenges in your recovery. You may need extra  support in caring for your baby.
 
There are positive steps you can take to address  some of these potential challenges and to hormonally support you and babies  bonding and transition into motherhood.  (see our example of a caesarean birth plan).
 
There is information and support to help you work  towards a better birth. (see CANA Education & Support and Resources pages).

It is up to you to decide once you have all the  possible information what is best for you and your baby’s situation.

We encourage you to answer all your questions and make decisions based on information, not fear – this is too important. All the best!

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