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Let's Allow Women Some Room to Process Their Births

Photograph by Twenty20

I truly and wholeheartedly believe that birth matters. There's something about it that has the power to forever shape us as women. This is not to say that I believe that there is one "right way" to give birth and that any deviation from that one right way can have detrimental effects.

I think that a drug-free, vaginal birth can feel just as empowering as a c-section depending on the woman and her circumstances and expectations surrounding birth. I also believe that unmet expectations when it comes to birth can feel completely crushing for a woman and set her off down a difficult path as she embarks onto this journey of motherhood.

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Before I had children of my own, I couldn't really understand how different the experience of birth was for every woman and how every pregnancy and birth was unique and would be processed as such. I couldn't wrap my head around why some women felt completely at ease with their epidurals and c-sections while others were completely distraught over them. I couldn't grasp how some women could find a natural, vaginal birth terrifying while others found it empowering. Where was the disconnect?

I have had two "natural" births myself. My daughter was born via water birth at a free-standing birth center. I read a lot about birth throughout my pregnancy and went in with as few expectations as possible and a pretty zen state of mind. My labor was 12 hours from start to finish and while it was relatively quick it definitely wasn't easy. She was a brow presentation, which is incredibly difficult from what I've been told/read and the pushing part of labor lasted for three hours. It was excruciating, but once she was earth side it was absolute bliss. Never in my life have I felt so empowered as I did immediately after giving birth to her.

Too often I've heard people say that the way we give birth doesn't really matter at the end of the day and that women should " just be thankful for a healthy baby", but birth really does affect women mentally on such a deep level.

Fast forward two-and-a-half years to the birth of my son. I had him via water birth, but at home this time and the big difference was that I went into it with a lot of expectations (even if I never said them out loud). I expected that this birth would be easier and faster, because of my difficult experience the first time, but it definitely wasn't. Labor with my son lasted for 19 hours and four of those hours were spent pushing. In the end my birth was technically a "success" because I was able to deliver a 10 pound 8 ounce, posterior baby at home without any interventions, but the feeling that I was left with was far different than what I experienced the first time around. In the end, instead of feeling empowered I just felt relieved that it was over.

The whole thing felt scary and traumatic and has taken me awhile to process. Even now that my son is nearly two and I am pregnant with my third child, I find myself filled with a lot of doubt and fear for my upcoming birth.

Through my experiences, I have come to realize that birth trauma is a real thing that so many women struggle with, even though it's often for very different reasons. My son's birth was traumatic for me because it was so exhausting and overwhelming and not at all what I expected. Even though it was technically a success, it didn't feel like that to me and I finally decided that it was OK and just something that I needed to grapple with. Another friend of mine had a baby who came super quickly, which sounded amazing to me, but for her it was traumatic. She went into it expecting to be able to get an epidural, but it was too fast and it all felt completely scary and overwhelming for her. Two different scenarios, but with birth trauma that was no less real.

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Too often I've heard people say that the way we give birth doesn't really matter at the end of the day and that women should " just be thankful for a healthy baby", but birth really does affect women mentally on such a deep level. Every birth is different and we need to stop telling women that they need to "get over" birth trauma. We need to let mothers acknowledge their truths and then try to be patient and give them room to process the experience free from judgement.

Birth is hard work for every mama and sometimes the effects last beyond those nine months, so let's try to be a bit more gentle with one another.

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