How to heal from a traumatic first birth when you’re ready for a second baby

We see beautiful pictures on Facebook of a baby who is a few hours old, a mom who has that post-birth glow, and a dad who has the whole world right in front of him. They’re beautiful. They make us tear up because we’re so happy for the new family and we love the cute baby. But is this reality? Do we think about the clots of blood being passed by the birthing person, or what they just experienced? No, that’s all in the past. Especially now that they’re a mom. They have other things to worry about, like nursing every hour and making sure they don’t ruin their child’s future.

But roughly 10% of people who give birth in America walk away from birth so incredibly traumatized that they experience Post Traumatic Childbirth Stress Disorder, a form of PTSD. They may experience violent flashbacks that shoot them back into the experience of giving birth the first time.

Maybe they experienced an emergency c-section, or a precipitous birth. A mal-positioned baby, severe tearing, preeclampsia, or maybe the emotional circumstances surrounding their birth were traumatic. There are thousands of reasons for birth to lead to trauma, both physical and emotional.

This trauma is real. It is like any other trauma. It is valid. And it does not mean you love your baby any less.

But how can you take this trauma and move on, and possibly even have a second child? How do you face your fears, your pain, and your trauma once again in order to bring life into the world? What do you do when it’s been years and the memory of trauma is like a gossamer that finds its way to you in the middle of the night or during a drive to the grocery store? Or how does it change your plans if you’re newly postpartum but you know you want more children? How do you plan?

  1. It is okay to only have one child. If your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period was too much, or because you simply don’t want to do it again, it is okay. You do not have to be the Duggar family. Just be your family. Pregnancy and birth is a LOT to ask of someone and of oneself, and it is okay if you decide to let go of the three other kids you thought you’d have when you were fifteen and embrace the family that you do have
  2. Find a therapist. Even if it’s once a month or once every three months, find someone who is experienced in postpartum and pregnancy and talk to them about your experience. There are therapists who specialize in birth trauma. You can reenact your birth experience, envision it differently with them, and process process process. Do this for as long as it takes. You may never feel fully at peace but you can feel safe again. Ask your primary care provider or OBGYB or midwife for a referral.
  3. Find a support group. It doesn’t have to be a group that meets every Tuesday at 10am. It can be a church, a weekly coffee visit with a mom friend, or a phone call with your sister in law who also has kids. Talk about your experiences with motherhood, it will make you feel normal.
  4. Read. Read all the books, not the comments on internet pages. I recommend Birthing From Within, Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method, and Preparing for Childbirth.
  5. Help another new mother. Go visit your friend, second cousin, husband’s college roommate’s wife, or random lady from church that just had a baby and bring them a meal. Go stare at their new baby and inhale the oxytocin like a drug. Go see that no matter what their birth was like, the baby part is more or less the same and always cute. But seriously, giving to others is the best way to make ourselves feel whole again.
  6. Make. A. Plan. Change providers if you need to. Don’t go back to the same hospital, or a hospital at all. Find a VBAC supportive provider if you had a cesarean. Find a midwife if you want a different type of care. There is no one standard way to give birth, and if the way you did it the first time is what caused trauma for you, make a plan to educate yourself on different approaches to care and to childbirth. Even if things don’t go according to plan, you will feel confident in your decision to arm yourself with tools and educate to allow you to advocate for yourself. Sometimes the most traumatic thing can be a loss of self. A loss of voice. So find your voice now.
  7. Hire a doula. Do not go into this alone. Your doula can support you and your partner emotionally and physically and provide you with resources and referrals to expand your knowledge of birth. They will hold your hand and walk you through it. No matter what, they will be solely focused on you.
  8. Show grace. Show grace for yourself, allow yourself to cry and to doubt and to have some regret. What you experienced does not make you less of a mother and does not mean you love your baby any less. It means you have been formed from fire. You are strong. You will get through this.
  9. Tell your story. We need to normalize birth experiences. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We need to show the pictures and tell the tales of long labors and episiotomies. By sharing your story you OWN your story. It becomes a tool you can use for your own greatness, to remind yourself of your ferocity. It becomes something that shows others the impact of perseverance. It lets people know they are not alone.

Your next pregnancy and birth may be completely different from your first, or they may end up being eerily similar. I can’t make any promises to you and I won’t tell you to get over your experiences. I will however tell you that because you are a different person now that you have given birth once, everything you do from here on out will be influenced by your experiences in childbirth. You carry with you your strength and your pain, and you use your experiences to get you through the day. When you see a difficult journey ahead you utilize the tools you gained during birth to propel you forward. You do not go backwards anymore. You only know how to go up.

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