Sometimes birth does not go as hoped. Plans sometimes have to change mid-labor (or mid-pregnancy). Things take an unexpected twist, and what was supposed to be an incredibly joyful experience is now tinged with a measure of grief. Whether or not mom and baby both came out healthy is not the issue- sometimes things happen during the process that leave a woman and her family with conflicting emotions: happiness in the new life that has come in to the world, and sorrow or hurt about the way that it played out on an emotional or physical level (or both).
Grief is the process of healing after trauma. Grief manifests itself in many ways: anger, creativity, tears and sadness, getting lost in busy-ness and distraction. Here are several things that can help process and work through the grief and begin to find healing:
Let Yourself Experience the Emotions
Allow yourself to "be" with your grief. This means not allowing yourself or others to just sweep it away- "A healthy baby is all that matters!"- but allowing yourself to feel the full force of the emotions that surface.
Find an Outlet for Expressing the Emotions
As the emotions surface, give them an outlet and a voice by finding a safe and trusted person and environment to confide in will help them to clear out. Sometimes this is a close friend or partner, but it can also be beneficial to spend even just a session or two with a professional therapist who can help bring a neutral perspective and also equip you with tools for further processing and coping. Renee Groenemann in Cincinnati is one great resource among many who offers professional counseling for those who have experienced difficult birth and birth trauma.
Another outlet and way to give a "voice" to emotions is through creative work such as journaling, painting, sculpting, drawing, and many more. Find the one that allows your emotions to flow most naturally.
Let Go of the "Should Have" or "Could Have"
Forgive yourself and forgive others for the roles played in your birth. It is easy to place blame, especially on yourself. Often we don't fully know "why" something happened, and there is no way to go back in time to change what has happened. Being able to acknowledge what happened and say, "Yes, that happened to me, and that was hard," can be freeing and relieving. Affirm yourself for what you DID do, the good choices you made in pregnancy and labor, and recognize the positive things others did for you as well.
Rest. Processing grief is hard work, and can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Give yourself time and space to sleep, eat well, and limit any obligations or outside pressures. Accept offers of help with household chores, cooking, or taking care of older children. Know the signs of postpartum depression or other postpartum mood disorders, and seek help if you believe that you may be suffering from one of these.
In my next post I am going to share some more specific ideas for bonding with your baby after a difficult birth.