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Mama Grief: Claim Your Right To Heal

dona June 4, 2013
photo credit: Doña Bumgarner

photo credit: Doña Bumgarner

I cried when I came home from the hospital with my newborn daughter. I walked through our rooms, cleaned and prepared for us by my sister and my best friend, and sobbed. They had washed and put away the dishes. They brought a bouquet of flowers that nearly filled our dining room table. They put the red silk comforter back on our bed and deflated and put away the birthing tub that I never got to use.

Our daughter was supposed to be born there, delivered into warm water and surrounded by candles. I wanted her father to catch her body and bring her to my breast. I wanted the soothing music I had carefully selected.

midwife bag

photo credit: Doña Bumgarner

Instead, on the morning of my third day of labor, when I was still only dilated 3 cm, exhausted and scared, we sat with our midwife and came up with a new plan. We caravanned to the hospital, where I got an epidural, Pitocin and a long nap. It took 12 more hours of labor and three of pushing in a room where I could hear strangers passing by the open door before Stella was born just before midnight, 76 hours after my first contractions. Because her white blood-cell count was elevated, we were kept at the hospital for another night before they let us come home.

When Stella was a few days old, I tried to explain my sadness to my best friend. She had supported my choice of a home birth and came over as soon as I called to say my contractions were starting. She had leaned into my back to ease my pain over and over, fed me handfuls of almonds to keep my stamina up and sat vigil over me that last long night at home. Still, surprised at my grief, she said, “But you have a healthy baby! That’s all that matters!”

I didn’t regret going to the hospital. I was grateful for the nurse who said, while fastening the ID bracelet on my wrist, “I had two babies at home.  I know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have to be. We will take good care of you.” I was grateful for the drugs that got me through that final stretch. I was grateful for the skilled obstetrician who turned my baby’s body the tiniest bit to get her past my pubic bone and kept us from a cesarean. I was so grateful — of course I was — for the beautiful and healthy baby in my arms.

But I was also grieving for the birth I didn’t have. I was grieving for not being able to bring my baby into the world the way I had envisioned. Having a healthy baby wasn’t all that mattered to me, but I quickly learned that no one wanted to hear it. So I packed up my grief and stuffed into in a small corner of my heart.

Now, two years later, we are trying to get pregnant again. That corner of my heart still aches. I’m afraid of laboring. I’m afraid how much it will hurt, how long it will last, and whether I’ll have the strength to get all the way through it. I read birth stories of mothers who feel powerful and fierce after they give birth and I am jealous. My birth story doesn’t feel powerful.

holding baby

photo credit: Doña Bumgarner

I know I have to heal this sadness before I give birth again. I need to claim the moments in my story where I was fierce and strong. I need to find my power in my own experience. I trust what my midwife said to me a few days after Stella’s birth: “You won’t have this birth again. The next one might be harder or easier, but you won’t have this exact birth again.”

If, like me, you are grieving your pregnancy, birthing, or mothering experience, you have a right to your grief. Whether you faced an unwanted cesarean or unexpected interventions, if you were unable to breastfeed, if you suffered from depression, or if your birth came so fast you could barely process it, you have a right to feel sad, or angry, ripped off or disappointed.

Embrace those feelings. Find someone you trust to listen and support you while you talk through it. I urge you to process that particular grief, not bury it because it isn’t popular or because your baby is healthy and that’s all that matters.

You matter, mama. Birthing and mothering is your experience, too.

What do you grieve about your pregnancy, birth, or early mothering experience? What do you need to do to resolve that grief and feel powerful again?

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  1. I didn’t grieve my first labor but I did feel, especially after the fact, that one or two minor decisions on my part, made because I didn’t know any better, forced all the rest of my decisions along the way. It was not a labor and delivery I wanted but not as regretful or unwanted as your story. My second pregnancy, I looked forward to laboring the whole time. Looked forward to trying it again and having a “better” L&D. That said, I didn’t have any more control over the second delivery than the first. I handled it better but, it went SO quickly, by the time we entered the hospital, I had very few decisions to make.
    Your midwife is right; your next L&D will most likely be different. Keep picturing your “perfect” L&D and, just keep in mind, like a wedding, it never goes perfectly.

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  2. I’m reading this as I hold my 11 day old son. Your story made me cry as much as I’ve cried for my own story. I had gestational diabetes and the doctor said I couldn’t go past my due date due to the risks to the baby. I made it clear that I wanted to proceed naturally as close to my due date as possible and wanted artificial induction as a very last resort. One week before the due date, I repeated my wishes to a doctor at my clinic. She clearly wasn’t pleased and began a cervical exam. Of all the cervical exams I’ve had in my life, this was the most violent and mean. Less that five minutes out of the clinic I was crying from the pain! Two hours later, I felt the amniotic fluid start to leak – I’m convinced that my doctor forced me to deliver before my due date by breaking my water during the cervical exam.

    That started the downhill slide – contractions went from zero to coming every 2 minutes. I needed an immediate epidural since I had no chance to get used to the pain. The epidural wore off after 16 hours of labor and because my water broke, the hospital urged a c-section to avoid any more risk. A freezing cold OR, an infection and high fever from the surgery, not seeing my son but hearing him screaming on a “warming” table as they cleaned him (which I didn’t want), then hearing him whisked off to the NICU for 5 hours of observation.

    Nothing remotely close to the birth experience I wanted. And I, too, get “but you have a healthy baby now – you’ll soon forget the bad experience.” No I won’t!

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  3. I mourn for my first delivery too. I was induced, I now feel too early, and it lead to intervention after intervention. I pushed through almost all of it, including 4.5 hours pushing, but he was turned and it turned into an emergency c section under anesthesia. I’m now 31 weeks and I’m so nervous to not have a VBAC. I want to so much to not have any medical interventions. I don’t care if it’s long or painful, but I just want to have my second son naturally.

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  4. I am in the same boat. It was kinda like you ready mind. We were planing a home birth and ended up with a hospital cesarean. Everyone said be thankful for the healthy baby, which of course I was, but it was hard for me because I felt that I didn’t get to complete the full cycle. We are trying for another baby now, two years later. I know I will have to work through a lot of feelings around birth, labor, hospitals,etc. thanks for understanding!

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  5. thank you so much for this post – i bawled like a baby, having 2 birth stories/post birth situations i wish with all my heart had gone differently. i didnt realize until i read this, how much i’ve been shoving my pain to the side, pretending it isnt there because they’re both fine and healthy now. thank you for helping me acknowledge that it’s ok to feel this way!

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  6. I’m so sorry your birth didn’t go to plan. I understand how that feels as I am a survivor of two transfers before my first homebirth. Here is my story but this version is slightly incomplete because I now have another homebirth in my tally.

    http://www.whole-woman.com/index.php/a-birth/101-speech-for-homebirth-conference

    Love and healing to you mama. In transferring you were brave, in changing plans when you needed to, and in knowing how that would hurt you were fierce. You faced your fears and you will face them again in another birth. But as the midwife said to you, you will only ever do that birth once.

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  7. I totally grieved my first delivery, and still get teary reading your post as my daughter is turning 8 this month! Unfortunately I didn’t have anyone who understood my grief … which is why I guess it’s taken this long to be able to even think about it without getting terribly upset. My second delivery was a planned c-section, greatly to my dismay, however we had moved across the province and didn’t have any family support at the time to help with the extra monitoring that a vaginal birth entails. I will say though that at least with the planned c-section, I was present enough to greet my second daughter and fully “take her in”. As I reach the end of my child bearing years, I still have that desire to have a natural child birth … to have that powerful birthing story as you say … but I am very grateful for the two beautiful healthy daughters that I have today. Thank you for sharing your story!

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  8. Yes!! Thanks for saying it. The transition from being a pregnant woman to a new mother is like the climax of the plot and very emotional. We can all shush each other all we want or wish each other’s pain away, but like you said, it doesn’t make it go away. It just goes deeper. Breathe it out. I was able to do this when I read a book called The Birth of a Mother. It validated what I was feeling after having to be under anesthetic during my twins delivery. It was terrible to not be able to remember that moment. Not see them come out of me, all gross and FROM me. I know it seems weird, but waking up to little clean bundles was hard. I felt unsure they were mine – how did I know? Thankfully, a student nurse was able to video the delivery, so I have that. 🙂 But all the feelings, whether they make sense or not, are worthy of our attention. I even felt guilty for choosing to have a c-section and not trying a vaginal delivery EVEN after I got so sick I had no choice in the matter. But I feel better now. I hope you find that new place soon. 🙂

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  9. Thank you for writing this article!
    I am also still struggeling with my birthstory. Here in France homebirth doesnt really exist and no doctor would support it but i have been dreaming about it since i was a little girl to follow the example of my mother and grandmother in Austria. I stood up against my in-laws (all doctors) and “convinced” my husband to prepare for giving birth at home. The day came and unfortunately my husband couldnt be with me. My water broke, very regular contractions right away and after a few hours the midwife I had found after a long search and quite late in my pregnancy came. Around 16 hours later she told me that i was 10cm and we started pushing… Long story short, she had made a mistake and i was only at 7cm, not progressing because my sons head was tilted backwards. She never noticed and I had to take the desicion myself to go to the hospital. They where great there and 9 hours with epidural and strapped to a bed in an icecold room later my wonderful son was born. My in-laws though will never forgive me that I “risked his life” and even my husband took a long time forgiving me. 7 months later I still cant trust my own decisions and sadness and depression is never far in a country where i have no family and its difficult to find people i can talk to in a comfortable language. But i am happy to have found your blog and if I can gather my courage I will start publishing on mine too.

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  10. I’m 43 and had my first baby 12 weeks ago, against everyone’s expectations (and without IVF or IUI, etc.). While I had always planned to give birth in the hospital (my hospital had a new maternity wing with birthing tubs and excellent care), it didn’t go quite as planned: At 41 weeks my cervix hadn’t moved and I hadn’t had the ghost of a contraction, so I was induced, then had an emergency c-section. A lot of the ‘interventions’ were because no one could really believe that I was going to have my first baby at my age without some disaster happening. Sometimes I couldn’t believe it, either!

    However, having read a lot of birth stories on this site and others, I did make one decision while I was pregnant: I wouldn’t get too attached to some Perfect Vision of how giving birth should go, because it seems to lead to a heck of a lot of disappointment and upset when it doesn’t go the way you planned. I understand that everyone has preferences, and I also understand that some healthcare practitioners aren’t very sensitive so you need to be prepared to state your wishes firmly. And I think it’s okay to acknowledge that you were disappointed with some part of the birth process. But as a woman who will only get one baby, and a sort of ‘miracle’ baby at that (she came out healthy and perfect), I am glad that my focus was on the result rather than the process.

    To reference a previous commenter, the ‘wedding’ (i.e. the birth) is just far less important than the ‘marriage’ (i.e. raising a child).

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  11. I had a traumatic birth experience. My husband & I took Bradley classes and I was fully prepared for a natural birth. After 15 hours of labor, I started pushing. My Dr let me push for nearly 4 hours before deciding we had to have the c-section. I cried for days afterward, so angry that I had to go through it and the painful recovery. I wouldn’t even talk about it for a month. Having a C section somehow took away the bonding feeling with my daughter for the first few weeks. Our birth instructor told me to write it out. So I wrote, every detail, of my birth experience. My doctor called me her hero for laboring & pushing so long with no drugs. Turns out baby girl was posterior, nearly face presentation, which she did not tell me until my 6 week appointment! But writing it out helped me deal with my emotions surrounding the birth.

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  12. […] we arrived home from the hospital after our transfer, I was totally done with being around people who were not my partner and my baby.

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  13. […] originally wrote this piece as a guest post on Modern Alternative Pregnancy in 2013. Writing it was cathartic and healing, but around Bean’s birthday, which is this […]

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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