“I often say that giving birth is like running a marathon in the lower half of your body, while walking a labyrinth in the upper half in your mind.”
That’s a quote from Nadine Richardson, founder of She Births, who says there’s an anecdotal link between a complicated or traumatic birth, and any recent experience of life trauma.
A birth is said to be traumatic when the individual (mother, father, or other witness) believes the mother’s or her baby’s life was in danger, or that a serious threat to the mother’s or her baby’s physical or emotional integrity existed.
“Every birth is a death, and every rite of passage has a degree of challenge and letting go. Birth is a massive process of letting go; letting go of who we used to be, and what our relationships used to be. The world is no longer about you, and you’ve got to have a way to process those feelings,” says Nadine.
Listen to Nadine Richardson on Kinderling Conversation:
Reframing your birth plan
While improving birth outcomes for mother and baby is central to the She Births philosophy, Nadine told Kinderling women are also taught the importance of 'reframing' their experience when things may not go to plan.
A key part of reframing is creating a network of emotional support during birth - particularly for women who may have recently experienced life trauma.
“Partners are often good enough for mums when the lower half does the majority of work," says Nadine. "But for the upper half - our mind - who do we have to help? How do we walk that treacherous path filled with the past and help it to open and unravel, and understand the complexity of feelings along the way?”
What do we mean by 'life' trauma?
Nadine says pregnancy and birth can trigger old traumas, like grief around death, sexual abuse and relationship breakdowns. In the experience of birth, these emotional layers can be released into the chaos, and “close up” the mind and the body, contributing to a complicated birth experience.
“I’ve found people who’ve had significant trauma, even within a few years of falling pregnant, might still be experiencing grief and guilt; and those feelings are incongruous to pregnancy and opening to birth,” says Nadine.
As Nadine told Kinderling, women who have gone through IVF can also experience a psychological impact in terms of the way they’ve been spoken to for years.
“Women are often silent about what emotions they’re experiencing, because they’ve adjusted to being spoken down to during the IVF process. The language used is often very unpleasant and can create a sense of shame, or feelings of incompetence. And that’s a challenging experience to bring into the 'opening up' of birth.”
However, Nadine is also quick to point out that she is not suggesting everyone's life trauma will have an impact on their birth experience.
“Some people transcend it [the trauma], and some of us have to work through it consciously. The mind is like a tangled ball of wool and we have to untangle it gently. And when we do, sometimes we get to learn more and heal at a deeper level.”
Supporting the emotional journey of birth
For most women, pregnancy is a time when you feel supported by a large network - be it family, friends or health professionals. Yet, in the moment of birth, you can’t expect the system to support you with the emotional process. Nadine says this means we must think really carefully about who is there with us in the labour experience and supporting us through that process of birth.
“If you get the 7-hour labour and all goes well, then Dad is probably enough. But if there’s a three-day labour and a requirement for forceps or c-section, we need someone to help us there in the moment to help us understand what is taking place and reframe our experience,” she says.
You must feel to heal
Healing from trauma is not a simple process. Nadine told Kinderling every woman should have a confidant or trained counsellor to help them through the psychological process of pregnancy and birth.
“You’ve got to feel the feelings to heal, and it’s hard to feel those feelings when you’re pregnant. You’ve got to choose courage over comfort, and that’s what people don’t talk about in relation to the birth experience.”
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