Today on the blog, Gina reflects on birth experiences may people have, the importance of being able to speak about these experiences, and being truly heard and supported.
As an antenatal educator, I've been teaching pregnant couples for over six years now and I've taught nearly 400 couples. I also ran a Positive Birth Movement (PBM) group in London for three years, and I've been running another PBM group in Kent for the last two years. So I've had many, many birth stories shared with me over the years, both in a professional capacity, and also in passing when acquaintances (like mums at my kids' school) discover what I do for work. It is both my job and my passion not only to listen to these stories, but to truly hear the feelings and emotions behind what each parent has to say when they share their story.
In this blog, I want to reflect on the importance of both speaking your truth, whether you had a positive or negative experience, as well as the importance of being heard with compassion and without judgement.
Why share your birth story?Many parents can benefit from sharing their birth experiences.
The most obvious reason to talk about birth is if you had a traumatic experience. Talking about it can help you with coming to terms with upsetting memories and emotions. Sadly, I've heard people share many negative birth experiences, including some truly heart-breaking stories. The one common factor for all of these individuals is the need to speak their truth in their words when they feel ready and safe. Speaking helps healing. A wonderful father that I met has spoken widely about his family's experience of losing their baby girl. And his sharing of their story has helped other families as well as his own.
Maybe you feel disappointed with how your birth went, but it wasn't particularly 'traumatic'. It's possible that you have negative feelings about your birth experience, and your baby is now here safe and well. You may have been told, 'well, baby is here safely, that's the most important thing'. Of course, every parent wants their baby to arrive safe and well, and that is everyone's top priority. But you, your experience and your feelings also matter.
Having a negative experience of childbirth can leave you with unresolved feelings for many years. Mothers sometimes feel guilty for having negative feelings, perhaps having trouble bonding with baby or struggling to settle into the role of mum. Dads or birth partners sometimes feel guilty and upset because they looked on helplessly whilst mum endured a difficult delivery.
Infant loss, still birth, birth trauma, negative birth experiences - these can leave an indelible mark a family, and simply taking that step to speak about it with a trusted individual can be hugely transformative. For some parents, it can make all the difference, by releasing that pain and those fears, feeling able to enjoy one's life and family as it is now, and perhaps even feeling ok about trying for another baby again. It can feel empowering to begin the healing process and allow your life to move forward.
Do you have a positive birth story to share?
Positive birth experiences need space and acknowledgement too. Why? Your positive story may be a personal triumph over your fears and anxieties, moving past a previous negative birth, dealing with the loss of a baby or other complex feelings and difficulties. Your positive birth deserves to be acknowledged and heard in the same way as those who experienced trauma and loss.
It's hard to believe, but parents often feel guilty about sharing positive stories. Of course, in sharing your own positive story, you don't want to make others feel bad if they had a negative experience. If you are hearing someone else's story, remember that their story is not a judgement or critique of you or your story. If you feel that way, it is important that you find a safe space to share and heal from your own experience.
If you share your story and you feel judged negatively as a result, maybe someone has heard your story as a criticism of their story, even though that wasn't your intention. Remember that kind of response is about the other person's own unresolved feelings. They need space to heal. Telling one's story is about articulating, accepting, finding peace. And it can also be about celebrating your own journey and experience.
Sharing positive birth experiences has the power to transform how those around you approach birth. Positive Birth groups are 100% committed to this. FInd your own wonderful safe place to get support for all of your choices and all of your experiences. Facilitators of these groups are registered with the PBM and are responsible for creating that confidential, non-judgemental space for the parents that attend the meetings.
Mindset is a powerful thing. Going into birth well-informed, prepared and supported can make even the most sudden change of birth plan more manageable. I've had clients unexpectedly need to be induced or have an emergency c-section, but because of good preparation and support they are able to report these births as positive experiences, even though things did not go to the original 'plan'.
In the birth professional world, we talk about 'holding space' for our clients. This means providing a space for you that feels safe, where parents feel 'held' and able to be and express what they need to, in whatever shape or words that comes. For mothers and fathers alike, creating a safe space where they are completely accepted and respected can be the first important step towards healing.
It's a big responsibility to hold space for those sharing birth trauma and loss, and even positive experiences. Any good birth professional understands the importance of being able to listen without judgement, without inserting one's own feelings or experience, and always with unconditional love and compassion. This is what my ZenBirth team and I are committed to, and it's what we put into everything we do to help parents on their journey to meeting their babies.
My experience of hearing and listening to birth stories is that it is incredibly moving and has helped me to grow personally and professionally. I have observed the process of parents releasing negative emotions around previous birth experiences. Liberating oneself from these things can help couples acknowledge what went well during the birth and how joyful it was to welcome their child into the world, at the same time as recognising reasons why the delivery did not go as planned and eventually coming to a point of acceptance and peace. Talking things through helps you to both gain clarity and lift the burden of those negative feelings and emotions.
Whoever you share your story with, it is important that you feel listened to and that the person is committed to holding space for you that is safe, confidential, non-judgemental and truly focussed on you. Remember there is always support out there, whether you are a parent or a birth professional, or both. There are some organisations listed below that provide excellent information and support.
Wishing you well. Remember that you and your story matter, always.
- Birth Trauma Association
- SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society)
- Positive Birth Movement
- Beautiful Birth Stories