After my first birth, I was left feeling like my body failed me. I felt broken. Questions constantly ran through my mind about what happened.
I wondered why my birth had ended up the way it did, what I had done wrong, or if anyone was to blame.
I joined a birth trauma group in which I read similar stories to mine and took comfort in the fact that I wasn’t alone in dealing with the complex and tangled emotions that we often try desperately to sort through when we’ve had a difficult birth experience.
I devoured many stories of women who had negative birth experiences and then went on to have a better birth the next time.
It took me a long time to feel ready to have another baby—but the whole time in between, I was planning my “do-over” birth, researching everything I could and planning for it to be different (and better) the next time around. During this time, I felt like I would only be okay if my body worked the next time around.
What I realize now is that I really hadn’t done the deeper work that I needed to do in order to cope with the same events happening again—or, for that matter, something different or unexpected occurring with my next birth experience.
Now, I can see that planning a “do-over” birth is not a healthy way to resolve the feelings around an emotionally difficult birth, and it is often not approached in an a way that’s good for our emotional well-being.
Striving for a Do-Over: Deeper Reasons at Play?
It’s understandable that when we’ve had a really clear idea or hope for our birth and didn’t achieve it, to feel let down, upset, or traumatized.
It makes sense that we might try even harder the next time to get our ideal outcome—especially if we were left feeling like we could have done something better or different last time.
We might be left believing that if we were more informed, if we had taken the right class or spoken up, taken control, and “owned” our birth, we might have had a better outcome. We could be left feeling like our body didn’t work properly, or even that we failed in some way.
It’s appealing to believe that there is a recipe or formula to follow in order to achieve our desired outcome, or that we can feel okay no matter what, so long as we are active participants in our birth.
But with something like birth, which is influenced by so many different factors, is this realistic? Could this idea—that if we just take all the right steps, educate ourselves, and plan well enough, things will be better—actually set us up for more disappointment and trauma, especially when we don’t achieve our perfect do-over birth?
There are many good reasons from a health and hormonal perspective for us to seek out a natural or drug-free birth, and thus to feel a bit (or more than a bit) ripped off or disappointed when we aren’t able to experience this.
We all want to feel like we have done the best for our child, so sometimes not having the birth we believe is best or safest can leave us feeling like we aren’t a good enough mother.
If we do desire a certain type of birth, we should be encouraged and supported to make choices that increase our chances of this happening, while also understanding that birth, like life, can sometimes be unpredictable, and then doing the deeper work to prepare for this.
Here are some questions to consider: When we are hoping for a do-over birth, what are some of the deeper reasons why we might want it? Is it needing to prove we can do it, because this proves that we are strong, smart or capable? Is it about achieving a goal or an outcome we believe is the “right,” “natural,” or “ideal” one? It is to redeem ourselves in some way? Are we hoping it will heal the wounds from our previous birth? Or is it something else?
Do we Need a “Healing Birth?”
It’s a common belief that having our ideal birth after a difficult one will be “healing,” and from speaking to many women, it can be part of the healing process.
However, some of us find that having a better birth actually only highlights all the issues with our previous experience. It can make us feel even worse about it, and in fact doesn’t provide the relief we are hoping for.
Some of us also plan for a do-over breastfeeding or postnatal experience if we had a rough time the first time, too. Putting all of our hopes on a new birth being able to heal a previous one is also risky.
What if it isn’t our ideal birth again, or what if it’s even worse than before? Will this only serve to deepen the disappointment and trauma? Is it healthy to pin our hopes on this and expect one good birth to heal another less-good one? Is it possible to heal without experiencing another birth, or even to have a better birth experience at all?
Heal the Birth Wound First.
A healthy first step for any of us planning a more positive birth experience is healing our previous birth experience.
This can be done with the help of a birth-story healer, counselor, psychologist, or birth-trauma specialist—or through kinesiology, somatic experiencing, and methods like E.M.D.R.
Approaching another experience without having healed the complex feelings and meaning attached to an earlier birth might mean we are unknowingly motivated by some of these unhealed factors.
Taking a holistic birth class, in which we can be guided to do the deeper work to prepare for a range of possibilities, can also help.
Exploring our beliefs and gaining self-awareness around the meaning we might be giving those unwanted or unexpected birth scenarios can be enlightening. Rather than just trying to “release fears” or “practice affirmations” without any deeper work, we can discover a conscious awareness of what we might be telling ourselves if we do or don’t get our “healing” birth—a mindful and mature approach.
Even if we are unlikely to give birth again, taking the steps to heal our birth experience can still provide much relief and resolution.
Loving and Accepting Ourselves, Regardless of the Outcome.
Rather than coming from a place of believing that we can only be okay by achieving our ideal birth or by being an active participant in all of the decisions, we can work to cultivate self-compassion, resilience, and determination instead.
Every one of our birth experiences is unique and provides a great opportunity for transformation, growth, and understanding ourselves in a deeper way.
While we can do everything in our power to have our desired birth, approaching it with less attachment to the outcome, as well as awakening that part of us that knows our self-worth is not determined by how our birth unfolds, is not only a healthy way to prepare, but can also leave us in a better place—no matter which path our next birth journey takes.
Author: Nicole Tricarico
Image: Jason Lander/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Danielle Beutell