Grieving The Birth Story You Thought You’d Have (And Learning How to Heal)

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It’s the night before my daughter turns four as I write this. Like all moms everywhere the night before a child’s birthday, I’m finding myself caught up in the memories of milestones. From the phases we went through since her last birthday, to the memories of her before she turned into our talkative toddler and was just a squishy baby, I flash back happily through her lifetime.  

But then I get to the part that hurts. 
 
The part that I’m supposed to say was the happiest day of my life but just can’t.
 
The day she was born.
 
I avoid thinking about it when I can. I’ve learned that if I let myself dwell on the memories of her birth for too long I go into a dark hole that’s pretty hard to climb out of.
 
To spare you the gruesome details, I’ll keep this part short. I was induced into labor with my daughter a few weeks earlier than expected due to sudden preeclampsia. Due to the intense magnesium I was on, forceps were used because I was so weak. My daughter was born and placed on my chest, but before I could even count her fingers and toes, nurses and doctors started swarming into the delivery room. I didn’t know what was going on as a nurse shouted at my husband to keep me awake and when I looked at him I saw panic and tears in his eyes. In that moment, I thought I was going to die. 
 
And that’s the last thing I remember. I don’t remember someone taking my daughter off of my chest. I never saw them place her tiny body on the scale and tell us how much she weighed. I missed her first tiny smile and the skin-to-skin bonding time I learned about in our birthing class. 
 
Once I came to and started to understand that I had hemorrhaged pretty badly, I was so confused. I never thought giving birth would be easy, but how had everything gone so wrong? I wanted to stay pregnant until at least 40 weeks. I had told my doctor multiple times about my fear of forceps. I wanted to have my husband take a picture of me exhausted but glowing the way only mothers who have JUST given birth do holding our first child on my chest. And now I was learning all about blood pressure and stroke risks and I was still hooked up to machines and receiving transfusions for days after delivery, which meant I couldn’t even get up and stand long enough to change my newborn’s diaper, much less snuggle her when she cried or nurse her well.
 
This wasn’t the delivery I had hoped for. 
 
After about a week in the hospital, I was finally sent home. I thought I could close the door on my rough delivery and start happily enjoying all of the excitement of motherhood. In some ways I definitely did, but then dark moments would sneak their way into my mind as I’d find myself thinking back to that day she was born.
 
I tried to put on a happy face because I felt like I was a bad mom to not be completely overjoyed at this wonderful newborn. My love for her was deep, but I was still processing the trauma my body went through. I had nightmares most nights and developed pretty intense anxiety that paralyzed me from leaving the house many days.  I had to endure weeks of expensive physical therapy to help correct the nerve damage from my difficult delivery. I didn’t know how to process everything I went through, but I was quickly learning that pretending I was fine wasn’t going to work.
 
While my story can never be changed, over the last four years I’ve learned how to continue to heal. If you’re still reading this, sweet mama, I’m guessing there is a good chance you’re also grieving the birth story you thought you’d have. I’m giving you a hug, a shoulder to cry on, and also the best advice I can. 
 
1. You’re allowed to grieve the loss of what you expected
It took me many months to fully realize that my daughter’s birth story was traumatic. I know that sounds crazy, but I guess somehow I felt like I wasn’t strong or was complaining if I admitted that. Once I started coming to terms with this, I felt like I was allowed to process the loss of what I hoped would be giving birth.
 
2.  You’re not alone
Many months after my own traumatic birth story, I saw a post online that spoke to my heart about the issue and I shared it on my Facebook page. I was amazed at how many friends (both close and those I hadn’t spoken to since high school) commented or messaged me, sharing their own traumatic stories and grieving with me for mine. While it makes me sad that so many other women are still recovering, it did bring me comfort to know it wasn’t just me. This wasn’t my fault. Feeling angry, sad, anxious, and fearful was common among all of us. You know what else we have in common? We all love our babies. We are all good moms. Our birth stories are part of us but they do not define us. 
 
3. Changing doctors is OK
After my hospital stay, I realized how opposite my OB/GYN and I were in our personalities. What I was worried about, she brushed off like it was no big deal. I’m sure to her, with her deep medical knowledge, it might not have seemed like something worth discussing, but to me it was crushing to not feel heard. A friend who knows me well suggested a different OB/GYN for me that she had had a positive experience with and it made a huge difference for all my future appointments. This doctor listened to my story sympathetically, talked me through future risks, and never rushed me when I was asking a million questions. The peace I found leaving her office was priceless.
 
4. Your next delivery probably won’t be the same
I know not everyone will go on to have more babies after a traumatic delivery, but if you’re one of those mamas who is or hopes to, please know it will probably go differently. When my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our second child, both of us were very uneasy about what to expect in the delivery room. However, with a doctor we fully trusted and developed a birth plan with prior, everything went extremely smoothly. While I will never fully get over the traumatic experience with my first child, having an easy delivery with my second did fill a bit of that hole in my heart. 
 
5. Get help if you need it 
The conversation of postpartum depression and anxiety is becoming more openly discussed, but it still can feel like such a failure when you’re the one suffering. Mama, you are not a failure. Your body grew and birthed a human and hormones are crazy. Pair that with a stressful and traumatic delivery and you may find yourself in a dark place. Therapy and/or medication can help you as you navigate what happened in that delivery room and you shouldn’t feel ashamed. 
 
Finally, I also want to share how thankful I am for my friends and family that listened to me grieve and cry. It’s so important to not close yourself off. I had a friend who insisted on visiting me often during my maternity leave. I later realized that she gently pushed her way in because she knew I needed to talk it out. She would listen and nod as I essentially told the same story over and over and helped me give myself the grace I needed. She also praised me on all the new mom things I was doing so well and helped me to slowly turn my attention to the future instead of the past. If you are still processing a traumatic delivery, I hope this post will help you to continue to heal but also look towards the future and joys of motherhood.  I can’t say that your memories of the delivery day won’t always hurt a little, but I promise it does get better. 
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Liz Ewing
Liz lives in West Wichita with her husband, Shane, and their two kiddos, Brynn (October '15) and Beckett (December '17). Liz loves her job as a Kindergarten teacher in the same district she grew up attending as a child herself. When she is not chasing after small children, Liz enjoys her coffee black (bonus points if it's still warm!), her wine red, attending church with her family, long lunches to catch up with her girlfriends, and exploring new restaurants and ice cream spots with her hubby on date nights.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for your transparency. You’re so courageous… And your storey will soothe other struggling mom’s! Thank you, in the midst of all for sending me such a tender and loving note. I love you!!!!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. My son just turned 7 on November 4. His birth (emergency c-section under general anesthesia) was pretty traumatic, and even though it’s been seven years it’s still hard to re live his birth. I missed his first cry and first feeding. I finally got to hold him when he was about 7 hours old. Your story brought back so many memories and feelings. While his birthday always brings a flood of emotions I can say that seven years later there are more happy emotions than sad. I’m so happy you had that amazing friend that recognized you needed her. I had a friend like that, and I don’t know what I would’ve done without her!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this. I have a very similar story and have felt so alone. While I’m sad that you had a traumatic birth, I feel relieved knowing there is another person with a similar experience. My traumatic birth was also with my first child, a daughter in October 2015.

  4. Wow are stories are very similar! I went into DIC after my emergency csection (after 22 hours of labor, 2 of which were pushing) and needed 13 units of blood transfusions. Then they had to operate a second time because my BP dropped to something like 30/20 and they realized I had internal bleeding that caused 2 huge clots. It was almost 24 hours in ICU before I got to meet my baby, and I only met her at that point because the nurses felt sorry for me and smuggled her up, against hospital policy. Getting past the trauma took me close to 2 years, and was delayed heavily by sleep deprivation, post partum, and ptsd. I am well, 4.5 years later, but I still feel cheated out of the experience of bringing/welcoming my baby into the world.

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