Let’s talk about grief after birth trauma.
Your baby is here. He’s healthy, he’s growing. All you ever wanted was for him to be born safely and healthy. But months on, there’s still a lingering darkness that you can’t shake. There are times when you look at him and you are overwhelmed with a love so strong that you can literally feel it pulsing in your chest. But there are times when you look at him with overwhelming sadness, that soon turns to shame. It’s hard to figure out where it’s coming from, but it’s a horrible feeling to have.
You see, being pregnant is also called “expecting”. You place our expectations on pregnancy… what it’s going to feel like, what it’s going to look like, the things you’ll do. Expectations on birth… what labour will feel like, how birthing will play out, how your birth preparation is going to influence what happens. And on parenting… the type of parent you will be, or what your days will look like with a new baby.
But it’s our expectations of birth that often leave us feeling far from fulfilled. And it’s this that spills into our parenting. Yes, you may have a fair idea of what we expect birth to be like. You may even fear birth. But deep down you expect that everything really is going to go well. You have trusted medical professionals around you who are there to take care of you. You’ve toured the hospital, done their classes, and read all the books. You’ve built an expectation. But if that expectation fails to result, the consequences can be devastating.
1 in 3 birthing women are thought to have experienced physical or psychological birth trauma (birthtrauma.org).
Part of the devastation involved in birth trauma is grief. Grief of something that was expected, that was so badly wanted. Disappointment, and anger of losing something that should’ve been yours. Shame that you weren’t able to have the birth that you wanted. Blame at those who were there to help you. Blame at yourself. Blame at your body. Sadness at what you endured in it’s place, and what you’re still enduring as a result.
An experience that has since been minimised and devalued over and over again by others around you. No chance to grieve what you lost as it is not recognised as being worthy.
But it is.
Once a mother brings home a healthy baby, their support system doesn’t necessarily acknowledge or validate the loss of that dream, leading to what is called disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief is grief experienced where the loss cannot be openly acknowledged, socially accepted or publicly mourned. And it is facing this grief that can make it difficult for women to reach out for professional support, for fear of judgement or being misunderstood. But it is real, and it hurts.
I see you struggle in silence. Maybe you feel alone, unjustified, shameful, or even selfish. Maybe you’re sad, disappointed, angry, hurt, jealous, unheard, invalidated, guilty, responsible. Or numb…
Grief from any significant loss needs support. Disenfranchised grief from a traumatic experience of birth is no different. You deserved that birth that you dreamed of having. And I’m deeply sorry that you had it taken from you. This darkness you feel can be lifted, and you can heal. It can get better through counselling or debriefing your experience with someone who understands birth, trauma and grief.
Reach out for professional support, where together you can begin to put together the pieces of your experience so that you can discover ways to move forward.
Fiona Rogerson (B.Couns) is ACA accredited Perinatal Counsellor and Hypnobirthing (Mongan Method) Educator. She works with women and men to overcome emotional and psychological hurdles surrounding conception, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting and identity. These may include trauma (including birth trauma), anxiety, depression, grief or relational difficulties.
Fiona is based in Perth, WA, though is available to work remotely via telehealth platforms. She is also available to provide professional development training and workshops to various organisations and groups.
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