Healing From Traumatic Childbirth: How to Begin the Journey

Traumatic childbirth can mean many different things, but it typically involves a major change of plans from the birth you were expecting. Even women who have fully prepared for a variety of possibilities can be stunned by how different childbirth was than they were expecting. What's more, traumatic childbirth often involves the feeling that one's baby or one's life is threatened, and in many cases, the trauma is connected to an injury that requires time to heal at the same time that you are caring for a newborn infant.

While healing from childbirth injuries is usually best supervised by your physician and perhaps a postpartum visit to the pelvic floor physical therapist, there are emotional and social ways that you can begin your journey to recovery and healing. Here are some of the ways that have helped others.

Document Your Feelings and Emotions

A journal that no one else will read can be a good place to process the emotional side of traumatic childbirth. Letting the true emotions you are feeling out can help you to feel like you are expressing your hurt, frustration, lack of control, or other feelings. Many times, journaling will reveal causes and feelings and expectations that you didn't ever know that you had; often, we have unfair expectations that we will be able to control elements of childbirth that we cannot. If this is true for you, journaling can be a good way to begin processing and offering yourself kind words, reminders that you are doing what you can and that there are many things beyond your control.

Psychologically, journaling can help us both unearth and process the things that we aren't ready to share with others in person, and sometimes the act of writing an emotion down can help to take away its all-consuming power over our moods. This strategy isn't right for everyone, but if you feel like pent-up emotions are part of your trauma, it may be worth a try.

Accept Help In Order to Care For Yourself

One of the trickiest things about traumatic childbirth is that there is a lot of immediate need for the child after the experience of childbirth. If you are recovering from trauma, do whatever you can to get help: reaching out to your network, hiring extra childcare help, and reaching out to your medical professional are all appropriate for getting ideas. Even if family can only do a few chores or hold the baby, your recovery from traumatic childbirth is aided by any additional sleep, rest, and personal downtime you can get. Those around you want to be a part of your newborn's life, and they will form treasured memories of being able to be there for you in tangible, valuable ways; you aren't a burden, and both you and baby will have a larger village because of it.

Listen and Read When You Want to Feel Understood

Certainly, after a traumatic childbirth, many women do not want to dwell on the experience, but for others, listening and reading the accounts of other women who have been through the same thing can be a source of understanding and comfort. Hillary Frank created The Longest Shortest Time after a tough childbirth to showcase true stories in a podcast format that would help people process both the biggest joys and the biggest sorrows of parenting. Listening to podcasts like this one can often help mothers see how they are not alone, even though their circumstances are unique. Reading books and listening to audio can be helpful if you are needing to spend time resting in bed as well, when your mind can spin in circles without something to focus on.

Accept Progress as it Comes, Without a Set Timeline

One of the most abstract but also most valuable things you can do is to accept that healing has its own timeline. Many women have great strength for handling exhaustion and pain, but they berate themselves for not feeling better emotionally as fast as they think they should. However, that extra pain of feeling like you are "falling behind" on an imaginary timeline is an unnecessary and unhelpful pain. Whenever possible, remind yourself that your progress is neither linear nor identical to others. When you don't feel good about your childbirth, try to take deep breaths and accept that you feel the way you feel. Once you've accepted that, you can do things: you can listen to a podcast, call your medical professional, take a nap, etc. However, you cannot make yourself feel better when you don't, and accepting where you are is one of the best ways to begin a journey of healing.

Getting feedback from your therapist or from your physician are usually the best steps toward beginning your journey toward healing after traumatic childbirth, but trying the items above can be excellent ways to help yourself in the tough days and weeks after. The long-term healing, however, takes time and often requires that your medical professionals accompany you with specific resources for your situation.