So, what is a healing birth? Every woman's perspective of ideal birthing is different so obviously every woman’s idea of what is healing will be different. She may know, very clearly, why she felt so traumatized and powerless during her last birth and have a clear idea about what must change for her the next time.. She may not even consciously say “this is the kind of birth that will heal my hurt.” In fact, she may not be entirely aware of her trauma until she is laboring again and the familiar sensations trigger difficult memories and emotions from past experiences.
I want to relate a story (with permission) of a mother who experienced a traumatic birth following an induction at 35 weeks for pre-eclampsia. As this was her first baby and being that she was pre-term, the process was long and hard, ultimately ending in a cesarean birth. She remembers feeling totally unprepared, railroaded, powerless, and terrified.
Fast forward to her second pregnancy during which she, again, developed severe pre-eclampsia but much much earlier. At 25 weeks she was put on bedrest, first at home and then in the hospital on medications. She was bed bound for a week before her care team decided that her life and her baby’s life were at risk if she stayed pregnant any longer. Her baby was delivered via cesarean birth at 29 weeks and 2 days weighing just 2lbs 10oz.
The next day she told me how beautiful this birth was. She talked about how she felt so present, so in control, so safe, and so supported. She talked about how the sensations were so very different this time and that she felt she had done all she could to ensure her baby was brought as gently as possible into the world. She called her birth healing ...... and it was.
So what made the difference? Well, for her the difference was knowledge. While on bedrest she invested herself in knowing her options and communicating with her providers about her wishes. She was engaged in the decision-making from the minute she was put on bedrest to the minute her tiny baby was born.
"She called her birth healing ...... and it was."
It seems we are repeatedly sent messages that we must “heal” from *cesarean* birth by birthing vaginally. naturally, maybe even unassisted!! Here is a woman who did none of those things but walked away feeling empowered and healed. Was the healing in the birth or in the knowledge? Was the healing in the being heard by her care providers?
Another example, of a "healing birth" can be found in Whitney, After experiencing a very difficult pregnancy that included bed-rest and a pre-eclampsia diagnosis. She was induced early and had a very negative experience. She did not feel well-informed by her providers about her condition or options. So when she found out she was going to have another sweet baby, she began to arm herself with knowledge. She chose a CPM provider and home-birth this time. She was active in her own care. She worked through her fears and anxieties about her previous pregnancy through the course of her care. She was educated. Whitney birthed powerfully in water. She felt healed and empowered .
Two women with similar circumstances and yet two very different experiences, both walking away feeling healed.. The common thread here is not the healing births they experienced, but how they got to those births.. For both women the difference was their engagement in their care the second time around. They knew more, they felt more in control of their care, they felt like respected, active participants.
We can never guarantee an outcome or a healing birth, no matter how many books we read or how many assertions we make about our care, but we can be better prepared even if things go askew. We can shoot for the moon…our preferred birth, and if we are well informed, well supported active participants in our care, we can still land happily among the stars even if we miss our target due to circumstances beyond our control. The ticket here was to be an informed decision maker. Asking questions, doing research, setting goals and understanding that flexibility is important in birth. Sometimes when we accept and adhere to protocols and regulations without learning the why behind them, the research that may support or dismantle them, without asking questions of our providers and exploring alternatives we are not fully informed. When we are not fully informed, we may end up feeling dis-empowered, lost, afraid, or confused. We also need to be willing to say no, sometimes we need to be willing to change care providers and take a leap and change up the scenery when we are not feeling safe and trusting.
In the end, no mater your choice of birth method…be it a midwife-attended homebirth or a scheduled cesarean, the biggest thing dictating how you will feel at the end is whether you were well informed, prepared, supported, and educated. Did you prepare yourself for alternate scenarios? Do you trust your provider? Do you have good support for your pregnancy and birth? Or do you stand the chance of being blindsided by an unexpected bend in the road with a provider you are unsure of and without good emotional support to see you through whatever challenges you may face? Being plugged into your care can be critical. It can’t guarantee a healing birth and it can’t guarantee you won’t have a traumatizing one but it sure stacks the odds in your favor! As a doula it is my job to stand by and support a woman’s choices, help her find resources to educate herself if she so desires from the moment she hires me until she no longer needs my support in the postpartum. It is not my role to ensure her birth is healing or to ensure a certain outcome. No one can do those things, but I can help a woman find her way through her own circumstances to the birth that is right for her IF she takes the initiative to be in charge of her care.
So what IS a healing birth? It’s ANY birth that you feel positive and empowered by. It’s ANY birth that you felt you did your best to ensure you and your baby had the best possible outcome. It may still be disappointing if you wanted a natural vaginal birth and in the end the best decision was to get an epidural or circumstances lead to a cesarean. But if you are informed and engaged in your care, the likelihood that you will feel traumatized by a change in plans is much lower. Take the time to consider WHY you carry trauma from a previous birth or experience then consider what you could have done (if anything) to change the course. Please don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not suggesting women who are traumatized by their births are to blame, there are many factors that lead to trauma. I’m suggesting that in order to heal from it she has to understand where things went askew and what things she can do differently to try and avoid that happening again, even though the source of the trauma was not her doing in the first place. It’s like defensive driving. You can’t prevent other drivers from driving recklessly, but you can learn to look out for them and avoid them when possible. .
Now. SEEKING a healing birth is a different ball game all together. We have a post pending on this topic.
Recommended reading if you are seeking out good information for a positive and empowering birth:
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr. Sarah Buckley
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention and Vaginal Birth After Cesarean by Nancy Wainer Cohen and Lois J. Estner
(an OLD but still VERY applicable book)
Gentle Birth Choices by Barbara Harper, R.N.
For internet research:
Evidence Based Birth
The Well-Rounded Mama
These sites have EXCELLENT research for women of all sizes regarding prenatal screening and much much more.