written by Jennifer Summerfeldt, CCC-Q, MACP
There is a rising dilemma experienced
by many mothers during the
postpartum, including years after birth,
rarely discussed within the childbirth communities, academic journals
It is important to note that the event (what happened during the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum) and the individual perception of the event are both contributing factors
that influence how well a mother
integrates, makes sense out of, and resolves what happened during her childbirth experience. Two mothers could experience a similar unfolding of events and each of their perceptions of that experience will be different, which means that the impact of the experience will be stored differently within their
nervous system and brain. How we perceive an
event is influenced by many factors such as and not limited to: past events,family and childhood experiences, beliefs
Research suggests that the quicker a mother can process and integrate what has occurred the less likely she will present with s
What was lost?
Mothers who had unplanned, unwanted, or unexpected medical interventions at any point throughout the continuum of childbirth can experience the following losses: loss of birth dream
and vision; loss
of physical health; disconnection to self; loss of financial stability; loss of career or vocation; loss of relationships; loss of spiritual connection; loss of mental faculty. One can imagine the energetic outpouring and attachment that occurs when a mother spends nine months or more imagining, dreaming, learning, anticipating, and planning for a certain kind of childbirth experience. To then be met with a completely different and unexpected occurrence than what was planned or envisioned. It is thusnormal to experience disappointment and grief when that expected event turns out to be a different reality than initially planned. Attached to a mother’s childbirth experience
Within the continuum of childbirth, the stress resp
When a mother is negatively impacted by her childbirth experience, has unexpressed grief, and lacks support to process and integrate the event, her risk of being isolated in her emotions, thoughts, and sensations can escalate. Mothers cannot heal in isolation. As social beings, we heal in relationship to one another (Badenoch, 2008; Geller & Porges, 2014; Porges, 2009a).
This lack of belonging comes as a surprise to many of the mothers I work with. Allow me to elaborate. Let’s look at the scenario of a mother who was planning to have a natural childbirth that resulted in an unplanned caesarean birth. Prior to her perceived negative childbirth experience this mother was a part of the natural childbirth community. Perhaps she joined a natural birthing class, attended a yoga or pregnancy movement class, joined online forums and blogs, talked with other mothers who gave birth naturally,
and had a prenatal cohort. During pregnancy there was a sense of belonging; belonging to something meaningful and purposeful. However, the secon
To understand more clearly what I mean by different childbirth ‘group
The Different Camps of Childbirth
Natural vs Medical childbirth has been in opposition for years now; since the introduction to medical intervention and OBGYN’s. Rarely do these camps see eye to eye, although they have a growing tolerance forone other. Within the past 18 years, I can honestly say that there is still a strong us vs them mentality when it comes to the midwifery model of care vs medical model of care. For those who want to read more about this, Robbie Davis-Floyd, a Medical and Cultural Anthropologist, offers lots of insightful discourse on this topic. Fundamentally each model of care has differing points of view. This is not an article about which camp is better, but rather, let’s acknowledge that they are different. And what I am noticing surface is a third camp of mothers who perceive that they no longer belong to either camp.
The Current Problem
It is tolerated that camp A and B will have differing opinions, and often, when these mothers get together they choose to not discuss their differing perspectives and choices of childbirth. Many mothers feel supported within a community of mothers with likeminded parenting and birthing worldviews, and they rarely venture outside of this cohort. Thus, they are not isolated and they belong. However, mothers from camp C experience something different – they belong to neither camp A nor camp B. They are often afraid to speak about the event, especially if they are grateful for the medical support they received. Rarely do they have space to speak authentically about what happened and how they feel about it, nor do they feel safe to process their grief. I have heard mothers say that they refrain from sharing about their birth experience because they do not want to sound like they are complaining, or they are concerned about negatively impacting another mother’s perception of childbirth, and they sometimes internalize their grief as a sign of weakness.
This lack of belonging, which contributes to the psych
A Proposed New Role
Although many mothers feel silenced or isolated in their experience there is an emerging voice that is beginning to surface, and the hope is that these mothers can offer encouragement and support to others. This group of sprouting mothers who are reaching out for support and courageously choosing to heal have an important role and influence within the childbirth community – they are bridging between two worldviews. Let’s take a closer look at this notion.
What is a Bridge Person? Someone who can close the gap between one point of view and another point of view because they can offer insight and perspective based upon experience. This new role cultivates meaning and fosters a new sense of belonging amongst mothers and families. These brave voices will hopefully help to eliminate the us vs them mentality that overtly or subtly positions mothers against one another. We need more connection as mothers, and less shaming or shunning for childbirth choices.
How to Become a Bridge Person? To begin, there is a need to own one’s story and begin to share it. Even if the story is unfinished and contains sadness, anger, frustration. This story is as important as every other birth story told. It offers a different perspective on birth - for some birth is hard, surprising, challenging, scary, confusing, disempowering, isolating, and unexpected. And, in all of that, there is still power, understanding, opportunity to heal, insight, transformation and an experience that has brought the mom to her edge. There is no right or wrong way to give birth; there are many ways to experience childbirth. And within that, there are many stories of birth. We need to hear all stories of birth, each unique tale, and engage with curiosity.
Although this article was a brief introduction to a larger point of view and truly only skims the surface of a complicated and intimate journey into motherhood, it is my hope that as mothers and community members we begin to listen, truly listen, to each other with an open heart and mind. And thus, we begin to heal. Sometimes this is enough – to be fully received with open presence by other mothers and family members. To know that your experiences is as valid as everyone else’s. And, to understand that your process to sort out your childbirth experience is unique and important. When humans are truly received, we feel like we matter and thus, we belong. Belonging is one of our deepest innate drives. Thus, it is critical that we work towards inclusion so that mothers can rise strong. We need each other, bottom line. And, for some, belonging and being heard can help to shift unprocessed emotions about a negative childbirth experience towards deeper understanding and acceptance. Acceptance that as a mother you did nothing wrong, your body did not fail you, and that you did your absolute best at that time. Deeper yet, a shared knowing that you are all mothers on a journey.
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