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Here at the Center for Sacred Window Studies, we share voices from many perspectives and backgrounds. We believe that the sacred weeks post birth, and the experience of humanity is experienced in countless ways. We learn by listening to one another and honoring our stories. The views and opinions of our writers do not necessarily reflect the mission, viewpoints or opinions of the Center for Sacred Window Studies.


A Glimpse Into Traumatic Birth

Maria’s* pregnancy was a surprise. She was young, the first of any of her peers to have a baby. She didn’t have many stories or examples of how others navigated their births. So, naturally, she simply did what was culturally expected of her: She found an obstetrician that was close by and covered by her insurance plan. And she trusted her doctor. Maria did all the routine tests, ultrasounds, and exams unquestionably. She had no specific plans for her birth. It would be in the hospital and she was open to pain medication.

Maria hoped just to have a healthy baby at the end of it.

Maria went into labor just shy of forty weeks. Her labor came on hard and fast. She arrived at the hospital well into the process and working very hard, but not out of control. She felt as if she did not need an epidural. But the nurse on call kept asking her, at each interval at which she checked her, if she was ready for her epidural. Maria kept saying, No. The nurse began pressuring her in other ways, telling her that “it’s going to get much worse,” and if she doesn’t take the epidural now, there won’t be time later. Maria started to feel the fear creep in. She was in an extremely vulnerable state. So she caved in and said Yes, and received the epidural. 

Now tethered to the bed and unable to move, Maria quickly realized something was wrong. The medicine had affected only half of her body. On the left side, she was completely numb. On the right, she could feel the now excruciating pain of the contractions, bolstered by the Pitocin she was also given. Being unable to move in this state was unbearable. She felt herself fall over the edge into sheer panic from the intensity and the pain. She screamed for help, but her care providers shushed her, saying, You are fine, the baby is almost here. Maria felt terrified, trapped, exposed, and completely alone.

Her baby boy was quickly born vaginally, thankfully. As she held him in her arms afterwards, no longer in pain, she felt numb inside.

Where was the huge rush of love she had expected to feel for her baby? He felt like a stranger to her, not like her baby.

At five months post partum, Maria is still struggling to connect with her baby. She hasn’t told anyone how she is feeling lest she be judged. She certainly judges herself, secretly wondering if there is something deeply wrong with her.


There is Nothing Wrong With You

If you are struggling to bond with your baby after a difficult birth, the single most important thing I want you to know is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. And here’s why:

We are designed to have the largest dose of oxytocin we will ever have in our lives flood our system during the labor process and immediately postpartum. This is the “love” hormone. It’s released when we have sex, orgasm, or look deep into the eyes of someone we love. During labor this hormone is perfectly calibrated to help us open up, create uterine contractions (this is is why the synthetic version, Pitocin, is used to speed up labor), and finally, bond us fiercely with our newly born baby. 

You could say that the oxytocin rush we are designed to receive when we birth our babies is like a hundred-times stronger orgasm.

Any chemical interference in the delicate dance of our hormones during the labor process will affect oxytocin levels, especially pain medication and Pitocin. Again, since Pitocin is the synthetic version of naturally occurring oxytocin, it binds to those receptors in our brain so that we do not release it endogenously. But as any mother who has experienced Pitocin can tell you, it is absolutely not the same.

So even without the element of trauma, I hope that you can see how common birth interventions disrupt this delicate biology and thus, initial bonding. It’s not your fault. And if there are elements of trauma in the process, as often accompanies modern birth (about one fourth of women describe their birth as traumatic), this greatly compounds the issue. It’s a normal coping mechanism to seek to escape a traumatic or out of control situation. We may disassociate from our bodies, or black out parts of the event from our memories. We may feel anger and resentment — towards our partners, care providers, and even ourselves. Or even our babies. 

Healing

The great news is that human beings (and in particular, I would argue, mothers), are remarkably adaptable. I strongly believe there is nothing that cannot be 

healed. And a difficult birth and/or disrupted postpartum is something that can (and should), be grieved and healed. Healing the trauma around your birth experience is part of reconnecting with your baby. There are as many ways to heal as there are unique individuals, but here are a few I commonly offer:

  • Reach out. Talk with someone who is safe, and better yet, understands what you’ve been through. 
  • Seek community. There are more women who can relate to you than you know. There is so much healing in sharing our stories, in community. If there is no one in person near you, there are usually online communities you can find. 
  • Get the experience out of your body. Childbirth is a highly embodied experience, and if it was traumatic, that trauma is still in your body somewhere. Receive healing touch or energy work, practice yoga, vigorous exercise, or dance. Do anything that calls to you personally. 
  • Give yourself time. Allow yourself to grieve your birth. 
  • Consider a re-birthing ceremony with your baby. Imagine how you would have liked to birth your baby, and create a ceremonial experience to replicate that.
  • Consider a birth debriefing session with a birth worker who offers them. It can help to get answers about your birth from someone who knows birth, and facilitate changing your relationship with a difficult birth story.


Re-connecting With Your Baby

Some practices to consider:

  • Lots of naked, skin-to-skin time with your baby. You are still a dyad in the weeks and months postpartum. This will also help with breastfeeding and regulating milk production. 
  • Take baths together with your baby.
  • Be sure that you are not neglecting your own basic needs: enough sleep, nutritious food, and emotional support. When we are unbalanced, our ability to connect is affected. Additionally, babies are highly attuned to their mother’s well being. Come to connecting with your baby from a place of being as rested and well fed as you can. 
  • Give yourself time and grace. Know that for almost all mothers, bonding happens, it just doesn’t happen at exactly the same time, it, or immediately postpartum. It will come for you. You will wake up one day, head over heels in love with your baby. I can almost guarantee it. 

 

Back to Maria

Maria came to me about six months postpartum, ready and needing to talk about her birth and postpartum experience. As a birth worker who is devoted to supporting women who have experienced birth or perinatal trauma, I offer Birth Story Listening sessions, via Skype or Zoom to women all over the world. Birth Story Listening is a one-on-one, 90 minute session, where a woman will be held in a safe space to explore her birth story.

This work has the power to bring positive change, awareness, and healing to the birth and postpartum experience. I always find that there is medicine in simply sharing your story.

But I really know that I’ve done my job right when, at the end of our time together, a woman has come to her own realization as to what she needs right now to heal. Birth and postpartum are such important rites of passage. So if we are willing to look closely into these experiences, often we will be shown lifelong patterns, beliefs or ideas we carry about our relationship to womanhood, or issues in our relationships. 

Maria cried as she shared with me how alone she felt during that birth. And, going deeper, how unexpected the pregnancy was, and how abandoned she felt by the father of her baby. She told me that she had always felt like she had to “do it alone” based on generational patterns she saw and experienced within her family. This was painful to look at, but a massive breakthrough in how she now saw the event of her birth and postpartum unfold.

It gave her a sense of power back.

We ended our time together with a call to action for Maria to ask for and accept more help. 

*Not her real name, but a true story.

Diana Forsell Tayan is the Co-Founder of Healing Birth, a perinatal support organization with an emphasis on supporting women through birth trauma. She is trained with Birthing from Within as a Birth Story Listener, and is the host of the Healing Birth Podcast.

She is a mother of two sons, and lives with her family in Kaua’i, Hawaii. 

You can find more of her work at www.healingbirth.net and www.dianaforsell.com.

The views expressed in this article belong explicitly to the author. While the essence of this written piece fundamentally aligns with the mission of developing this blog as a beneficial resource for the greater community of mothers, parents, practitioners, and all individuals who advocate for postpartum health and wellness, these words do not necessarily represent the Center for Sacred Window Studies, unless otherwise explicitly stated.

Nothing published on this blog is intended as medical or legal advice. When considering any recommendations or insights herein, please consult with your qualified health care team. The Center for Sacred Window Studies is not liable for any outcome of following protocols suggested or discussed herein.


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