Q: I planned a natural birth with a midwife and ended up in the hospital with all the medical stuff. I feel like such a failure and can’t seem to get over it. Can you help? -Anonymous
Birth is one of those unpredictable, uncontrollable situations in life. You’ve certainly learned that lesson with your whole body, right? And this is really an important, essential lesson to learn because, as it turns out, most of life is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
So first off: Congratulate yourself for successfully undergoing a “rite of passage” where you learned this important lesson! Especially as Americans, we often think we have control over our lives — and we certainly do more so than most peoples around the planet. But ultimately each of us has to grapple with that which is beyond our control. We have to learn about surrender.
Surrender is different than failure, in that conscious surrender can actually be empowering — imagine that! A sense of failure is just the opposite — totally disempowering. A humble sense about how little control we actually have over some aspects of life is a better attitude. Sometimes “shit happens” and there’s nothing we can do except roll along, hopefully with a good attitude about it.
Obviously at some point in your birth experience things went awry, your well-laid plans evaporated! For some women, this happens during pregnancy, for others it happens during the birth; for others it happens when their baby is unhealthy or challenging in other serious ways. Most of the time, the things that happen are beyond our control. Life is just teaching us what life always teaches us: expect the unexpected and learn to dance with it.
So step 1 for “getting over it” is to quit blaming yourself and/or feeling that you failed. Instead, celebrate yourself for being on a “mythic journey” and learn to negotiate the twists and turns in the mysterious river of the woman’s blood mystery called Motherhood. Learn to dance with it, laugh with it, cry with it, find the ways you are growing your wisdom as a result.
Also, consider doing some grief work. As someone who facilitates a monthly Wailing Ritual and twice yearly Grief Retreats, I certainly know the importance of releasing emotion! Depression results when there is repressed grief, so when recovering from a traumatic and/or disappointing birth experience– it is essential to set aside some time and/or make an intentional opportunity to feel and release grief or anger you are holding in your body/mind.
It’s important that you yell, cry, tell the story with all the emotional embellishments you feel, hopefully held in a supportive, loving group — a mom’s support group willing to go deep in this way, a gathering with a few close friends, or a grief ritual like we hold here in the Groves. That kind of release will provide a clearing so you can move on. If you skip this step, the trauma will still be in your body and will continue to stalk you with depression and failure. So get it out!
One positive way to help yourself get over a sense of failure about your birth is to counter every thought about how you failed with a thought of gratitude about something that went right. Don’t indulge the negative thoughts; instead, speak aloud a positive affirmation!
No doubt, despite the change in plan, there are many things to be grateful for: you made it through alive (some women don’t), your baby is alive (some babies are not), neither of you are paralyzed or impaired as a result of the experience (this happens)…these are some of the basics most women can be thankful for.
Look around every day and find more things to be grateful for: your cute baby quietly sleeping for a moment at your breast, a blooming flower, a sweet breeze, beautiful sunset, cozy moment with your partner, good food, loving friends and family, fresh air, clean water, trees etc. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and the sense of failure will die for lack of attention.
You are indeed growing your womb-an wisdom as a result of whatever happened.
Rest assured that despite the fact that your birth experience looked very different than what you had hoped for, you DID, in fact, experience the great rite of passage called Giving Birth! You are indeed growing your womb-an wisdom as a result of whatever happened.
The birth is important, yes, but actually a short-lived experience. Choose not to drag a negative attitude about it (and yourself) for months afterward. Surrender humbly to the reality of what happened, bless yourself for doing the best you could, then let it go.
Now it’s time to keep on keepin’ on, laughing and crying, dancing with your new baby, with yourself as a mother, with the wild ride on the river of life! Enjoy the ride as often as possible and trust that whatever happens, you are learning and growing and becoming a wiser woman.