So, you just had a baby...
“CONGRATULATIONS! How was your birth? What happened?”
These are all too often the first questions we are asked after giving birth. Questions about details and logistics. Sometimes probing to see if the experience we prepared for actually happened, usually fueled by curiosity and our tendency to compare “battle stories”.
While the events of our deliveries matter, perhaps the more appropriate question, the more helpful one, would be, “how did your birth make you feel?”.
Sometimes everything goes right on paper. Every box is checked, everything goes according to “plan”, but still, something didn’t sit quite right and colored your experience in a way that you didn’t expect.
Or maybe several things led you away from what you thought your plan was going to be. Interventions were necessary, maybe even more than a few, yet you felt even more empowered than you thought you would.
Yes, the details of what happen matter, but what matters more is why they happened and how.
“How do you feel about your labor and delivery?”
“Was it some medical event that happened to you?”
“Was it a situation you felt you had control over?”
“Were you an active participant in making decisions about your care?”
“Did you have a voice?”
“Were you educated about interventions before they happened? And asked for your consent?”
“Were your questions/concerns/fears addressed with understanding and respect?”
“Were you given time to discuss your options and to think about what was best for your specific situation?”
Recently, we had a client who delivered her baby via an unmedicated, vacuum-assisted, vaginal delivery. It was incredible watching her labor, she fell asleep after nearly every contraction, and even a few times between pushes. Her baby was stuck under her pubic bone and after pushing really well for an extended period of time, her OB suggested attempting a vacuum-assisted delivery. There was no rush, mama and baby were happy and vitals were great. So she took some time to discuss, first with her husband, then with us and then as a group including her doctor and nurses. They were educated on what to expect, informed of potential risks, and they were given time to ask questions in order to make the decision that was right for them. Together, they chose to try the vacuum and their daughter was born just a handful of pushes later.
During one of our postpartum visits, she brought up the fact that a lot of her friends and family were “sorry” to hear she had to have a vacuum assisted delivery. They each assumed it was a disappointing outcome because it wasn’t part of her original plan.
They had all asked, “How was your birth? What happened?”, but failed to follow up to see how she felt about it. It hadn’t even occurred to her that her birth could be considered a bad experience until she had these conversations.
So many mamas have had deliveries that ended with c-sections or other interventions and are told over and over again, “at least you and your baby are safe.” I am one of them and it still drives me crazy! Just as I know hearing, “I’m so sorry” was both confusing and frustrating to Jessie. Yes, mama and baby are safe, that is the ultimate goal, but the road you take to that goal, the choices that are made, whether ones you played a role in or ones that were made for you, can be just as important.
We talk so much about how birth transforms us, in ways we expected but even more so in ways that we never could have imagined. New moms need to feel supported and to have their feelings and experiences validated. What we don’t need is lip service or placations about the events that shaped our experience.
The best thing we can do for our new mamas is to listen to their stories, validate the experience without projecting our own opinions, and never leave their house after a visit without offering to help with the laundry, pour another cup of delicious coffee, or change a diaper.