I didn't have a traumatic birth. At least according to the doctors and nurses that delivered my baby. My daughter's life was never in danger, neither was mine. There were no serious threats throughout my 15 hours or so of labor. My baby arrived healthy and safely made it to my arms to meet the mama who she knew only by the echoes of my voice and the soft beating of my heart. By medical standards, my labor and delivery may have been difficult, but not traumatic.
Even though my epidural wore off when I needed it the most and my pain became so severe that I entered a mental state of simultaneous shock, anger, confusion, and dissociation -- I did not have a traumatic birth.
Even though it was clear when my epidural stopped working as I went from laughing to scaring my worried-to-death family who heard my blood curdling cries through the solid soundproof door, down the hallway where they waited -- I did not have a traumatic birth.
Even though the average length of time a new mother pushes her baby out is between 1 and 2 hours and I pushed for 3 hours and 20 minutes past the 3-hour mark when women usually get rushed to a C-section -- I did not have a traumatic birth.
Even though minutes before my daughter was born and all drugs had worn off, all of her 9 pounds and 2 ounces of glory had to be torn from me by the doctor's hands because her shoulders were so broad -- I did not have a traumatic birth.
Even though when I held my baby in my arms her little body and beautiful features were seen through my eyes but could not be felt by my heart because of the shock, anger, and pain that still jarred me -- I did not have a traumatic birth.
Experiencing a traumatic birth is a risk factor for developing postpartum depression and anxiety and it wasn't until recently that I realized I did indeed have this risk factor. On a radio show I listened to recently, a perinatal psychiatrist was being interviewed about postpartum mental illness. She explained that the definition of a traumatic birth has no boundaries. If the mother perceived her childbirth experience to be traumatic no matter what the circumstances, then she experienced a traumatic birth. She indeed endured a trauma.
If you take my gorgeous, healthy baby out of this story, giving birth was the worst physical and emotional experience I have ever had. It was devastating. It devastated me so much I couldn't get past the shock when the nurses laid my baby's beautifully plump body across my chest, heart racing, sweat dripping from my brow.
I had just experienced a trauma, but no one sat down with me to explain what had just happened. There was no debriefing that should happen when something scary, threatening, or overwhelming happens to someone. I was "healthy" and after initial concern about my daughter's shoulders that turned out to be fine, she was healthy too. Business as usual.
But I just screamed and cried and puked and said over and over for 3 hours and 20 minutes that I cannot do this! Severe pain, severe exhaustion, severe psychological distress.
Within minutes of giving birth, the focus is off of me and on the baby. My family enters and even though they heard my screams we are all focused on the baby now, myself included. I'm a mother. I have a baby. It's about the baby. But I'm still shaking, still shocked, still so angry that what just happened, happened. Did everyone lie to me? No one told me this could happen!
I'm re-focused again on the baby. The nurses come in to show me and my husband how to bathe her. I watch from my hospital bed because I'm still too shaky to get up, there's too much pain, too much blood. We see how to change her diaper, how to swaddle. My nurses, who I love, ask me intermittently about my pain levels and poke me with needles to check my blood.
The next day more visitors arrive, but there is no place for my story. My trauma. It's about the baby, the baby is beautiful. She has her mama's eyes, her daddy's smile. Where did that hair color come from? People ask how I am, how it went... but I don't really know what happened. It felt like a big scary blur that I wasn't sure how to articulate this soon. I don't want to bring down the joyous mood that is felt all around the maternity ward on this day.
The doctor who had to scream at me to keep pushing as she used every ounce of her strength and agility to get my baby out of me comes to check on me. She asks her routine questions and says I did well, but how do I tell her I need so much more from her? I need answers, I need help understanding, I need a hug.
When my husband and I have a few minutes to ourselves free from visitors and nurses he holds me and cries. He loves our baby and is so happy she is here, but he tells me he's crying because of what just happened to me... to us. It was scary, it was exhausting, it was not what we expected. He has never held me tighter. I fall apart in his arms.
The trauma is ours. Ours alone to carry. I can see now how it affected me and contributed to my postpartum anxiety. I did have a traumatic birth even though my medical records say otherwise. According to me, my childbirth experience was definitely traumatic.