I have been thinking a lot lately about birth stories. By this I mean the story we tell of our child’s birth. Recently, I was at a conference where an anesthesiologist who does many many epidurals all day long said that the day of your child’s birth is but one day in your child’s life and in the grand scheme of things, how this day went is not nearly as important as all the days that follow. I am paraphrasing of course. To a large degree, I agree with her. Yes, what is always most important in the realm of childbirth is that mother and baby are both healthy and the actual birth should not be the defining moment in your life as a parent. However, that being said, and if every one is healthy, if things did not go as you had hoped, this can be a memory that stays with you for a long time. I have been living for the last 30+ years hearing from my own mother how I showed up 12 days late and then subjected her to hours and hours of painful back labor. Granted back then inductions and epidurals weren’t a dime a dozen as they are now but had that been an option for her, I would like to believe that would have eased the over 30 year guilt trip that I have been on. Incidentally, after all this time, she has finally conceded to me that if she hadn’t been required to lay in bed during labor and deliver flat on her back, things might have gone a little differently. But I digress.
For those who have a clear plan of how they want their child’s birth to take place and for those whom that plan has fallen through (as often happens with the unpredictable nature of childbirth), it can be associated with long term disappointment and, depending on the circumstances, lasting trauma. I think there is often a great deal of shame and guilt associated with those feelings of disappointment if things did not go as planned for you but you have still had a healthy baby. The prevailing attitude is so often, “you should feel lucky that you have this beautiful, healthy baby, no matter how he/she arrived here.” Regardless, I think it is important to acknowledge this loss. Maybe this is a feeling that will fade easily over time, maybe it will stick with you forever. I feel extremely lucky that my birth experiences, and in particular my second one which was free of any serious medical complications, were generally positive. I often think back on my son’s birth specifically and remember it as this truly life-changing and joyous experience. This even includes the fact that when he was handed was handed to me, immediately following his birth, no one had put a diaper on him and proceeded to poop all over me. No biggie.
All this is to say that when a mom tells you her birth story, if it didn’t go as she had hoped, its okay to say that you are sorry for that loss. There is nothing wrong with honoring the fact that this is a memory that very well may stick with her for the rest of her life and it may not be 100% joyous. Its okay for her to feel sad about this loss. Maybe by acknowledging this and helping her to move past this emotional pain, you will have saved her child from a lifetime of hearing about it and the ensuing guilt for something he/she had no control over.