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We should encourage all mothers to talk openly and honestly about their birth experiences.
In the weeks following my son’s birth I flashed a plastic smile at the visitors streaming through our home and breastfed, burped and changed my newborn without fail. According to Instagram I was coping well, and my baby was the button-nosed love of my life.
But on the inside I felt confused and alone - was nobody going to ask me how I was?
I was struggling to adjust to postpartum life. After falling in love with the little person in my belly, I hadn’t expected the shock of having him here, in the world. Which wouldn’t have made sense to me when I was pregnant, but now that I'd given birth, I felt drastically underprepared for the fourth trimester. There was an abrupt disconnect between the care people showed for me while I was carrying, and the disregard for what was the most intense experience of my life: childbirth!
My son was born via emergency C-section after I developed complications during labour. And yet, despite going through all of this, I found that nobody really wanted to listen to how I was doing emotionally, not just physically. The focus was on my physical recovery after birth, and my new baby (of course). There wasn’t room for me to say “hey, that was a little scary and I need to tell someone right now.” I really had no idea that my birth would affect me the way it did: I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and later, postpartum depression. Throughout this, it still felt as if I shouldn’t talk about how my son’s delivery profoundly affected me, and as I was reminded by a couple of well-meaning grannies, I shouldn’t complain when I’d given birth to a healthy baby, the intended outcome of any labour.
What I wish I'd known then in the aftermath of childbirth is that it’s okay to feel a range of emotions about what just happened. Besides doing something wondrous and miraculous, you may have been afraid or in pain or really, really nervous about all that was going on. What helped me to cope the most was talking to other moms who were open and realistic about their births. Some moms were mourning the birth they’d planned and hoped for, others felt let down by their bodies after not delivering vaginally. Even the moms who had straightforward deliveries said that childbirth had a profound effect on them — a friend recently told me that she’s thought about her daughter’s birth every day for the last two years.
Since then I have been of the firm opinion that talking openly and honestly about our experiences empowers other moms. There’s no one ‘correct’ emotional response to something as primal and life changing as childbirth.
Motherhood is a wild ride with a smorgasbord of emotions and there’s no reason to sanitise our very first induction into it. Childbirth, like life itself, is beautiful, messy, wild and sometimes a little more than we expected. Let’s make it possible for mothers to revel in this complexity, rather than suppress them from the very start of their fourth trimester.
Are you a new or expecting mom? We’re opening up the conversation on the honest realities of pregnancy, birth, the fourth trimester, and motherhood. Join the Lil-Lets Talk community where you can ask questions and share experiences with peers and experts in a safe, supported space. Sign up here for free now.