Processing Birth Trauma by Writing

My story...from hospital assault to blissful freebirth

When I was preparing for the birth of my fifth - and last - baby, I knew it was time for me to go back and fully process the trauma I’d held onto from my middle child’s birth. I had planned and hoped for an unassisted birth with her, and ended up in hospital instead.

I wrote the following as a catharsis, to go back with fresh eyes and allow a more healed and healthy version of myself to witness what I went through during that time.

I made this charcoal sketch when I was in my 3rd trimester with my last baby, at a time when I was doing some deep processing of my fears and feelings around pregnancy, birth, mothering, and my own sovereignty.

It has become an icon of my work as a birthkeeper, and seems to resonate with many women who see it.

Summer 2011…

My precious girl’s arrival was the catalyst for a lot of upheaval in my life, which led to a deluge of positive changes. She is four years old now--beautiful and perfect, and I'm expecting my 5th sweet baby any time now....but I still have so much healing and processing to do from her birth.

From very early on, I knew that I wanted to homebirth. I had had a birth center birth and a hospital birth before, and while they weren't negative experiences, I always longed for the freedom of homebirth.

However, I had no way to pay for a midwife at that time, and even worse, I was living in a place where midwives were very few and far between.

This is when I learned of unassisted childbirth, and I was instantly swept away by the raw beauty, power, and primalness of it.

Giving birth freely, without a midwife or doctor, without measurements or diagnostics, without bright lights or consent forms--sounded incredible. Even the prospect of giving birth alone sounded amazing to me.

Raw woman-power and intuition ruling the day--the way births had been happening for thousands of years…I was in.

I read voraciously, and knew in my heart that this was already a time in my life for profound personal growth. Of course I would give birth unassisted: I would step into my own power and wholeness--with only my partner by my side, being supported by that ultimate knowledge of spirit and self.

I knew the odds were against me--but I stayed strong through the whole pregnancy, stayed true to mySelf and my inner knowing...even in the face of almost complete opposition by those who knew me at the time.

I thought I would go into labor early--I was worried about my partner missing the birth (he was overseas at the time)!

34 weeks and heavy prodromal labor--already?

36 weeks, gosh, almost full-term--I was so thrilled when my Love finally made it home from his travels!

Then 38 weeks, still staying positive, getting things ready.

40 weeks. I felt sheepish, thinking about how convinced I'd been about going early...and here I sat at my due date.

Oh well, it couldn't possibly be long now. All labor signs were present, I was dilating, and soooo ready for this baby to come.

Mistake number one: Being overly attached to a particular outcome.

I went to 41 weeks, and was feeling pretty distraught by that point.

Here's an excerpt of something I wrote at the time (May 2007):

How do i quit feeling like i have to DO something? You know, to get labor started. Logically i know there are mamas all the time who just wake up with contractions, or have their water break, etc...and then they just have a baby. It should be that simple, right? Yet somehow i can't shake the feeling that i have to DO things to get the baby to come… I have contractions that are SO strong and so regular for SO long...entire days' worth....but sooner or later they just go randomly on their way and I always feel like it's my fault for not "staying on top of things mentally"--like my back will be so sore, so I'll lay down, or I'll get distracted and lose my zen-mama focus, but really. It's not like it's my "fault" that labor hasn't come yet. Right? It's not like i'm supposed to bring labor on and keep it going entirely with willpower or something. Right? The baby will just come when it's ready. and my body will know what to do and when/how to do it.....RIGHT??

Mistake number two: Overanalyzing, and regarding labor as more physical than emotional.

At the time I thought I was keeping my cool, but looking back, I was already going mental at 41 weeks.

Would you believe I went to 43?

At nearly 42 weeks, and at the most inopportune time, my waters "sprung a leak". They didn't break completely, but it was undeniably my water bag breaking (I now know that the bag of waters can heal itself from small leaks).

Oh happy day, I thought! My last two babies had come within hours of the bag of waters being artificially broken--in other words, from practically zero-stage to holding-baby-stage in 3-4 hours.

But this was not the case with my third baby.

I was prepared for prevention of infection, etc (which is a concern once the waters are ruptured). I started--or ramped up--every natural labor induction method I knew of, and I do mean EVERY one. Not even castor oil caused me to go into active labor.

I'd been having prodromal/pre-labor for almost 8 weeks at this point, and even bloody show for several days, but still, something was stalling me out.

The last time I had checked my dilation, I'd been 100% effaced and 6 centimeters--SIX centimeters dilated (at the time I did not know it was possible to be dilated that much and NOT be in active labor).

Now, however, it was unwise to check due to concerns of infection, and I also could not enjoy the one true stress relief that I had--sex. (Yes I said it)

The following week was a blur.

I don't know what I did besides have contractions, obsess over them, and become increasingly exhausted both emotionally and physically.

I didn't have any good support system, no family to rely on, and in the last few days I had given over almost completely to an altered mental state of panic and fear, but I was still trying my hardest not to show it.

The evening of the day that marked 42 weeks, six days, I made a grave mistake:
I called my parents for support.

Yes, my parents, who had been emotionally estranged from me for months, completely unsupportive of my new relationship, and more or less unsupportive of me as a human being in general.


Because I was not in my right state of mind, and I desperately wanted comfort, to hear reassuring words from someone, anyone.

They advised me to go to a hospital "for help". I talked it over with my partner and finally agreed to go.

I had kept meticulous records of my prenatal data and stats since the very beginning, and I'd even written a detailed birth plan, just in case we needed to go to the hospital.

Mistake number three: Giving too much energetic thought-flow to morbid "what-if" scenarios.

I was likely “calling in darkness”, fueling the possibility that these would occur.

So we pull up to the hospital, and I'm walking in supported by my partner, and very, very fearful.

I dithered in the foyer and at the elevators, second-guessing if I should just go home and dealing with more contractions. I had been walking around dilated to at least 6 centimeters for over a week, and at this point I think I had so integrated the discomfort and waves of contractions, that I didn't even realize how close I was getting to the birth.

We finally went in, and clumsily explained our situation to the night staff. It was about 1:00am at this point. I did not want to consent to anything, especially not drugs, tests, or needles, and at one point I actually got angry and walked off from the desk, fully intending to go home.

My observant partner stopped me, and then told them that we needed a moment to talk alone, and that we'd be right back.

I was angry at him for saying that, and stepped around the corner towards the elevators. None of us knew it, but I was clearly in transition at that time, and having a very emotionally charged scenario to cope with, all while standing up and trying not to yell!

My partner gestured around the corner, and explained that there was pretty much no going back now.

They didn't have any records of us, and were probably assuming the very worst. There was a lady in black standing with a clipboard just past the nurses' station, watching us, and we realized she was a social worker.

I sobbed and sobbed, and finally agreed to walk back in. I remember saying to the nurse in a defeated voice that was not my own, "I'm just scared. I'm sorry. Just do whatever you think is best. I don't care, I just want to see my baby."

Five minutes prior I had been insisting that I would not consent to an IV, to pitocin, to internal exams, any of it.

I just gave up.

Their reactions said clearly that they thought we were grossly irresponsible, probably drug addicts who needed immediate intervention by social services.

It was overwhelmingly, terrifyingly defeating, and I surrendered completely.

I have never felt so low in my life before. I didn't care what happened to my body, I had let go of all fight left in me.

I just knew I was headed for a c-section or worse--but that if I fought it, that I'd probably lose my baby. They showed us to a room, and I obediently changed into a gown.

I turned off all thought, cut myself off from emotion as best as I could, and lay there corpse-like.

I tried to focus on our future as a loving family, far away from the current moment…

They sent in a nurse who, among other things, measured me and said I was only 33 cm. I said that wasn't possible, because last week I had measured 42, just like I was supposed to.

I showed her my self-made chart, but she waved it away, told me I didn't know what I was talking about, and that there was probably something wrong with this baby if I really was anywhere near 43 weeks.

I was angry, but much too afraid to tell them about my supposed water leak-and-reseal (which was most likely the cause of the mesaurment discrepancy). That was a week ago--surely they would section me immediately if I said that - and I KNEW my baby was perfectly healthy.

I knew that I was on a strict herbal antibiotic course and had taken every precaution against infection--but they were not going to listen to me for anything at this point.

She sent for an ultrasound tech.

This guy was about the only person I'd interacted with so far who wasn't completely dismissive and hateful towards me.

He came right into the labor room and turned on the machine, and we got to see our healthy, strong, 43-week baby for the first time.

I don't even recall if he told us the gender then, or if we didn't get confirmation until her birth. (We knew she was a ‘she’ just as surely as we knew she was healthy)

This entire experience is like a muddy blur, punctuated by moments of dire clarity.

I don't know what else happened, but eventually the ultrasound tech left, and a nurse came in and roughly checked my dilation.

She said, "oh, you've got a while, you're barely even at 4 yet..."

I was incredulous, but again, too weary to question it. I just wanted to be left alone--and finally, we were.

I just laid on my side, staring hopelessly at the pattern on the wallpaper, and my partner was there holding my hand, rubbing my shoulders...I'm not sure.

How could I be only 4 centimeters when I was 6+ last week?

Can your cervix shrink too? I wondered. (Yes, that’s possible too - and used to be common knowledge when midwives wrote the textbooks on childbirth)

But very quickly, I couldn't really move or speak, and I just knew I had to keep counting the repeating pattern-shapes in the wallpaper.

I must have had that far-away look in my eyes that we both now know as "laborland", but this was my partner's first baby, so he didn't know about it yet.

He asked me if I was okay, but I couldn't speak at all. He asked me several times, and also asked if he should go get someone... I wanted to cry, to scream, to say, "Please, no, don't bring them back in! Just let me be for a second!" but my throat was clamped shut.

Before I knew it, he had run down the hall and called out to the nurses to come quick, he thought the baby was coming.

They didn't come quickly; I think they didn't believe him--but then the nurse came in, lifted the sheets, and yelled "Oh my God, she's crowning!"

From this point until the baby came was perhaps 5 minutes..? But it was the most hellish, traumatic experience of my life.

There were suddenly people everywhere, bright lights being shined at my privates, blue-gloved hands shoving my legs up into stirrups, lots of yelling and confusion.

I vividly remember screaming, crying, pleading with them that they were hurting me, I couldn't get my leg up that high, I didn't want to be in stirrups...sobbing and yelling, and they completely ignored me.

My partner looked on in horror, pushed to the back of the room, unable to help, and both of us stripped of our rights and dignity.

They made me push flat on my back, with my torso bent forward, and my legs cocked straight up, strapped into stirrups, despite the fact that I had SPD and joint issues with my hips.

They all were wearing masks and full surgical gear, as if I was about to get cut open at any moment, or else was contaminated with some horrible pathogen.

They doused my private parts with iodine, and there were way too many hands pushing and pulling on me as our precious girl made her way out into the loud, bright, chaotic scene.

They cut the cord as I was yelling at them to wait and let it stop pulsing first.

She was born "in the caul" with the bag of waters intact, perfectly healthy.

In spite of this fiasco, I was overjoyed to meet my baby, to have my intuition confirmed that she was healthy and that my body could "do birth" after all.

It felt like an eternity before I got to hold her.

I remember watching helplessly from the bed as they did all sorts of things to my daughter across the room, before I had even seen her face.

I don't know what happened in those first moments, or how long it was before I got to hold her, but I made sure that my partner knew to not let our daughter out of his sight!

I was hooked up to a bag of fluids, and they switched it out for pitocin to deliver the placenta right in front of my eyes, precisely while I was saying, "Isn't that pitocin? I don't want pitocin! I've delivered two placentas before without it...stop, don't....WHY are you not listening to me.....?"

Then the doctor came back and started pulling on the cord--pulling on the cord to get the placenta to deliver!

This was happening WHILE I was frantically saying to STOP, doesn't he know that's a great way to cause a piece of placenta to be retained, and for hemorrhage to occur??

He didn't listen to me or make eye contact with me at all. Said nothing, and acted as if he was deaf.

I did have a piece of retained placenta. I found out on my own--after constant heavy bleeding and trying to mediate it with herbals for seven weeks after the birth.

I think it was 15 minutes from the point that the nurse dismissed me as being "only a 4" and left the room, until this point.

What horrific emotional scars can be created in the span of minutes...

To top things off, in the middle of the night, they took her away to the nursery against my will for "just a moment", which turned out to be over five hours, even though we were repeatedly asking them to bring her back.

I'm sure they gave her a bottle without my consent as well. At least she didn't get any vaccines without my consent.

They tested both of our blood samples for every disease under the sun, and I don't think they really accepted that we were NOT crack-addicts until the bloodwork results came in the next morning.

I went home from that experience with a beautiful baby, and some very deep emotional scars.

This was in 2007, and this is the first time I've really written about these experiences, aside from my own briefly scribbled notes, just to document the audacity of it all.

My third baby's birth was supposed to be magical, lovely, and transforming....not the terror-filled nightmare that it was.

For a long time, I thought that it wasn't good to think about it, or write it down.

Better to forget and move forward, focus on the good things, etc.

But now, as I approach labor once again, I know: I HAVE to let this out, I have to process it, to let it transform me..

I have to relive it to understand just how badly things can spiral out of control, to know that birth can be transcendental, or very nearly the death of the soul.

I walked out of that hospital as an assault victim--a broken and trampled human being.

I gave up my fight in that hospital's threatening hallways, with Big Brother looking over our shoulders...and in some ways, I still have not reclaimed it.

I have lived in apathy--because I have known how badly it hurts to care too much.

For this birth-day, I am reclaiming what those bastards took from me. I am not going to be subverted by fear, coerced by bullying, or shunted aside like cattle on an assembly line.

This is my birth, my body, my baby, and my reality.

I reclaim it for joy, love, empowerment, and transcendence--for women everywhere who have suffered assault during labor and birth.

A wonderful resource that I dearly wish I had known about back then was the Mother-Friendly Birth Initiative. Then again, had I not gone through that trauma, I might not be the same person I am today. Apparently there were crucial lessons for me within that experience, despite the pain it brought.

I send out love-energy to the source of my suffering, and the suffering of all women, in the knowledge that divine love soothes all wounds, and heals all travesties.

I am so very blessed and thankful for Claire, my 43-week perfect girl, whose birth and life have taught me so much already.


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