mom holding newborn baby after a difficult childbirth
Encouragement Health Mental Health

4 Ways To Mentally Recover After a Difficult Childbirth

By Jessica Elliott

I know a mom who is struggling with her birth story. Well-meaning people keep asking when she’s going to have another and telling her to try for a girl. Her response is a quiet, “I don’t know if we want another.”

I get it because I said the same thing.

We try our best to make our pregnancy top notch. Along the way, we start to think that if we do everything right, then our labor should go according to plan. But what about when it doesn’t?

After my first delivery didn’t meet my expectations, I was crushed.

My family and friends wanted to hear my birth story, but I was emotional and unable to explain the personal details. It was supposed to be a happy time, yet I was angry and frustrated. I felt something was off, but I wasn’t sure what. It wasn’t until two years later that a new doctor used the terms: shock and trauma.

A traumatic childbirth is difficult to define because what makes it traumatic varies amongst mothers.

It can be physical, mental, or both. It can be related to pre and post childbirth. Vaginal and c-section deliveries. My birth story reminded me of a time that I felt powerless and that my voice wasn’t heard.

Recovering after a difficult childbirth:

If you are struggling with what happened during or after labor, the following coping tools helped me work through my pain:

1. I acknowledged my feelings

I reminded myself that my birth story didn’t define my role as a mom. I told myself that it was okay to feel a wide range of emotions. My family and friends didn’t understand my experience and didn’t know what to say, which made me feel like these feelings shouldn’t (or didn’t) exist.

Tell yourself that your feelings are real. Give yourself permission to accept and work through your emotions, then take steps to recover.

2. I reached out to others

It’s exhausting being a new mom. I felt irritable and frustrated at times. It’s hard to know if these feelings were from normal motherhood or if something deeper existed.

Studies show that talking to and being around others, is essential for good health. It helps if you have a support system, such as a spouse, good friend, or family member. If you find yourself alone or unable to reach out to anyone you know, then it’s time to ask your doctor for a referral to a counselor. A pair of outside eyes can help you determine if you need to take additional steps, such as medication or other common types of therapy.

Reaching out was the hardest step, because it required me to take physical action. If you are unhappy with how you feel right now, then find a way to connect with someone who can listen and help you get better.

3. I shared my story

Those first few weeks postpartum are about survival. It was hard to accomplish much more than caring for myself, my baby, and my family. I didn’t always feel comfortable talking to friends about the personal issues I was facing after childbirth. I bottled up my story (and the pain that went along with it) and I expelled it through anger, sadness, and frustration.

As I moved into a routine, then I found time to reflect, get support, and share my story. Hundreds of support groups exist online, especially on Facebook. There are groups for NICU moms, for general birth trauma, and other specific issues. By writing out my story, I was able to let go. Talking to other women and reading their stories provides connection and an outlet.

4. I focused on the moment

After the birth of your baby, it’s okay to put aside everything else and focus on your own self-care and newborn for as long as it takes.

There isn’t a set time length for recovery. It’s an ongoing process. New moms who are coping with a difficult childbirth often find themselves feeling overwhelmed and upset.

It was difficult to care for my baby when my emotions seemed to be controlling me. It doesn’t help that birth trauma can cause or exacerbate anxiety.

Finding coping methods for anxiety and stress helped me navigate new motherhood and recover from my experience.

I took many deep breaths. I reminded myself that right now, in this moment, nothing else mattered except caring for my newborn. I would share my story and reflect on why I was so upset later. But for now, getting through all the hours of the days and nights, meant deep breaths and letting go.

You are justified in feeling whatever emotions you are feeling.

You can’t be expected to be the perfect wife, perfect friend, or perfect mom at this moment. And you are not alone.

Reach out and get extra support to help you. Join an online community where you can share your story. Write it out and commiserate with other moms. Focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Hold your baby. Binge watch some TV without guilt during a night feeding and when the time is right, you will work through your trauma.

Related: When You Skip the Third Trimester

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