Do you find it hard to celebrate your kid’s birthday due to a traumatic birth story? I’ve felt this way for all 3 of my boys, especially my twins. Read my story and what has finally helped me.
Birthdays are supposed to be the most special day of a person’s year, especially for children. As parents, especially moms, there is a lot of pressure to make the day perfect for our children. But what if we feel broken inside because it stands as a reminder of a traumatic birth story?
Birth trauma is real, no matter your situation. Two women could have the same birthing experience but feel very differently about it afterward. It’s important to talk about how you’re feeling and seek help if needed.
Table of Contents
Birth Trauma: Loss
The most difficult birth trauma, I’d imagine, would be the loss of a child, or children. Whether that loss came before the baby was born, during labor, or soon thereafter. I cannot imagine how difficult that must be for anyone who has to go through it.
The lingering feeling of maybe you could have saved them, maybe you could have done something different, maybe the doctors should have done something different. I’d imagine that’d go on the rest of your life.
Though I don’t know your situation, I can say with a high degree of certainty, that I’m sure there wasn’t anything you or anyone could have done to save your baby. You didn’t do anything wrong and I’m sorry this happened to you. You didn’t deserve it to happen and it’s not you fault.
I also know my words will likely fall flat and while I empathize with you, I know that I can never fully grasp your pain, your hurt, your emptiness. I’m so very sorry that you’ve gone through this traumatic time. My heart goes out to you.
The same goes to mamas who lost one twin while the other survived. That must be so difficult to relive that every year while you’re trying to be happy and celebrate the surviving twin, still longing for the one who has passed. My twin mama heart goes out to you.
Birth Trauma: Injury
There is also birth trauma that results in injury either to the mother or the baby. I’d imagine this would be incredibly difficult as well. Having the same questions above about whether it could have been prevented, and why it happened.
While many types of injury may not be lifelong, such as a vaginal tear, bruising of the baby, or a broken limb of the baby, it still is traumatic and painful.
Just because something gets better doesn’t mean it didn’t leave a scar on our hearts and our brains, so to speak.
When it Doesn’t Go to Plan
We all have this preconceived notion of a perfect birth where our child’s birth goes to plan. Something like we go into labor, have a quick labor of just a few hours at most, baby is delivered, and there are no complications.
I’m quite certain that is quite rare. Especially considering at least 33% of births are c-sections, I’m guessing most of which were not elective. I know mine weren’t.
Even something such as an overdue baby, an induction that takes days instead of hours, an emergency c-section, can be so jarring to us that it leaves us feeling traumatized and maybe even resentful or jealous of those who have uncomplicated birth stories.
We had been told in child birthing classes that we should have a birth plan but also to know that things likely won’t go to plan. I knew that if I had a legit birth plan I’d be incredibly thrown off and distraught if it didn’t go to plan. Therefore, I didn’t have one set in stone. I basically just had a couple things I didn’t want to happen.
- I didn’t want the baby heart monitor screwed into my baby’s head while in my tummy
- I didn’t want a c-section
Keep those in mind as you read on…
Birth Trauma from my First Child
While I completely realize my birth traumas pale in comparison to losing a child, or children, or enduring injury due to birth, it still feels traumatic to me.
My first child was overdue by over a week before I was induced. It was hard for that week, I was so big, uncomfortable, and scared I’d go into labor at anytime. I ended up actually taking off work on my due date because I had worked hard to finish all my work by then for the school year and I was petrified of my water breaking all over a chair while in a meeting, or even just at my desk.
Little did I know, my second pregnancy would be with twins and I’d be measuring full-term when I was just 26 weeks along. At the time of my first pregnancy, I had no idea just how uncomfortable a pregnancy could be.
Induction at 41+1
I was 40 weeks and 6 days along when my OB scheduled me to be induced with my first child. I was 41 weeks and 1 day along when I went to the hospital to be induced using Pitocin, a synthetic version of oxytocin used to induce labor via IV. I was induced using increasingly high levels of Pitocin for 27 hours.
My water was manually broken about 5 hours into the induction and I didn’t request an epidural until I had been in labor for about 12 hours. The contractions were intense but I wanted to stick it out as long as I could. I probably could have waited longer but was told that the longer I wait, the more likely if baby starts to come there won’t be enough time to get the epidural.
The placement of the epidural was very uncomfortable. I have a generally high pain tolerance but having a large needle stuck right by my spine hurts A LOT so I screamed out in pain even though I tried not to. Unfortunately, they missed the first time, so they had to do it again. This time I was even more petrified and screamed out as well.
This is also when my husband fainted…I joke with him that he was feeling left out so had to do something to stick out. Poor guy though, luckily he fell onto a couch, I believe. He hadn’t eaten for hours either, doesn’t do well with needles – even though he was on the other side of the bed from where I was being poked, and he had never heard me scream out in pain like that.
During the induction I was awake the whole time, as was my husband. Baby and I were monitored the whole time and I wasn’t allowed to eat any food. They had yogurt and Lemon Ice in the nearby fridge and freezer but being gluten, dairy, and soy free, among other things, I didn’t want to chance a reaction, so I basically starved that whole time.
Labor Failed to Progress
After a full 24 hours of being induced and almost having had my water broken for about that long, which gets us into the danger zone, the nurse started talking to me about a c-section. They were concerned about how long I’d been on Pitocin, how high of levels the Pitocin had been, that my water had been broken for almost 24 hours so risk for infection was increasing, and because baby wasn’t coming down straight anymore. I was on board, I really was worried about baby since he had a couple rough times during induction and I would rather have a c-section than lose him. His heart rate had dropped dangerously at one point which necessitated a second nurse joining the primary one to get me laying a way that he seemed to be ok with again. I also had a hard time breathing when that happened which was scary for all of us.
They also ended up screwing a heart rate monitor into his head. I did not authorize this nor did I know it was happening, nor did my husband. I just knew something was going into my vagina and then they told me what they’d done. While I’m glad that they were able to get his heartrate that way, it would have been nice to know what was going on down there from a ‘this is my private area and I don’t want foreign objects put in it without my knowing’ stance and also for my baby’s sake.
It took a bit of convincing as my OB seemed to really want to avoid a c-section. I completely appreciated that, but they had to keep increasing the Pitocin so high that they had to ask him for authorization each time, and I still wasn’t dilating as I needed to. Finally after about 27 hours of labor my OB conceded and agreed that we should opt for a c-section.
Quickly other doctors, anesthesiologists, and nurses filled the room. There were tests run on me to ensure I could handle a c-section, the anesthesiologists talked me through what would be happening, I signed a bunch of forms, and they increased the level of my epidural to the point I wouldn’t feel anything during the c-section.
During this time, I was afraid for my life. I knew a c-section was best for baby and me but I was scared. I didn’t want my husband to be all alone in case baby and I died, and since my parents lived closest, though an hour away, I asked him to call them to come to the hospital. In hind-sight, I realize this was a bit dramatic and if I had to do it all over again I would have just waited to call them and have them come when the procedure was over and baby was born and I’d gotten the hang of nursing a bit. I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, hadn’t eaten in 28 hours, and had been in labor for 27 hours so I wasn’t quite thinking clearly.
It felt like a whirlwind once the decision was made that I’d be having a c-section, then bam! the wheels were set in motion and it all happened. Soon I was wheeled into the cold operating room, transferred onto the operating table, and after a while my husband joined me when he was allowed to.
For this c-section, I was able to stay awake, which was nice. Scary, but nice. Once baby was born, I was able to see him, hold him to my chest, and share some special moments with him and my husband, before being stitched back up and brought to the recovery room.
After the C-Section
I got to join my husband, baby, and my parents in the recovery room after my c-section was complete. I had no idea how much pain I’d be in once the epidural wore off. I was just trying to get my boobs to start producing colostrum and then milk, but was having a rough time.
Being an only child, I’m quite close to my parents and open with them, but it was odd to be trying to breastfeed and having my boob hanging out while they were in the room. Lol Oh well, I got used to it.
I’ll link to a blog post below about my early experience with breastfeeding, what I learned while breastfeeding, pumping, and then exclusively pumping for my twins years later.
Some family came to visit but most family lives an hour or more away so not many make the trek, which turned out to be ok.
The Biggest Baby in the NICU
By the next day, our baby was being wheeled off to the NICU due to a slight possible infection, low blood sugar, sleepiness and difficulty waking to nurse, and slight jaundice. He would be there for three days until we both were able to be released from the hospital.
He was by far the biggest baby in the NICU at 8lbs 5oz. He was all hooked up to IVs and such to be pumped full of antibiotics and needed nutrition. It was so hard to see and hard to be away from him.
Here was my schedule, all while trying to recover from 27 hours of labor followed by a c-section:
- Visit baby in NICU via wheelchair as I couldn’t walk yet. Attempt to nurse him, then feed him what I had pumped earlier (which wasn’t much), then feed him formula. This broke my heart as I vowed I wouldn’t give my precious baby any formula. I have nothing against formula, I just had ideals about how I wanted my baby to be fed at that time and felt I had already ‘failed him’ by having to have a c-section, and then not making enough milk to sustain him, I just was struggling with one more thing that was outside of what I had hoped for.
- After attempting to nurse, feeding a small bottle, then formula, hold him for a few minutes, I’d be wheeled by my husband back to my hospital room.
- Then I’d call to ask the nurse for the hospital grade pump as there weren’t enough to go around, wait for that to arrive, then pump for at least 30 minutes
- During or after which I’d try to eat something quick, maybe go to the bathroom, then get back in the wheelchair to go back to the NICU and do it all over again.
- It was exhausting. I also had to fit doctor and nurse visits between there, get my meds, etc. It was so much chaos.
- I also felt I was getting ‘looks’ from the NICU nurses because I wasn’t there enough but I was also recovering from A LOT and they knew I had to go back and pump so it’s not like I was neglecting my baby. Not like I could hold him all that much anyway while attached to all the cords. So much mom guilt piled on top of mom guilt.
And…Then I Went into Shock
On the first night that he was in the NICU, so the second night after he was born, I was trying to get out of bed slowly and into the wheelchair to go and nurse him then come back and pump. I’m still not sure six years later exactly what happened, but there was a phantom pain, as I call it, in my lower left side near my incision but not really, that was soooooo severe I went into shock.
It felt as though someone was poking me from front to back through the lower abdomen with an ice pick, all the way through. It was so painful I couldn’t believe it. I was determined to go feed my baby but my husband told me to lay back down and he’d have them give him some formula instead. Ugh I felt so defeated.
The nurse was giving another baby a bath so couldn’t come for a while. Finally another nurse came after my husband said I was in severe pain and needed help, and she kept piling blankets on me because I was shivering, confused, dizzy, and was having a hard time breathing. We still don’t know what that pain was. I figured at that point that it was just from my incision, but 6 years later I can still feel it sometimes. Including right now, which is weird. Must be the way I’m sitting *adjusts…* ok that’s a bit better…
Getting Baby out of the NICU
We kept being told that our baby was doing a great job in the NICU. His blood sugars were consistently up where they should be, he had finished the antibiotics and his blood cells were returning to normal after the possible infection (it also could have been his body reacting to the circumcision, we were told later so maybe he didn’t need to be pumped full of antibiotics on day 2…ugh!) Yet, though all the nurses were ready to let him go home when I finally got to go home on day 5, we had to wait around for the pediatric doctor who only visited once or twice a day from Children’s Hospital.
After a long, uncomfortable wait, we were finally allowed to take our baby home. My husband brought our stuff down to the car and while he did that, it was time to feed baby, so I nursed him in his NICU room before we left for the 20 min drive home. During this time, a female janitorial staff member came in to start cleaning the room already and she gave me quite the look. I couldn’t believe it. I got shamed by her for breastfeeding my child IN THE HOSPITAL in his NICU ROOM!! Come on!! Ugh.
It Wasn’t Over…
After we got home, I was in so much pain from 27 hours of induced labor + a c-section that I had trouble going to the bathroom myself. My husband had to hold my hands and help lower me down to the toilet so I could sit. It was so embarrassing and frustrating (for me, he was a champ about it).
I was in such severe pain that I couldn’t lay down in bed so I spent at least a few nights sleeping on the powered recliner part of our couch. Wasn’t ideal and I didn’t sleep well but getting into bed was something I just couldn’t do.
There were medical appts for our little guy as well and we lived in a split entry home at that time so every time I left the house, I had to go down 6 stairs. Six, painful, stairs. Then I had to go down another stair or two into the garage, then slowly lower myself into the passenger side of the car, then slowly swivel my legs so they weren’t sticking out of the car but were inside of the car. It was quite the ordeal.
THEN I wouldn’t stop bleeding. I still have the notes from then about how much I was bleeding, how I kept passing blood clots, etc. I went to the OB a couple times before my 6-week appt, concerned I was bleeding out because the volume of blood and the clots were alarming. He was confused too and talked about me possibly needing a D&C which I really, really wanted to avoid at all costs.
Luckily, eventually, the clots stopped and the bleeding decreased to typical after-labor levels so I didn’t need any further work done on me.
But THEN I got mastitis. Three weeks postpartum I had such horrible, painful, mastitis that I remember messaging my cousin who has three children, telling her I didn’t know if I could keep breastfeeding. She had words of encouragement which helped me get through it. I’m so thankful for that!
It was painful though and I had to be put on antibiotics. I talked to my chiropractor about it and she told me to start taking Sunflower Lecithin, so I did. She also told me a lot of things to look out for in terms of clogs and mastitis and what to do in case I feel either coming on. I had taken a breastfeeding class before my son was born and I had seen a couple of lactation consultants afterward, but none had mentioned the things that ended up really helping me throughout my first breastfeeding and pumping (while at work) journey and into my exclusively pumping for twins journeys that I write more about in the post linked below.
My Second Visit with Birth Trauma
As I’ve written about extensively, the birth of my twins was quite traumatic as well. Yes, everyone survived, thankfully, but I was afraid the entire pregnancy that one or both wouldn’t. Also, had I not trusted my mama gut when they were 36 weeks along and went into the hospital, the 3 of us wouldn’t be alive because I had preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome so severe I had to deliver them via emergency c-section under general anesthesia within a few hours of arriving at the hospital. You can read more about that birth trauma below.
The Way it Really Is Now
All in all, I know I’m very fortunate to have three babies and myself who made it through two births. Even though they didn’t go ‘to plan’ and were traumatic to me, we’re all alive and well now.
All that to say, I still feel haunted by the feelings of those days, especially around and on my kids’ birthdays. I write this the day after my oldest turned 6. I still can remember exactly when we arrived at the hospital for induction, when my water was broken, when I got the epidural, and when I was told I’d need a c-section, and what all happened after that. Throughout yesterday and the day before, and even today, I relive all of that hour by hour. Right now, for example, he was still in the hospital room with me, my parents and grandma were visiting, and he was undergoing the newborn tests they do within the first day or so.
Within the next couple of hours, 6 years ago, I would have been trying to nurse him and then get the news that he had to go to the NICU for low blood sugar and a possible infection. Ugh.
Despite how I feel, the difficulty I keep reliving throughout these days, and even more around when my twins were born, I still need to put on a brave and happy face, do all I can to give my kids the best birthdays ever and pretend everything is great!
It’s hard but I think I do a pretty good job masking it when others are around. I am lucky enough to be able to talk all of this through with my husband, who is very supportive and listens to my story every year, as long as I feel the need to retell it.
Update 4 years after birth
I recently underwent EMDR therapy specifically for traumas I experienced within my life. It took a few months of weekly sessions but I got through 30 years of trauma, working through the traumatic memories and placing them where they belong.
That said, some of the most recent traumatic events were the births of my children. I feel so much better after working through them with my therapist who specializes in this type of therapy and has been able to meet with me virtually.
I haven’t gone through one of the kids’ birthdays yet so we’ll see how that goes in the future but I feel a lot less triggered about their births and the traumas before, during, and after.
Hugs to You All
Hugs, thoughts, and prayers to all the mamas who have undergone birth trauma of any way, shape, or form. In my mind, and with my psychology background, I think it’s ok to still feel it as long as you don’t let it ruin your kids’ day. I hope that in time it will lessen.
For those of you who have lost a child in-utero, during childbirth, or afterward, extra love, prayers, and thoughts to you and your loved ones. You did nothing wrong, you’re an amazing person, and it’s ok to let yourself grieve, no matter how long it takes. I’m so incredibly sorry for your loss.
As I mentioned earlier, birth trauma is real. Two women could have the same birthing experience but feel very differently about it afterward. It’s important to talk about how you’re feeling and seek help if needed.
My Other Blog Posts Mentioned in this Post
As a mom of identical twins and a son two years older, I have gained invaluable experience in the realm, and chaos, of parenting. With a Master's Degree and Education Specialist Degree in School Psychology, I spent years as a school psychologist, helping children navigate through their educational and emotional challenges. Now as a stay at home mom and professional blogger, I combine my areas of expertise to help you in your parenting journey.