By Shelley Rahim
“With forgiveness we can look our enemy in the eyes and shake their hand and thank them for making us stronger.” –Lewis Mehl-Madrona
Birth is one of the most transformational moments in a woman’s life (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually). Sometimes, though, an unexpected turn of events during labor and birth create an experience far from what the birthing mother had envisioned during her pregnancy, leading to questions about the event or even to birth trauma. A woman left to process this trauma on her own may feel overwhelmed and, in some cases, guilt associated with the experience may arise. A new mother’s busy lifestyle may cause her to sweep these emotions aside, leaving them to linger. Often, these emotions resurface while a mother prepares for the birth of her next baby.
As women, our birth stories are an integral part of who we are and, thus, trauma associated with a difficult birth may never dissipate. We carry our stories with us throughout our lives and if the stories go unhealed, they influence and shape the next pregnancy and birth. On a larger scale, our birth stories, healed or wounded — and how we share them — affect birth in our culture. Healing a birth story also can lead to healing birth in our community and the future generations of our birthing daughters.
A Caesarean birth is often the farthest thing from a mama’s “birth plan.” But, when the course of events leads a woman down that path, often times she will feel a sense of defeat and even grieve the loss of the natural birth she was hoping for. It is very common to replay the event over and over in her mind, trying to make sense of it all . . . often times looking for answers. Seeking understanding can sometimes lead to blame. Women often blame themselves, thinking, “I should have . . .” or “If I just would have [fill in the blank] I could have avoided it.” Or, it can lead to the blaming of others: “Because the doctor said this, he made me feel scared and so I really had no choice,” etc. When we blame ourselves and/or others, the mind is searching for an answer so that we don’t repeat the problem, or to make sense out of it all. But when we blame, we don’t solve the problem at its core. So, how can we find peace of mind? How does a mama courageously move away from blaming herself or others, and heal from the trauma?
The human mind has a tendency to focus on the problem or problems within the event. But, any great ordeal or huge transformation in life will have problems and challenges. Major awakenings in a female psyche are not work-free: if great life ordeals were easy, then women would not be the wise healers that we are. Women have to be tested — we have to go into the underworld, to places that we fear the most in order to learn self love and self acceptance, in order to deeply know ourselves and live a more authentic life. Self love and self forgiveness are the first steps.
Pam England states, “Self-love and forgiveness are the keys to healing. At the time this unwished for event happened, you were utterly immersed in it. You may have been exhausted, afraid, and overwhelmed while having to make decisions. You wanted to do the right thing, the best thing, or perhaps you just wanted to end the intense experience. Consider this: That on the day you gave birth, at the moment this unwished for event happened, you did the best you could base on everything you knew at that moment, based on everything life had taught you up to that moment — You did the best you could, and the only thing you could do at the time based on who you were in that moment . . . The profound mystery of birth, including how your birth unfolded as it did, can never be completely understood with the mind. Your mind can come up with theories, but it can never fully explain why anything happens.”
Shelley Rahim is a Prenatal Yoga Instructor, Birthing From Within Mentor, doula and Birth Story Listener. You can read more about Shelley at her personal website, or at the website of the yoga studio where she teaches.