Birth baggage, we all carry it even when we're planning a first birth. We've seen a movie, read a book, heard someone's birth story. We've listened to our mother or father tell our own birth stories. Perhaps we even have suppressed memories from our birth that we don't even know we're remembering and reliving.
No matter where we've been, our baggage wasn't lost so let's start the unpacking process.
Birth Baggage Personalities
Your birth baggage probably has a personality. Personality characteristics have been studied since ancient times - even before Hippocrates and our memories play into the personality characteristics that we show. They can also help us to find a way of unpacking this baggage.
Dominance Birth Baggage
Do you feel like your birth memories are dominating your every choice? Do they make you angry and frustrated? Do you feel like, "If I make this ______ choice, this ______ experience will happen? Do you feel as though your decisions are better than others? Do you feel as though someone else's decisions are better than yours?
If this feels like some of your reactions, your birth baggage may be dominating your pregnancy rather than allowing you to enjoy this experience. Maybe you've experienced birth trauma or someone close to you experienced birth trauma. Maybe someone's story really hit hard because their situation was so similar to yours. We must understand that birth is a journey. We can make choices that support our health, but what we experience and choose is neither better nor worse than anyone else - only the experience we have and how we are influenced by that experience for our future.
Do you feel like you made choices that other people made in their birth, hoping for the same outcome? Do you look at professional birth images and yearn for that experience the image seems to create in your mind? Or, do you feel like others made your birth decisions for you?
We can often let others influence us into making decisions, especially in a culture where we doubt our own abilities to make health decisions. We need to work towards building our confidence in our own abilities.
Are we passive on making new or different decisions for our birth? Are we unwilling to change providers or birth locations even when we feel our current choices aren't supporting our birth philosophy? Are we putting off making decisions? Are we comfortable in certain birth choices just because they are the common routine in our modern culture?
The norm can feel easy at first. Making decisions different than those around us can feel almost counter-intuitive at times so we must really look at the evidence and branch out to find multiple perspectives on the approach to health and maternity care.
Do you feel as though you must plan every aspect of your pregnancy and birth to avoid complications? Do you assess all the details, all the studies, all the scientific tangible evidence? Do you feel any deviation from your plan would be difficult to experience or a "failure" of birth?
We cannot control birth. We can influence our experience, but there are no guarantees with birth. In many ways, we have to come to peace with that uncertainty.
How to Unpack Your Birth Baggage
We may be able to determine our birth baggage personality, but the real task comes in unpacking. Ever went on a trip, came home and just lived out of a suitcase for a few weeks never really decluttering our living space? Next trip, do we do the same thing? Do we pack less? Do we deal with our baggage immediately to make the following weeks a little lighter so the transition to coming home is a little more feng shui? How do we learn from this?
Pack Less - Reduce the baggage you take into birth so you have less to deal with when you get there (and home).
This can be a literal translation into not over packing the labor bag - but we need to reduce the emotional baggage we take into the birth so we can enjoy the experience and focus on the labor and birth, and not losing some piece of ourselves in the process.
Accept that birth baggage exists. In a culture where birth trauma is so prevalent, it might not only feel wrong to believe you've experienced trauma, but it may be hard to accept that positive birth experiences exist and are thriving. It may also feel frustrating to have prepared well for a previous birth to have still experienced birth trauma... even from what may have felt like a positive birth experience. Women are often told, "at least you have a healthy baby" with total disregard for the health, especially emotionally, of the mother. Fathers, and all birth partners, absolutely experience birth trauma as well and it may be even more difficult to realize this trauma when so many of these negative experiences occur every day. We must believe that birth should be a joyful experience and that we are meant to experience pregnancy, birth, postpartum and parenting in a positive, energetic, and joyful way.
Get birth counseling. If you're feeling any of these emotions that don't allow you to simply enjoy your pregnancy and birth and feel confident about your experience - then there is some piece of emotional hindrance on your experience. Find where those feelings are coming from and confront them, talk with a therapist, chat with your doula, take a perinatal education course, and join a birth group that allows you to work through your previous birth story. Finding a community of like-minded people allow us to feel safe sharing our experiences. Finding a community of positive birth supporters that believe in the biology of birth helps us to feel confident in our body's abilities to gestate, birth, and heal.
Learn about the birth industry. Birth classes are so much more than breathing and comfort measures. True, they may start out with the idea of learning tools to reduce discomfort, but a quality perinatal education series helps you to navigate the birth industry to confidently make informed decisions. Research quality evidence-based information with a wide variety of perspectives.
Unpack Your Baggage Soon
The sooner you unpack your baggage, the more quickly things can get back to a new normal. If we let the emotions sit, they sit and stew and tend to keep piling on as they get mixed with new emotions - like tired nights with a newborn or little help as our culture thrusts us back into home duties and work so quickly after birth. If you feel uneasy or disappointed at all after a birth, talk to someone.
Write Your Birth Story. Get it out, and quickly. Get it out before you retell the birth story so many times that emotions twist the experience. It is inevitable that the emotions surrounding us when we retell our birth story will continue to ingrain the memory's feelings for long term retrieval. By writing, or recording, our birth story in some way soon after the birth - we keep our immediate memories whole. We can then process our birth story as we continue to share, but keeping in mind that we must continue to find 2-3 positive aspects that we bring into our story no matter how the rest of the story makes us feel. If we only focus on the negative, we will soon find ourselves unable to remember the positive. Recording our birth story, even if we discard our recording, also allows us to move these memories to a more long-term space in our mind rather than constantly recalling the traumatic events (even the seemingly minuscule thoughts that are so fleeting).
Share Your Birth Story. Find someone that understands birth trauma, and share your birth story. Go back to that group you created prior to birth and share your story and allow yourself to heal - no matter what your birth looks like to anyone else. All that matters is a healthy happy family - not just one member we get to bring home. A mother must have a support team that understands her needs and is in an emotional place to provide her with the support she needs as well.
just breathe Reflection Journal Prompt - Week 3
Reflect: My previous birth experience (or someone else's) makes me feel ________. Reflect about how you can make decisions that can positively influence your birth.
#TheOxytocinMethod works because it address your life individually. It isn't a specific "birth method" that offers a cookie cutter approach to birth. It teaches you to build your confidence through self-exploration and life choices that support biology, and oxytocin - the hormone needed for spontaneous labor progression and a happy healthy birth.
So, come on in to Esali Birth... unpack your birth baggage and stay a while.