Whether you define it as the first 12 weeks (the “4th trimester”), until your menstrual cycles return, until you wean from breast/body feeding (if that’s your feeding method of choice), for life, or anything in between…
it’s a tender time.
… a time for healing and rest
… for bonding with your new baby (which may not come naturally or immediately, and that’s okay)
… adjusting to new roles and routines
… feeding yourself and the tiny human(s) (…a novel in itself, for certain)
… reacquainting yourself with an evolving body
… and, processing baby’s arrival.
Without a doubt, our birth experience affects our postpartum experience. The two cannot be processed in isolation.
My first birth wasn’t something for which I made very intentional plans. New to Cincinnati, I chose an OB after some research in a local mom Facebook group. I did the free hospital tour and asked way too many questions for my partner’s comfort. I had the mantra “there are only two ways for this baby to come out of me,” and while I’d preferred a vaginal birth, I heard enough positive c-section stories that I grew comfortable with the possibility. I was nearly certain I’d request an epidural and didn’t think there was much to prepare for outside of packing our hospital bag. Surely, birth would be difficult but just one or two days in my lifelong parenting journey-- as long as I had a healthy baby, I'd be okay.
So... when I pushed our first born daughter out just before 40 weeks gestation, about 8 hours after arrival to the hospital in spontaneous labor, I felt incredibly accomplished. She was here! I did it! But to our surprise, she was whisked to the NICU just a few minutes after meeting her; she aspirated meconium. My husband went to be with our new daughter, and I was left alone…quite literally broken…to be stitched back up. I was not quite sure of all that just happened as late Super Bowl Sunday night turned into the early hours of Monday morning, and as the nurses woke me with instructions to begin expressing milk with the hospital pump every 2.5-3 hours.
What the heck just happened?!
Was it a beautiful birth? Yes! It brought me our healthy baby girl, now 3 years old and thriving! But in the postpartum months that followed, as I sought to process the full weight of the day we met, I realized maybe my feelings weren’t all positive.
Did I expressly consent to all the measures that took place? Was I fully informed about what happened? Would it have turned out differently if I had prepared differently and better advocated for myself?
Over time, I began to define it as a traumatic birth. I felt the effects of this trauma linger into postpartum anxiety, much of it presenting as rage, and much of it rooted in feeling a total lack of control over so many new things, including birth.
For this reason, when we began the journey of planning for a second child, I started envisioning a very different birth experience. One where my voice would lead the plan, my express consent would be given before receiving interventions whenever medically possible, and where I'd author a little more of our birth story, in whatever ways possible.
Due to our prior NICU experience, my husband I agreed staying at a hospital was most in our zone of comfort, but we did switch to the more intimate Christ Liberty birth center campus, and I switched my care over to a Certified Nurse Midwife for a bit more comprehensive attention. I listened to hundreds of birth stories via podcast, visualized my birth, and entered with a completely different mindset.
I was so lucky to have a redemptive, healing second birth. Welcoming our rainbow baby didn’t go completely as expected. Birth hardly ever follows a script. Yet in so many ways, it felt like a birth I planned and authored. I consented to every step along the way. We had a beautiful golden hour that was everything I felt I was missing after my first birth.
And the subsequent postpartum journey? Vastly different-- steady is probably the label I'd use. The combo of greater authority over my body, a carefully cultivated postpartum community, and awareness of postpartum realities made an enormous difference.
I am so grateful for my second chance.
If you're reflecting back on birth with negative feelings-- I encourage you to work through those. Don't let them linger. One of many resources available is a group therapy series for birth healing, lead by Renee Groenemann, right here at Nurture.
And, if you're looking for postpartum peers + community in this tender season of life, consider joining a Cincy Postpartum Circle. I'd love to connect you with just-in-time resources and information to support you and your growing family, and introduce you to a cohort of moms right alongside you.
Amanda Laskowski is a Cincinnati mom, postpartum doula, and group facilitator of Cincy Postpartum Circles at Nurture, bringing together cohorts of parents hyperlocal in time (same age babies) and space (Cincinnati) for learning + community building in the tender postpartum season. You can learn more about her work @cincypostpartum on Instagram, or at thecincinnatipostpartumdoula.com.