“It’s not your fault, there’s nothing you could have done differently!”
I heard that phrase countless times after my “natural water birth” turned into my “near-emergency c-section.” Well-meaning friends and family saw how upset I was, and their natural response was to try to make me feel better. They wanted to make sure that I wasn’t feeling guilty, which is great! I so appreciate their care and thoughtfulness during that time.
But something about their words made me feel helpless and weak, and instead of being able to move through the trauma in a healthy way, I spent the first year of my son’s life in absolute terror of the idea of giving birth again. I threw out my maternity clothes as soon as I could, I donated all the outgrown baby clothes, and I ditched the toys that weren’t being used. I swore up and down I would never put myself through an experience like that again. I read all the positive articles on single children I could get my hands on, just to convince myself I was okay with being done.
Then about a year ago, baby fever hit. I held a newborn, my uterus started yelling at me (you know that feeling, right?), and I started regretting donating all those maternity clothes. Yet still, I was terrified of the prospect of going through another traumatic birth experience. I knew that if I did get pregnant, I would want to try for a VBAC, but the thought of having another unplanned c-section was too much to think about.
So there I was, knowing for sure I wanted another child but knowing for absolutely sure that I didn’t want a repeat of my first birth experience. So I asked myself the question I hadn’t had the strength to ask myself for that whole first year.
I asked myself, “Could I have made different choices that would have helped me achieve the birth I wanted?” As soon as I answered myself honestly, as soon as I admitted to myself that, “Yes, I could have done things differently and probably seen a different outcome,” this huge weight of fear lifted. I wasn’t a helpless bystander in my story anymore. I had been stuck reliving my experience because in denying my responsibility, I had been denying myself the chance to forgive myself for my choices and move on.
Because here’s the thing about my first pregnancy and birth: I didn’t really exercise, eat well, or take care of my body. I did very little mental or physical preparation. I made choices that didn’t line up with what I said I wanted my birth experience to be. I basically approached childbirth with the attitude that it would all work out if I just ignored the fact that it was actually going to happen.
Taking responsibility for my part in that experience doesn’t mean I feel guilty or ashamed of myself. There were a lot of factors in play, and I recognize that I will never know what would have happened had I made different choices. (I do also recognize that not everyone could have done anything differently. You may have done all the “right” things to prepare for your desired birth and had something totally unexpected happen. There might have been medical complications or limitations. My thoughts on this mainly apply to my own lack of preparation and the resulting trauma that I am learning to work through.)
What it does mean is that now I can leave the fear of birth behind me as we start thinking about having another baby. I can say to myself, “You know, your traumatic experience wasn’t your fault. But it is your responsibility to educate yourself, prepare yourself, and move forward with positive expectation.”
What it means is that I can be kind to myself for the past, push myself forward in the present, and know that no matter what happens next time, I won’t experience it as a passive bystander. I will own my choices, forgive myself often, and take responsibility for the outcomes.
Because no matter what type of birth you want, no matter what type of parent you want to be, or what goals you set for yourself, they are totally and completely yours. They are yours to push for, to run towards, and to experience to the fullest. Unexpected things will always happen, but this journey of taking responsibility for my life is an empowering one, and one that I know many of you are on as well.
What situations have you taken a healthy level of responsibility for, and what positive changes have you seen as a result?