We don’t know if Jesus was born without any pain to Mary, but the process of childbirth is not straightforward. Here Chelsea Boes explains how she realised she was suffering from trauma three years after having a baby
When my first baby, Bravery, was born, I was fine. More importantly (to me), she was fine— seven pounds and healthy. I healed fast. She grew, hitting or exceeding every milestone. I returned to work. She breastfed until she was two. We were fine. But I wasn’t fine.
I grew up in the church, and now these words of Jesus haunted the back of my mind: “A woman forgets her pain in the joy of having a child.” If this was true, why could I not forget those 30 hours, the packed hospital, the harsh midwife? How could the women I had known all my life ever have felt okay after giving birth?
Three years later, I was pregnant again. I knew I would need help in the next delivery room. Someone who (unlike the attending nurse at Bravery’s birth) believed me when I said my epidural had fallen out. Someone to whom I was the patient, not one of 20. Someone who wouldn’t make me feel like an intruder for taking so long to get the baby out or ask me why I hadn’t shaved my legs.
She asked: “What are the first three words you think of when you think of birth?” And I replied: “Pain. Powerlessness. Humiliation.”
So I hired a doula - a trained companion who is not a healthcare professional - to support me through the process. At our first meeting she asked: “What are the first three words you think of when you think of birth?” And I replied: “Pain. Powerlessness. Humiliation.” She looked at me tenderly. “Have you considered trauma therapy?”
Trauma is the emotional damage you carry away from a terrible event. It is not reserved only for survivors of avalanches and car wrecks. During birth, a woman is terribly vulnerable. Literally pinned down by pain. Exposed. If you can’t seem to heal emotionally long after the physical marks of delivery have vanished, you may have trauma. Everyone perceives situations differently, so the same event can traumatize one person and not another. It’s not up to your mom, husband, or midwife to decide if you’re traumatized.
I jammed as much therapy as I could into the month leading up to the birth of my second daughter, Jubilee. I felt gigantic— I was gigantic — in the hot upstairs office as the therapist led me through EDMR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. I expected a big, almost fun, deep talk. Instead, I sat rehearsing the birth again and again in my head, nearly wordless, while a sensor buzzed in each hand and helped my brain reprocess. Incredibly, EDMR lessens the severity of trauma in a memory with each rehearsal. By the end of our Saturdays, my emotional pain level had decreased from a nine to a two. Not perfect, but the best I could do in the time left before delivery.
My second birth was what just weeks before I had believed impossible: a happy day.
But the proof was in the birthing. My second birth was what just weeks before I had believed impossible: a happy day. Not easy, of course, but happy. All births go somewhat against plan. An anesthesiologist’s error meant I pushed without anesthetic. The baby got stuck. But I was powerful and taken care of. And I was fine.
Ask me about that birth, and I’ll agree with the Bible. I have an incredible baby. There was pain. But I forget it.
If you think you may have experienced birth trauma, ask yourself: Did anything about my birth make me feel powerless, humiliated, or disgusting? Did I feel valued as a human during my birth—by everyone in the room? Have I recovered emotionally from my birth, no matter how long ago it occurred?
If you’d like so speak to someone further, you can find help through EMDR, like I did, by looking up therapists near you. And please remember, if you are not confident in your medical caregiver, it’s ok to switch.