Birth Trauma... Of A Different Sort

This post is about birth trauma. Not trauma to the mother, or the newborn, or even to the father.. I am going to be talking about the trauma that may be affecting doulas.
Vicarious Trauma is defined as a transformation in the helper’s inner sense of identity and existence that results from utilizing controlled empathy when listening to clients’ trauma-content narratives. In other words, Vicarious Trauma is what happens to your neurological (or cognitive), physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health when you listen to traumatic stories day after day or respond to traumatic situations while having to control your reaction. -VTI
How many of us, as doulas, have trained ourselves to repeat the refrain of 'not my birth, not my birth' when things head south? How many of us have walked away from a trying birth - either naturally occurring, or because of the caregiver's treatment or parent's choices, and felt upset, angry, regretful?... ...

How many of us know of fellow doulas who are in a slump - burnt out, bitter, frustrated, having lost their passion?

Just because we are on the other side of the looking glass - just because we are the lovers of the laborers and not the laborers themselves - it does not mean that we are not affected by the births we witness.

Birth changes people. The sooner that we acknowledge that, the better we, as professionals, will be.

It only took me one birth as a doula to realize that I needed time to process some of these experiences - allowing myself time to grieve, be disappointed, feel upset or angry... and that it is TRULY ok to feel this way. Just as families walk their own labyrinths during and after birth, and just as some families need to heal and have time to process their birth experiences - so do those who attend them at such a holistic and emotional level. You would not believe how many labyrinths I have walked since beginning my journey as a doula. And, as exhausting as it is, it is much preferred to being lost in the labyrinth.

It also only took me one birth to realize that I needed a peer review, a sounding board, a witness to hear my heart. Whether it be a spouse, a friend, a fellow professional, or a professional counselor, doulas do well for themselves if they have someone to voice these feelings to - otherwise we risk allowing it to change us for the worse rather than the better.

Let's not forget too, that the more that we allow ourselves space to feel and acclimate our mind and hearts to the experiences that we are made privy to, the better people we allow ourselves to grow into being.
If we do a bit of exploring and discover that we have wounds of our own to heal along the way to helping others heal - - - what an incredible gift to ourselves and the women we serve!

SO many doulas come home from a hard birth feeling traumatized and hurt, but gloss it over with "well, it's not my birth so I shouldn't feel bad"... then a few years down the road find themselves bitter, burnt out, and miserable. All those experiences we glossed over because 'they weren't our births" change who we are and I think it's important to acknowledge those changes so that we can consciously use them, grow from them, heal from them... rather than just have them silently eating away at our interior life. - Sarah Stogryn CD(DONA)


Deb Flashenberg said...

So good to read about what I have walked away from myself after a troubling birth.

I always feel the need to decompress or even seek validation for what I tried during a birth.

Several years ago I had a birth that did not go very well and the parents blamed me for what happened. I still carry that scar with me.

Thank you for articulating putting into words what so many of us birth doulas feel.

Anonymous said...

Great post...just shared this with the doula I had for my last birth. Also, it's beneficial for me as I prepare for possibly going down the doula road in the future. Even as a CCE, I feel worn-down by hearing the traumatic/painful/sad birth stories shared by the couples I work with. I can only imagine how much more challenging it is when you're physically present while such events are unfolding. So I think you're tips in this post are beneficial for anyone working in the birth field, even if they're not actually present for the birth itself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this, I often leave a hospital birth feeling torn down. I want so much for a woman to protect herself and it pains me when she lets them do unnecessary things to her.

sarahthedoula said...

Thanks for quoting/linking to me. :)

Sondra Rose said...

Great post and oh, so true...

EFT (www.eftuniverse.com) is a really helpful tool for releasing birth trauma of any type. Especially helpful if you don't have someone to talk to...


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