She had a beautiful baby. She had a 'flawless' experience. She is healthy and baby is healthy. There is no apparent reason for her to feel this way, but she does. She is mearly a shell of her former self.There are so many dividing factors among the birth community regarding this touchy subject. But, by and large, the childbirth educator, doula, midwife, and psychology camp are in agreement: birth trauma is real.
Thankfully, there are many organizations and groups that are coming out of the wood work to come along side of women and help them work through postpartum and to process their experiences.
Penny Simkin even has a self-assessment sheet that helps a woman to understand her personal reasons for her feelings and if she could use additional help or connection to work through her postpartum feelings.
Of all of these sites, though, the one that has helped me, the doula, to walk with women through their birthing time and try my hardest to help them to not experience trauma or PTSD, is Birthing From Within.
Pam England, author of Birthing From Within, held an amazing seminar at The Farm a short time ago. She talked about the Heroine's Journey as seen in the myth of Innana. The Heroine's Journey is something that every woman makes during labor - in fact - every person makes it at numerous times during their lives... but birth is the onset of one Hero's Journey.
There are main steps in the Heroine's Journey. I will look at each of these in the context of labor/birth, although they are applicable in all areas of life. These steps include:
- Separation - the awakening - knowledge of being set apart for something different
- Call - the call to a place beyond the world that she has known to this point. Often, a herald is encountered at this point; the herald often 'opens the Heroine's eyes' to rethink what she has known up until this point.
- At this point, either they will refuse the call or accept the call
- Refusal - supernatural events must occur to plunge an unwilling heroine into their journey. The reluctant heroine needs magical (nonsensical, irrational, unexplainable) forces to urge her on.
- Acceptance - the willing adventurer collects amulets and advice from her protector along the way. These amulets and advise will aid the heroine in her journey past the Gate. She will call on these to help her navigate her path and to come back to the living afterward.
- Crossing the Gate - often, a gatekeeper or guardian will test the heroine's met before she may enter the gate. Often, there is a sense of danger, opportunity, and 'no going back' at this stage. This is the start of labor.
- Descent - as the adventurer navigates this journey, she is descending - not ascending. In these journey's a heroine is descending into themselves. As the heroine descends, she must pass more gates. And, every gate that she passes, she has to give up one more thing. In the birth journey, this can be control, presuppositions, assumptions, inhibitions, literal clothing, etc... Most noticeably, there is a Gate called the Gate of Great Doubt - this is the point where many give up, give in, or feel 'failure'... It is right before reaching the Pit.
- Meeting - during the descent, she meets some parts of her that are fragmented - and part of this journey is the reintegration of self, understanding and accepting those parts.
- The Pit - when she reaches the bottom, she is stripped of all that she brought with her - she is naked and sees herself as such.
- Death - inevitably, she knows that the greatest sacrifice is being asked of her, and, if she has any hope of returning topside, she must accept this.
- Offering - but death is not the end of the story. No, it's the beginning. If we stop here, we remain in the UNDERWORLD - Trauma, PTSD.... In order to start her ascent, our heroine must leave something behind in her place. This can be many things for a birthing mother - her fears, her perfection, her conservatism, etc...
- Ascent - and on the way up, she also gathers new amulets and knowledge, now stronger for that which she has left behind, that which is inside, and that which she is now armed and clothed with, passing through new gates to the surface.
- Return/Last Call - to complete her journey, she must be able to integrate what the journey was. But, now she must also take it one step further and bring it back to help others. What she has gained she must give to others. Remember, the journey was not just for herself, but for others.
My job, as a doula, is to understand that a woman is making this descent. And to provide her with amulets and wisdom so that, when she is alone in the bowels of herself, she has the resources to use and even to cast off, able to make these choices so that, when she is hanging from the end of her rope, she can leave that offering of part of herself - in order to come back to the world of the living a changed person.
Heaven forbid I err in my role and she is not able to find the route back. Too many women were not able to find the route back, and that is why we have the need for places like: