A few months ago, while visiting my mom, she brought up something she found on Facebook.
“Oh, Julia, did you see that funny picture on Facebook? Of the pumpkin in the labor and delivery unit for Halloween? Wasn’t that hilarious?”
“I saw the picture. I didn’t think it was that funny, but I thought about you and thought you might like it.” (My mom used to be a labor and delivery nurse.)
“You didn’t think it was funny? I thought it was hilarious. I thought you would like it!”
Why is she pushing me on this?
“I guess I’m still just a little sensitive about my birth experience. That pumpkin is obviously having a vaginal birth, and not everybody gets to do that, so I guess I just didn’t think it was that funny.”
“Julia, you just need to get over it. And the sooner you do, the better,” my mother said in a tone that rang in with a combination of a sigh and finality.
I sat in stunned silence from the sting of those words. Get over it. Get over my birth experience.
Having a baby is supposed to be the most wonderful experience of your life. You are supposed to feel awe and wonder at the amazement of your child. You are supposed to fall into a complete immersion of love as soon as you give birth and lay eyes on this new little person. You are supposed to say that having a baby changed your life, was one of the best days of your life, and you can’t imagine your life being any different.
You are not supposed to say that you had a terrible birth experience. You are not supposed to say that after 7 hours of natural labor and 5 hours of labor with an epidural, that the emergency c-section you had to have made you feel like a failure. You are not supposed to say that you have no memory of meeting your son because you were so over-medicated. You are not supposed to say that you had pain in your incision for 6 months following your son’s birth, because you should be healed by then and that seems like complaining. You are not supposed to say that even though you always thought you would want more kids, that experience makes you never want to be pregnant again. You are not supposed to say that even though you love your son, the day of his birth was one of the worst days of your life. You are supposed to “get over it.”
I grieved that comment for a long time. I grieved comments made by my mom and others in my family who have been insensitive to me about my birth experience. I am aware that the end goal of a pregnancy is a healthy mom and a healthy baby, and I am extremely grateful for the amazing gift of my son. But doesn’t the experience of giving birth matter?
Having a baby is a life changing event. If you have a positive birth experience, it can be awe-inspiring, spiritual, and life affirming (I’ve heard.) If you have a negative experience, it can haunt you, dishearten you, and devastate a piece of your heart.
My mind ran through a list of comebacks, but I choose to say nothing. I chose to sit there in silence and look out the window. I choose to dismiss the comment.
There was nothing I could say to make her understand, in that moment, the impact of those words. There may be nothing I can ever do to make any one else understand the way my birth experience has affected me.
My grief over my birth experience does not detract from the joy I have for being a mother. I feel truly blessed and honored to have my little boy. But I can choose to grieve and process my experience in my own time. It’s ok for me to have these feelings. It’s ok for me to gather the pieces and process the puzzle in my own way. I think that when a profound event happens in our lives, we never really “get over it,” but rather find that it holds less intensity with the passing of time. As a dear friend once told me, “There is no time limit on grief.” I couldn’t agree more.