My friend Natalie, ahhh, where do I even begin? This girl is my inspiration. She is immensely talented and lives out Jesus in her every breath. She is raw, real, and I feel completely in awe of her strength. If you have followed her on Instagram, or her blog, you know what I mean. I am absolutely delighted to introduce you to her today in my What’s It Like series. Natalie shares with us what it’s like to have a traumatic birthing experience and walks us through her grieving process. After you fall in love with her writing, run to Amazon and grab her book, it’s incredible.
Additionally, before we even get started today, Natalie just shared a few days ago that she recently suffered a miscarriage over the weekend and I am asking you to take a short second to say a prayer for her and her family as they grieve the loss of this little one.
Here’s Natalie’s story.
I don’t talk about my birth story.
Sure, I wrote an entire book about loss and included an extremely vulnerable and detailed account of our birth experience, but if I’m sitting across from you at a dinner party and you’re talking about your birth experience, I won’t share mine. And if I do, I remove any emotion from it, numbing myself out of self-preservation and protection, and share it in about two short sentences:
“Oh, yeah, my birth. It was a bit traumatic and ended in an urgent cesarean. So…how old is your child and what’s she like to do?”
I learned quickly after the birth of our second and only biological son that talking about our birth experience wasn’t safe for my heart. At least not with just anyone, or even some of my closest friends. I save these conversations to be shared with my counselor.
Almost two years ago, our second son joined us when our first son was just four and a half months old. No, this isn’t a story about a micro-preemie, it’s simply our story and one filled with both sorrow and joy, loss and gain, two sons—one by adoption and one from my body.
The guilt that comes from loving one of my son’s birth story and feeling immense loss towards the other’s is colossal. But it is what it is, and no matter how many times I replay the experience in my head, I cannot seem to change its outcome.
Before I was a mom, I was a doula and birth photographer. I love birth and I loved serving women and families during these intimate and powerful experiences. I assisted births in homes, hospitals, and birthing centers.
I knew a home birth was risky for me—due to blood clotting disorders I have—but I also knew with the right team, it wasn’t impossible or stupid to try. I had witnessed and served countless home births. Each time a baby emerged from his or her mama’s body, landed on her bare chest, relief and joy overwhelmed the room as a wave of calm washed over each of us. I couldn’t help but tear up, wondering if I would get to experience the gift birthing a child at home.
Due to these same blood clotting disorders and endometriosis, it understandably took over two years to conceive and successfully carry a baby in my womb. The anticipation and simultaneous hands-open posture I carried through my pregnancy regarding our birth outcome were monumental to me.
Nervous about birth? Not at all. I was thrilled to experience laboring and delivering a human being. I hoped for a home birth but knew we may transfer. Pregnancy and birth were the main forces behind my desire to have a biological child. As we approached the end of our nine months together, I knew this boy might be our only biological child, so his birth was something I cherished before it began.
When in labor, I felt strong. Mighty. Beautiful in the pained-gory type of way. My contractions began as double-peak contractions, kicking me right in the uterus, not letting me rest much at all or warm up to the intensity. They were just bam bam bam.
After more than a full day—and night—of consistent, long contractions, we were sure I was approaching transition and the team was ready for the arrival of our sweet boy. We joked about my midwife having a fourth 50+ hour labor, which she said she already had her three for the year.
Three days after labor began, I found myself in the hospital, laying under the bright lights and wearing a bright blue cap. The last thing I was clinging to in regards to my birth was the magical meeting moment. I released every other expectation and hope regarding my birth and was proud of how hard I fought. I was proud of myself, my strength, my birth team, and our womb-boy.
But then…what felt like the last sliver of hope I was holding onto regarding our birth experience, and what I was sure there was no way I would lose grasp of it, was ripped out of my hands too.
My body failed me yet again, metabolizing not one, but two different numbing drugs used for cesareans. My lights went out as they placed the plastic mask over my mouth and kicked my husband out of the room, shouting, “Get her under, baby’s heartbeat is dropping!”
Not only did I wake up in the fog general-anesthesia gives you, but also to nurses pushing on my freshly stitched womb of seven layers, performing protocol: ensuring my blood doesn’t clot. Every fifteen minutes. For hours.
The physical and emotional trauma of my birth was not something I was a drop prepared for. I learned from our miscarriage that people say dumb things in the face of loss. I learned during our adoption journey people are ignorant and sometimes don’t care to learn what not to say.
THE CONVERSATIONS — WHY I STOPPED SHARING
I didn’t want anyone to know about our birth story, not yet.
I laid in my hospital bed letting the tears silently soak the pillows as I prepared myself for people’s responses. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of a cesarean, no, I had accepted the cesarean and was absolutely proud of how hard I fought.
It was the immense loss I felt regarding all of the hopes and expectations I had regarding birth. I felt I held them loosely, and at the last minute, I only wanted to be awake to meet my son with that overwhelming sigh of relief and joy.
Fragile both physically and emotionally, I prepared my response to everyone’s impending questions about our birth: “Oh, it was pretty traumatic and I’m not really talking about it with anyone.”
Even when I did my best to politely shut down the conversation, I was still met with jagged responses:
“Well, at least he is alive and healthy!”
Yes, he is alive and he is healthy. He was not hurt during our labor and extraction, and for that I am immensely grateful. But can I not just sit in my sorrow, give my sadness space, while simultaneously breathe gratitude about my son’s existence?
I did not forget the fact he is alive—I have one in heaven, and have not forgotten that. You don’t need to remind me to be grateful my son is alive.
“Oh, well if you had a cesarean, it doesn’t make you less of a mom.”
Thank you for letting me know! Did you know that the son in my arms right now, I didn’t even birth? I know, I know, crazy. Birth of any kind is not what makes me a mother, being a mother makes me a mother. I don’t feel like less of a mom because I had a cesarean.
“It’s just your body’s way of saying you cannot vaginally birth a baby.”
Again, you don’t even know what I am grieving the loss of. When you share this sentiment in the thick of my tragedy, it absolutely discredits and removes my sense of validation regarding my sadness. My body didn’t work right, it didn’t turn my son’s head and then it didn’t accept the correct drugs, but I already know that. You reminding me this doesn’t make it better.
“You can always have another baby and try birth again!”
You don’t actually know this. I don’t actually know this. I don’t even know if I want to attempt a VBAC after that experience, and end up with the same experience of pain. Plus, even if I did somehow conceive and deliver and have a beautiful home birth, that does not mean the trauma and loss of my other son’s birth disappears.
DON’T WORRY, I DON’T HATE YOU
If you said these to me, I don’t hate you. I knew in those moments how uncomfortable entering someone else’s invisible loss is. Before I experienced such birth trauma, I didn’t fully understand what it meant or how it was worth grieving, even as a doula.
I have learned a lot about birth trauma and birth loss—even when the baby lives—since our birth experience. I have had the privilege of sharing on podcasts and helping others find healing from their own traumas.
The biggest lessons I have learned is to give ourselves permission to grieve loss other than death and to be okay with not being okay. In order to find healing, which takes time, we must sit in the pain and the difficult and the devastation.
I still don’t talk much about our birth experience and the trauma stemming from that story. But if an opportunity to listen to someone else’s birth trauma presents itself, I do it with care and validation. I now know how to listen well.
WHAT IT’S LIKE
To have experienced a traumatic birth is, well, a bummer. It’s one of those things I have found peace in not being 100% okay with its entirety; in those spaces of grieving the losses of what I had hoped for, I find grace to just be. I find Jesus sitting with me in the sadness, and I find Him inching closer offering comfort.
Read my full birth story in This Undeserved Life: Uncovering The Gifts of Grief and Fullness of Life OR on my blog here.
Natalie Brenner is a wife, mom to virtual twins as well as two daughters through foster care, and photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of #1 new release, This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Like you, Natalie is a fierce believer in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She’s addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she’d love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her grace-filled email community.
PPS – If you’re ever looking for a devotional on living life while in a waiting season, check out the devotional I co-authored called ‘In the Wait’!
PPPS – Check out the other contributions from this series, including What It’s Like: to experience multiple IVF cycles, raise a child with special needs, use an egg donor, be a DIY-er and home style blogger , be a NICU nurse, Live fully in singleness while still hoping for marriage, suffer with endometriosis. experience depression, start a company, have a micro preemie, lose a parent, be childless not by choice, have a spouse with a chronic illness, and fund raise for fertility treatments. Stay tuned for many other amazing topics to come every Tuesday and Friday here!