What is birth debriefing?
Birth should be positive. It should be powerful. You should be able to get up from birthing your baby feeling like a total rock star…but sometimes birth is terrifying and leaves you feeling emotionally, physically and spiritually spent. And I get that. Your emotions and reactions to your birth are yours, and they are valid. Not for someone else to dismiss, criticise or argue with.
Unfortunately, trying to forget or distract yourself those images, sounds, thoughts and sensations doesn’t usually work. I’ve yet to meet anyone who, when told to stop thinking about an unpleasant event actually found this a useful strategy. If I tell you not to think about a pink elephant, like, really, really try not to think about it, chances are you’re going to think about it. Our brains like to process emotional events to make sense of them before letting us file that information away. The more you tell yourself that you shouldn’t think about your negative birth experience, the more those memories are going to pop up when you least expect it. I sometimes liken it to those annoying antivirus pop ups you get on your computer. You can click away and dismiss them for so long, but in the long run, if you want them to stop popping up and bothering you, then you need to give them some attention.
Upwards of 25 percent of women experience birth trauma – so you are not alone! Partners are often affected too. The experience of watching your loved one go through a powerful experience where there are feelings of fear, horror and helplessness are not to be dismissed. All too often, it’s actually partners of birthing women who try to squash these feelings, and not ask for support, because they believe it’s “not about them” and that all the focus should remain on mum and having a healthy baby.
Birth debriefing online (e.g., via Skype) can be a healing way to talk through your experiences whiles staying in the familiar environment of home. You can stay close to your baby, if you want to, not worry about the hassle of leaving the house and get some closure. When you talk to a professional, you don’t ever need to feel you need to shield someone from what you say. You can swear, you can cry, you can sit in silence for long periods, anything goes. Family and friends can be wonderful support, but they are often not experienced or qualified to deal with intense emotions and experiences. They love you are care about you, so they may inadvertently interrupt with statements of shock, looks of horror and their own tears. Sometimes, you just want to get an experience vocalised out loud without having to ‘couch’ things or worry that you’re going to upset someone else. Debriefing sessions are also useful for objective support following pregnancy loss, previous history of sexual assault, difficulties with conceiving, or coping with the discovery that your baby has an illness or disability.
I am a big believer in the fact that, when people don’t know what to say, they sometimes say some really unhelpful stuff. They may dismiss your feelings, minimise the situation, start talking about their own birth, completely change the subject or resort to good old cliches. Birth is such a unique experience in that the outcome (a baby) is such a joyous thing that it is supposed to negate all the non joyful parts. You are expected to forget about the pain, fear, panic etc. and just focus on the fact that you have a baby.
“At least you’e got a healthy baby” is a phrase that’s often churned out by well-meaning people. It drives me nuts!
I love this article, which talks about the ways in which we are are more comfortable to hear someone’s negative wedding experiences than we are to hear negative birth experiences. You’d never say to someone “well, at least you’ve got a healthy husband” if the flower girl threw up on the bride’s dress or the makeup artist made you look like a Rocky Horror extra.
Personally, the birth of my first daughter was great, but postpartum was not so fabulous for me. There were complications, and within 24 hours I went on to process both the elation of the arrival of my daughter, and the intense terror and pain of thinking I was about to die. Telling your story can be immensely helpful, particularly if you’ve had some unhelpful reactions.
When you book a birth debrief, you’ll fill out an intake form which asks questions about the details of your birth. You can fill out as much or as little of this as you want. Some people find it helpful to write things out beforehand, and find it easier to talk if the other person already knows some of the details. It can also serve as a prompt to make sure you cover everything you want to cover.
I generally think 90 minutes is a good amount of time to discuss things in detail, but you can of course, have a shorter or longer session, just email me and let me know, or we can have a chat on the phone first. If it seems you need further sessions, or you need a referral then we can discuss this too. Your partner or birth support person is welcome to attend, though the focus will remain on you, the Mum, and your experiences. Please feel free to keep your baby with you if preferred, but please ensure that children over 12 months old are occupied with someone else. Children are very perceptive to parental stress, way before they are talking they understand far more than we tend to acknowledge, and if you’re distracted, or trying to hold back tears your session may not be as beneficial for you.
At the moment, I’m generally offering sessions via Skype or phone, but if you live in the Macedon Ranges and want to meet in person, then just let me know.
Feel free to get in touch
Or you can book your session here