Real, Raw, Unedited Birth Stories

Someone ashamed of Birthstory

The Birth Stories We Didn’t See On Instagram

by Alexis Barad-Cutler

When we posted on Stories about birth trauma and birth stories, it brought on a deluge of feelings — from regret, to guilt, to confusion, to anger and ambivalence. One thing that the stories all have in common: an urgency to be told, and for someone to hear them. Your stories could fill volumes. But I couldn’t fit them all on one story thread — and even after we closed the thread, they kept on coming into my Inbox.

One thing that came up was a question/request —reinforced by quite a few Mom Groupers — about why we couldn’t also make space for the happy and inspiring birth stories in this discussion. I made a choice not to post the “positive birth stories” in that thread, because the thread was specifically about those who have experienced trauma and pain during their birth. I felt like this topic, and those of us with painful experiences needed our moment. We can absolutely have another moment in the future (in a separate IG thread) to hone in on the good stories and our feelings about them because — we need those, too. We need to be inspired, and to have hope that there ARE positive birth outcomes — or else why put all of our efforts into planning, and getting support systems in place, etc. if it is all for naught? In this thread, however, I felt like the focus should be on the people who need to release negative feelings that they have been holding in, and to not feel guilty about those experiences. 

I am including the “positive birth story” DMs here — particularly ones that talked about why we need these kinds of stories. Looking forward to a larger discussion in the future.

Here are the ones that you didn’t get to read on Instagram:

I’d love to know when that “over time” [as in, “it gets better”] is. I am still gasping for air while trying to fall asleep. It’s not as frequent, but it’s never any easier every time it happens; it’s still vivid, I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m 18 months PP. And yes, I’m in therapy. – J.

For what it’s worth . . . I’m a NICU nurse and I attend these deliveries No mother ever has done anything wrong at all, and the hospital world is a very scary, complicated place to be. Going forward, I’ll try even harder to be as kind and gentle in these situations where I’m needed. – K.

We need the birthing narrative to be complicated by real stories of the spectrum of birthing experiences. From great to grief. There’s a lot there and in between, and it’s all valid and to be respected. You shouldn’t feel guilty for having wonderful births, I shouldn’t feel guilty for being sent home broken and uninformed. – H.

I had a great birthing experience! — home birth, water birth. Baby came on his due date, super fast. I had to stand up for myself against my ObGyn big time in the last several weeks of pregnancy to leave space for that to happen, but I’m so glad I did. I had 5 hours of intense back labor puking my guts up without an epidural, but I personally would not have chosen to do it any other way. I know my body, and I can handle pain a lot better than pain medication (which tends to make me incredibly ill), and I wasn’t afraid because it was clear that everything was progressing as it should have been and my support team was awesome. I felt really great afterwards and I recovered easily, even with a small tear (that my midwife stitched up at the end of my bed with my best friend helping). Such a great start to motherhood, and I thank God every day I got to have that experience. – M.

I had a traumatic birth with my first and am stressed about the possibility of another baby solely because I’m terrified of birth and what comes after (in my case babe was wonderful and I had physical complications during labor and postpartum). I know I can skip these stories but I’m reading them all like, damn, there’s no hope for a smooth second delivery. Positive stories to balance?! @jen_goggins

My friends scared the shit out of me with their birth stories. I understand that they needed to be heard but my therapist told me to stop talking to some of them before I gave birth. There’s a difference between sharing your story and scaring people — namely pregnant women. They wanted me to be aware but I had a doula, I was aware, and I had an amazing birth. ??‍♀️ I feel for those who were traumatized by their birth and we as a society should be more open about it but there is a time and a place. My best friend shared her traumatic birth story with anyone who would listen and she was alienating people with how and who she told. She just wanted to be heard but it didn’t help her make friends or bond with people. – N.

I had a healthy pregnancy with no issues. Then 9 days past my due date, I went to the hospital in active labor to have an intervention free water birth and ended up having a 41 hour labor with complications at every turn. I developed preeclampsia in labor so I needed a mag drip and augmented labor. There were several touch and go moments with baby’s heart rate and my blood pressure and oxygen levels. I was able to push him out..partially. It turned out that his cord was around his neck so tight that the cord tore and caused a placental abruption. The OB yanked him out, blood sprayed everywhere and they whisked him away. I lay there terrified while no one told me what was happening. He was ok once they got him breathing but it was a really traumatic experience for me. I ended up with horrible tearing and a long road of physically healing postpartum. I was so disappointed in myself and felt like my body completely let me down. I put a crazy amount of pressure on myself to exclusively nurse and spiraled into PPD and PPA without telling anyone. I felt like everything I had prepared for and planned got turned upside down and I was desperate to have people think I was doing something right. I still struggle sometimes, two years later, with feeling like I’m never doing enough. I want to start trying for a second baby but it still feels really raw and scary when I think about it! Love to all these mamas ❤️ and thank you for sharing so we don’t have to feel alone – K.

I had a very positive birth experience and I also find myself censoring my story so as not to make others feel bad or sound like I’m humble-bragging. That said, I definitely want to give this conversation it’s space and am happy to wait our turn! – B.

I had three fast, uneventful, unmedicated, hospital births. (Not painless! But easy.) Those days shaped who I am. I know we don’t get to choose the things in life that are hard for us, but I wish every mother could have the experience I did. I feel embarrassingly lucky. My heart breaks for these women and their stories. Our medical system is failing us. – A.

I always feel so guilty bc the system fails so many women and  my midwives were absolutely wonderful during my delivery and it makes me feel so guilty when I talk to friends about our births. My labor was anything but easy, about 21 hours and my daughter was born posterior facing, with her arm above her head and her cord around her neck and arm 3 times. My midwives handled it beautifully and safely, I never even knew anything was abnormal until they told me afterward. Everything was calm and peaceful, I labored back and forth between the bed and the bathtub, ended up delivering squatting next to the bed. It felt so natural and was just a beautiful experience. Yet I don’t often tell people bc I feel guilty ?. – C.

I feel like I really needed both the good and the bad stories when I was pregnant to prepare for the unexpected. My birth didn’t look the way I imagined, but the experience was empowering nonetheless because I felt seen and heard by my caregivers (midwives at a birth center, and ultimately, a team at the hospital). I think almost all of it comes down to that: did you feel cared for, respected, listened to during your birth? If the answer is yes, I think even the unexpected and scary things are ultimately manageable. If the answer is no, the door to emotional trauma opens. – N.

It is IMPERATIVE that we allow space for the mom’s . . . who were traumatized and had such a hard (and unfair) time. But as a 33 week pregnant woman I have honestly yet to have even ONE mom say, “My birth was tough but beautiful.” Or “It went so well” or “I felt trusted and empowered” or even “YOU TOTALLY GOT THIS, GIRL”. I am feeling mocked and ridiculed for having goals in birth, for choosing to believe that it can and will be smooth and beautiful, and that I deserve both of these things. We all know things can change and plans can alter. But many plans don’t and many women get the birth they hoped for/dreamed for/worked for. Rather than the side eye and the old “ohhh yeah well . . . we’ll see” I’d like people to listen to my heart (and after 4 years of infertility and failed IVF and recurrent miscarriage I DO want to feel a certain way after my birth experience) and say “I hope it happens for you that way! I am sending you strength and hope that it does!”  – B.

Placenta was taken out manually w no epidural — they told my husband to hold my hands because I kept trying to stop the doctor.  I honestly hated them both at the moment and don’t think I’ve processed it yet. My baby just turned 1 and I’m terrified to get pregnant again because of this. – A.

My first was traumatic for me, mostly because she was 5 weeks early and we were overseas far from family. I wish I’d had people to share that. I had severe PPD/A for a good year. BUT my second is now 16 months and her birth and postpartum experience healed me. ❤️ Truly felt redeemed by her birth even though it didn’t go according to plan either. Births can definitely be great too! – L.

I specifically planned not to have [a birth plan]. After all I read while pregnant, I came to the conclusion that I would be more upset and tormented if I had a plan and it didn’t come to fruition. In the end, my plan was to have an advocate (my doula) in the room to help translate the doctor speak and help me make decisions to prioritize a successful delivery and my health and wellbeing. I realize that I am fortunate enough to put aside the money for a doula. It should be a resource to every pregnant woman. – S.

I feel like there’s a couple things at play here, one being the very real and very toxic environment the natural birth movement has created for women whose births don’t fit nicely into some “mama tribe”, polished, and largely fabricated ideal. Secondly, this seems to leave room for only two types of birth—wonderful and natural or C-section and horrific. I had an emergency C-section and without it my daughter likely wouldn’t be here. It went smoothly. I recovered fast. I don’t feel guilt over it. I’d planned on a natural birth, didn’t have one, and it’s not my moral failing. People don’t want to hear this, and seem to want a sob story I can’t and won’t provide. We need to start recognizing the wide range of birth stories—the good, the bad, the life saving, and the everyday. – S.

My second baby! I was getting induced at 41 weeks. A nurse colleague friend of mine got me in the night before my induction because they weren’t busy and so I wouldn’t get bumped. Epidural wasn’t perfect but gave me a lot of relief, got it earlier in my labor than my first because I knew I wanted it. Less than 12 hours later he basically fell out! My husband had to run in the hall way to get the nurse and about 25 people came running in the room! Nurses were amazing, anesthesiologists were responsive to my needs with the epidural and the OBs were basically there to see me up (little tear). It wasn’t perfect but it was good ?. – A.

We never know how it’s going to pan out when you go to give birth. I think having a general plan is important, but also being flexible enough to go with any changes (big or small) is important too. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect as mothers.  We need to let go of the illusion of control, and the impossible standard of perfection. My heart aches for mothers whose birthing experiences weren’t what they imagined, or who have been traumatized. I had an absolutely amazing first delivery, then a horrific and traumatic induction to deliver my stillborn (had lots of therapy to help cope with this). We just never know what will happen. Currently hoping that #3 will go smoothly, but I’m not afraid anymore. – J.

I was encouraged by my birth class teacher to have “birth preferences” because you can never really live up to a set plan! I just love that slight word switch! – C.

I also had no plan other than to get through it and be surrounded by my family which I thought wasn’t asking a lot. I ended up needing an emergency induction for preeclampsia and scary emergency vacuuming because the cord was around her neck and heart rate also dropped very quickly. Which meant my mom and sister weren’t allowed in the room because there was no time or space. In the course of seconds my delivery room filled with 12 nurses and my doctor doing their best to save my baby and as a result scaring the hell out of me and my husband. I cried when she came out from relief more than happiness I think. – D.

Reading all of these responses I am also comforted knowing I’m not alone! My water broke 2 days before my LO’s due date, I was induced upon arrival at the hospital and tried to go as long as possible without an epidural but the contractions were insane so I opted for one after 2 hours. I had a pretty easy pregnancy, and the doctor assured me I was progressing well, until I was stuck at 9.5 cm for 2 hrs. The baby’s heart rate kept dropping so they had me push to try and open up to 10cm, but it didn’t work so he made the call to do an emergency C-section. As soon as I heard those words, I broke down. When they first cut into me I felt everything and screamed that I needed more pain killers. When they took him out of me they didn’t show him to me as I had requested and took him to monitor him and he was unresponsive for 5 minutes. As I sat there shaking, crying, feeling completely out of control, praying that he was okay and alive, I was so upset at myself, wondering what went wrong. Finally after what seemed like eternity, they handed him to my husband, I could only sit and watch  him while I continued to bawl my eyes out while they stitched me up. I didn’t get to hold him until 2 hrs after they took him out of me because i had pooped everywhere (yes, this is a great experience for C-section mamas too) and they had to clean me up while I laid helplessly in bed. I asked my husband for weeks after we got home if he was actually our baby. Maybe because I hadn’t held him after birth and was so out of it that I couldn’t remember that he was actually with us the whole time but I felt the strangest disconnect from him for a long time. I couldn’t talk about the experience for months without bawling my eyes out. The doctor told me he had umbilical cord scrunched up by his head so he was having difficulty finding a way out. There was honestly nothing I could have done differently. I just am so thankful for modern medicine and the fact that c sections exist and that we’re both here and okay today. – E.

I had a vaginal water birth with my firstborn. Everything went to “plan”. . . My second birth . . .I did exactly the same birth prep, and was in the same state of health both times. I even had the same awesome midwife. I feel like I was spared the trauma because I had the evidence that it wasn’t my “fault”. . . The bravest thing I have ever done was not my “drug free natural birth”, it was agreeing to get my baby out NOW when that was what he needed from me. – P. 

My husband and I both feel like we have PTSD after traumatic birth, feeding issues, allergies, infant surgery… we have decided not to make any decisions until we think we have healed. – M.

I’m one of those whose birth plan was basically “just get the baby out safely and don’t kill me.” I was totally fine with the idea of a C-section until I had (an emergency) one. I stayed relatively calm through most of it: Being taken in and out of the OR while doctors debated, only to be rushed back in later. Having some kind of partial anesthesia failure and the doctor just doing syringes of lidocaine on my belly so they could start cutting. During the actual procedure I lost my cool, it was so painful and alien. The aftermath was hazy and it was only months later that I can say out loud I had a “traumatic” birth experience. I’m still hashing it all out in my mind. You are not alone and you did NOTHING wrong! – K.

I had a vaginal birth that has left me with life long issues that will only get worse as I age. I’ve dealt with resentment of women who had C-sections and don’t worry about bathroom issues (not that every C-section is perfect/without issue etc). These are life saving interventions. I think the answer is knowledge and preparations. Preparing three + birth plans (vaginal, unplanned C-section, emer. C-section) can help a lot. – A.

I had a traumatic first birth that ended up with an emergency C-section. I had my second last year as a vbac (vaginal birth after cesarean). There are risks with this option, but another cesarean has its risks too. If you want a vaginal birth second time around then make sure you ask ALL the questions to ALL the health care providers you come in contact with. For me knowledge was power so I could make the best decision for my baby, my body and my mental health. My first was late and I was induced at 41 weeks plus 5 days, baby’s heart rate dropped and we nearly lost her so they did a C-section. After considerable thinking and discussions leading up to birth of no.2  I was induced earlier this time (day after due date) to ensure my body had enough left (placenta/amniotic fluid) to get my baby out safely. The induction was a success and my 2nd baby was delivered via vaginal birth. Know all your options and all the benefits and risks of each. Talk to older midwives, they’ve seen it all. —W.

Ugh, we put so much pressure on ourselves. . .  I was induced at 41.5 weeks and pushed my baby out in 2 pushes. It was “easy” and uneventful. But I still had second degree tearing. The resident stitched me up for over an hour, by the time the doc came in she was shaking her head and undid all the stitching and had to redo it all. Another hour later and I was a wreck. I couldn’t walk more than a few steps or stand at all until about 6 weeks postpartum (thankfully I had 10 weeks mat leave). It was traumatic and followed up by months of pelvic floor PT trying to alleviate lingering pain and undo damage. I had a surprise pregnancy with #2 and had intense anxiety about another birth. I chose to have an induction in hopes of having more control of the situation & ended up feeling like I had signed away all my rights. They broke my water and expedited my birth and I felt helpless and like a third party participant. I regret not standing up for myself. – C.

I had a Murphy’s law of labor/birth that ultimately led to an emergency C-section. The lack of control gave me horrible PPA that I’m only starting to receive professional treatment for a year after. If you are having trouble coping, there is no shame in seeking professional help. The Motherhood Center in NYC is an incredible resource for mothers and is sensitive to all financial abilities. – M.

My first birth was so scary. I was 20 years old and terrified to begin with. I started pushing berore my doctor even arrived because she didn’t think I’d go so fast. She walked in the door as my placenta separated from the wall during delivery and baby was low and laying on top of her cord. Her heart rate went from 126 to 61 within seconds. I remember just starting to fall asleep and blacking out. Nurses reaching over me hitting the call button trying to get the NICU in the delivery room and putting oxygen on me. She was removed with a double vacuum extraction. Ripped me to pieces down there and it took them just under two minutes to resuscitate her. I didn’t get to hold her. I didn’t get to hear her cry. She survived though. My recovery took forever. My six week check consisted of being recut through a tissue bridge forming and more stitches to heal right. I said I’d never do it again. I’m currently 9 weeks postpartum with my second, her birth was calm and perfect. We recently watched the birth video from my firstborn. I realized they told us to turn the video camera off during delivery. The horrible ptsd I had this second time around the whole pregnancy was debilitating. I’m so thankful the second time the delivery went well except blood pressure issues and a failed epidural. It made a difference to have a better doctor. I don’t think I could go through it all again though. I have horrible anxiety and I couldn’t handle it all again.  My point is just know momma that just because one birth was traumatic and scary the next one might be perfect. It’s scary and it’s hard coming back from a bad experience, and the guilt is real.  But know that you and baby are ok and that’s something to celebrate. Give yourself grace.?  – J.

My plan was no plan, just that I made sure I was delivering with an obgyn practice that I trusted, and in a hospital that I trusted. Beyond that, I put zero pressure on myself to “control” the process and was very open to whatever was needed for my health/my sons health. Wound up being induced @ 41.5 weeks, then 39.5 hrs of labor and vaginal delivery. Was not ideal – I spiked a high fever during delivery and my son did not breathe on his own for the first 7 minutes after he was born and then was held in NICU for 4 days, etc. but I am lucky that I feel no guilt about it — did what worked for us and we’re all okay. – A.


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