birth failure

Let me start by saying that I don’t believe in birth failure … or that you can ‘fail’ at birth. But that doesn’t stop women everywhere saying that’s how they FEEL.

It’s tragic.

Nurturing a new baby into the world with a sense of birth failure looming above you is the last thing you want. So is there anything we could to help us avoid this sense of birth failure?

Or, to put it another way… Are you setting yourself up to ‘fail’ at birth?

Birth failure and birth disappointment

For me birth failure is intrinsically linked to disappointment. If we are to avoid feeling like we’ve ‘failed’ at birth, then a good place to start would be to avoid feeling disappointed about our births.

I’ve blogged about how you can prepare for birth disappointment here.

To get a sense of what I mean consider these two scenarios that are inspired by true stories (where names have been changed*)

Scenario 1: The ‘healing’ VBAC

Alana* had a difficult first birth which ended in an emergency c-section. For her next birth she’s aiming for a VBAC. One of the reasons she wants her VBAC is because she really wants to experience a vaginal birth. On some level she feels like her body ‘failed’ her and that she didn’t ‘birth properly’. This VBAC is going to be a healing experience for her.

A large part of the emotional component that we’re dealing with is all about the meaning we attach to things.

In Alana’s scenario above, we learn that

  • a c-section birth equals ‘failure’, whereas for her a vaginal birth would mean ‘success’
  • she can’t heal from her first birth unless she pulls off the VBAC

It’s quite possible that Alana would never say these actual words, but this is what she is FEELING and this is the emotional bit that has got the potential bite her on the bum if she’s not careful. In this situation, Alana is putting quite a lot of pressure on herself to have her VBAC.

How do you think she would feel if she wasn’t able to have her VBAC? I’m guessing that she would really struggle with that.

A simple change could change everything

How about if she changed how she thought about her future birth. Let’s say….

She equated a c-section equally to a vaginal birth in terms of the success of her body. After all, her body has grown her baby for 9 months, it’s not really fair to judge her body based on the last bit of when the baby actually exits the body.

The body hasn’t failed. Maybe it just ran out of steam.

If a marathon runner manages to run the whole race, but crawls over the finish line, like this lady, do we think that she’s failed the marathon. No we don’t.

She still made it and she’s still done an amazing job. We don’t say that her body has failed her – she still ran 26 bloody miles! That’s not a failing in my book!

Now let’s look at Alana’s need for her birth to heal her previous birth. I think that many women experience a birth that helps them to heal from a previous birth. But just because this is something that happens as a side effect, doesn’t mean it should become an objective.

Going into your birth with the expectation of your birthing being a healing one is likely to pile even more emotional pressure on. Healing can occur without the VBAC. It can just take a different route. In fact, the healing could have happened BEFORE her birth.

There is no need to wait for a subsequent birth to heal a previous birth.

There are many wonderful birth professionals who can help you to heal from birth trauma. You don’t need to be in labour to do that. Goodness. Why wait that long to seek healing for birth trauma?

There’s another scenario I’d like you to consider. Well, it’s a true story that I share in my book, Fearless Birthing.

Scenario 2: The ‘final’ home birth

This one is about Rachel*, a mama who desperately wanted her final birth to be a home birth. She had her heart set on it. When the time came she wasn’t able to have her home birth. For some reason, she was transferred and ended up having a hospital birth.

The birth went well with no problems (her words) but afterwards she felt traumatised by it. For the month that followed the birth she said that she couldn’t look at her baby without feeling traumatised. Rachel shared how it really affected her ability to breastfeed and bond with her baby.

The thing is, the event itself was fine. The problem came from the fact that the event wasn’t what she wanted it to be. She had put so much meaning and expectation on the home birth that when it didn’t happen, she experienced loss.

This reminds me of the definition of weeds. Weeds are simply plants that are growing in the wrong place. There isn’t a type of plant that’s a weed. A daffodil could be a weed if you wanted a field of tulips.

Just like birth.

There isn’t a wrong birth or a ‘birth failure’.

We make it so with judgement. WE do. No-one else.

Rachel’s birth went well; it just wasn’t where she wanted. If she had been able to let go of her need to birth at home, she may well have enjoyed her first few weeks with her new baby. Instead, she experienced deep grief and loss for an experience she wished she’d had and didn’t.

If you can make peace with not having your ideal birth before you go into labour, you can save yourself a heap of emotional heartache later.

Great expectations are bad thing

A sense of failing at birth comes from our own expectations around birth. These expectations come from people we know – our friends and family – and the cultural narrative around birth. Sometimes it’s other people judging us, maybe from the depths of the internet.

Let me tell you something about people judging you.

It’s happening all the time. You’re being judged for your profile photo or your clothes or what you say.

It doesn’t mean you have to pay attention to any of it.

Just ignore it. Set your own agenda. Mind your own business. Be your own person.

It’s not your business what nonsense is going on in other people’s heads. We’ve all got head trash to wrestle with. And them being judgmental and critical is their head trash. You don’t have to pick it up and make it yours too.

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Alexia Leachman

Alexia is the host of the Fear Free Childbirth podcast and the author of Fearless Birthing, Childbirth, Midwifery & the Media, and Clear Your Head Trash.

Alexia supports families planning pregnancy and birth. She helps them to overcome their fears and feel calm and confident about birth and pregnancy.

Alexia also trains birth professionals in the Fearless Birthing, a unique approach to birth preparation that is ideal for those who have fears around birth.
Alexia Leachman
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