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The experience of giving birth can differ

Giving birth is an experience with multiple dimensions. You often have a picture in your mind of how it will be, but it’s good to be aware that the experience can be complex and not always be what you have imagined.

It’s easy to feel insecure about what will happen. However, what women describe as important when giving birth is the feeling of control, the experience of pain, the feeling of being part of something bigger and the relationship with those around them, whether that be their partner, family, friends, work or their midwife/obstetrician.

If the experience was positive

Sometimes, the thoughts and expectations you have correlate to what happens and what makes you feel safe. The birth may have become exactly how you wished it to be, and you had a positive experience with your pregnancy. The birth may also have become the opposite of what you expected, and maybe your biggest fears became a reality. That doesn’t mean, however, that the experience can’t be positive.

To feel safe during pregnancy and birth, whether something you planned or feared, can result in a positive experience. Simply because you still felt safe despite what happened. This can contribute to stronger self-esteem. Women have often said that “Even though the worst things in my thoughts became a reality, I still felt that I was in good hands.” It’s a feeling of “Despite it happening, I still did it” - That is something that can strengthen your confidence in the long term.

If the experience was negative

If the feeling of security, however, did not occur and the experience was not positive, a traumatic or negative experience from giving birth can increase your risk of post-traumatic stress disorder or postpartum depression. It can also result in feelings like “I didn’t make it” or other negative thoughts about your own effort. We want to remind you here that there is no such thing as a mother “that didn’t make it” or gave birth to her child in a “bad or wrong way.” There are, however, circumstances and conditions making it not turn out the way you had hoped for.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help

Studies have shown that women felt that their negative or traumatic experiences of giving birth were not addressed appropriately or adequately by their healthcare providers. It’s therefore important that you don’t hesitate to talk about your feelings and your experience. There is help available. A negative or traumatic experience can lead to problems with breastfeeding, PTSD and depression. This can lead to worry or fear of birth for any future pregnancies. However, it’s worth remembering that an experience can change over time once you have had the time to reflect on your experience.

If you are fighting negative thoughts from your birth experience, it can be a good idea to contact your healthcare provider or therapist. This can help you to move on and maybe view your pregnancy in a different light. This meeting can allow for your healthcare provider to also reflect on the experience with shared learning, as often trauma is a result of poor communication. If you suffer from PTSD or depression, you will need extra support, and this can come via your midwife or a mental health provider.

Sources: - Myles, M.F., Marshall, J.E. & Raynor, M.D. (red.) (2014). Myles textbook for midwives. (16th edition). Edinburgh: Elsevier. - Nilsson, C. (2012). Förlossningsrädsla - Med fokus på kvinnors upplevelser av att föda barn. (Doktorsavhandling/ Dissertation, Linnaeus University/ Linnéuniversitetet. Written in Swedish.