When Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby Isn’t Enough,
but Also Everything

Both the happiness of being a parent, and the sadness of feeling like you were treated in a way that did not feel right for you can exist at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive, and do not impact the other.

By Emily Chaffee

We have all heard the saying: “healthy mom, healthy baby”. And we have all heard something started with “at least.” “At least your baby is here,” “At least this happened and that didn’t happen”. These two phrases are completely dismissive, and if you are anything like me, certain colorful language cannot be contained in response to those comments. But also, the current state of the maternal mortality rate, it is a completely valid reaction. And both of those reasons need changing.

 

When thinking about your birth, many future parents make a birth plan to help both organize their thoughts, as well as provide a form of communication to their birth team. We truly believe that the birth plan is not about the plan, but about the options associated with that plan. One of the most important questions we ask about is, “What are your goals for your birth?” When I first became a birth doula, I also told clients, you are allowed to want more than to be healthy and for your baby to be healthy. My thought was that as human beings, we are allowed to feel respected, heard, and most importantly important, and being alive is right. However, after five years of practice, my opinion has shifted a bit.

 

But if we are thinking on a systemic level, the fact that there are “17 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in the U.S.” (“Maternal Mortality and Maternity Care in the United States Compared to 10 Other Developed Countries.”) And black women specifically have a mortality rate of three times of their white counterparts. So a healthy mom, healthy baby is a true goal, and definitely not a given for many women, specifically for women of color.

 

Does this make anyone else furious?

 

We are expected to be grateful to be alive but then dismissed when we have trauma from feeling like we were just a number during a transformative time like birth? We are expected to push aside our feelings because our baby is here and we are forced to only focus on the positive?

Trauma is in the eye of the beholder, and what may be traumatic to one person, is not traumatic to another.

- Emily Chaffee

Birth Trauma is Real

Yes, you got your baby and that is wonderful, but the way you were made to feel matters. Both the happiness of being a parent, and the sadness of feeling like you were treated in a way that did not feel right for you can exist at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive, and do not impact the other.

 

Trauma is in the eye of the beholder, and what may be traumatic to one person, is not traumatic to another. Because of course, the elephant in the room is that in the United States, maternal mortality is an issue and the looming fact is mothers are lucky to be alive after birth, especially if they are women of color. This juxtaposition puts mothers in a difficult spot, and illustrates the crisis that is impacting the US currently.

 

I became a birth doula because of the trauma that I experienced during my birth. It took me years to say that, and I often do not like to share what that trauma is because even with all my experience as a birth doula, it still feels minimal in the grand scheme. But to me, it wasn’t. But to the women that have died before me in birth, it isn’t that bad. And the fact that both of these sentiments exist shows what so many others are experiencing if they are unsure if they can bring up how they feel.

 

If you feel like you are recovering from birth trauma, please know you are not alone. Find providers who believe you. Find friends or even strangers on Facebook who understand you. Find local support that validates your feelings. It does exist, because no one should have to describe their birth with the preface of “at least.”

Works Cited

“Maternal Mortality and Maternity Care in the United States Compared to 10 Other Developed Countries.” Maternal Mortality Maternity Care US Compared 10 Other Countries | Commonwealth Fund, https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2020/nov/maternal-mortality-maternity-care-us-compared-10-countries. 

Emily is a fertility and birth doula, childbirth educator, perinatal massage therapist and certified educator of infant massage. She started her doula journey during her own pregnancy in 2015 as she learned the power of her own voice, and realized that she could help others find theirs. Since then, she has built Carolina Birth and Wellness (www.carolinabirthandwellness.com) to be a full spectrum doula agency that provides support for individuals and families from preconception through the first years of having a baby. Her own struggles with infertility has also opened her eyes to helping women understand what their body is telling them through the menstrual cycle and various other biomarkers that are so often ignored or not talked about because it seems too personal. She strongly believes in helping her clients learn each and every option available to them as the only right choice is what is best for you, your body, and your family.

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