If you had a friend who has had a difficult or traumatic birth recently and would like to know what to say to her, and how to help her, please read on.
Before we get into the particulars, remember this: even if it goes just how we planned and envisioned, the act of childbirth changes us drastically in both mind and body. It is a vulnerable moment for us all, but for those of us who suffered complications, difficulties, or life-threatening emergencies, childbirth can result in birth trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well.
According to The Birth Trauma Association, birth trauma can be caused by the experience OR the witnessing of life-threatening events, but not only that.
“It is not always the sensational or dramatic events that trigger childbirth trauma but other factors such as loss of control, loss of dignity, the hostile or difficult attitudes of the people around them, feelings of not being heard or the absence of informed consent to medical procedures.”
So when you visit or message your friend after she has given birth, be prepared to understand that the birth and/or their stay in the maternity afterwards may not have been peachy, to put it lightly. She might be feeling very weak, she might be doubting herself and her abilities, she might even be blaming herself for the complications. Tread lightly, friend.
Try to get a sense of how things are going before you ask to visit or ask too many questions.
A new mama who has just been through the wringer may want a little space to process things with her inner circle (herself, her spouse, and her newborn) before she lets the world in.
On the flip side, she might really appreciate a sympathetic ear, and some validation from a friend. Whatever you do, don’t just barge in.
If you are not capable of being a selfless listener and empathetic friend, just send a card instead. Seriously. She’s fragile right now and susceptible to well-intentioned but invalidating remarks. If you aren’t sure you can help, then at least don’t make things any worse.
I have to give credit to OHMMother Yoga for this quote that I love:
“In this very moment, right where I’m at, am I able to truly listen and be present for her in her pain? Am I in a place and space to deeply listen to whatever she needs to express, without judgement or comparison to my own stories?”
ABOVE ALL, don’t make invalidating remarks. Here’s a few examples:
- It could have been worse.
- At least you have a healthy baby, and that’s the important thing.
- Take advantage of these tender moments, they’re the best!
- You’ll forget about it after awhile.
- That sounds like the time I _______ (had my appendix out, or other equally irrelevant life experience you had)
Why are these bad things to say? Just because a mother and her baby are both alive, it doesn’t mean they didn’t have a hell of a time recently. Taking the focus off of the scary experience implicitly says, “your experience and feelings are unimportant, you are overreacting, I don’t really care about your problems, and you are being selfish”. A mother’s experience could have been worse, but that doesn’t mean her feelings about what DID happen aren’t valid.
In the days that followed SO many people told me to take advantage of these first moments, like as if being in the maternity ward with my newborns was a moment I would want to treasure forever and I thought, “What did you say? I just nearly died. I can’t even sit up without fainting because of blood loss, I haven’t showered in almost a week, I’m wearing diapers because I’m still bleeding, and breastfeeding is excruciating.” I didn’t need to hear how the most important thing was that my babies were healthy, or how I should treasure these moments. The kicker is that I actually said one of these insensitive things to a good friend of mine years before. #karma. Learn from my experiences and don’t say the same things I did!
So what SHOULD you say? If you really want to help your friend and are ABLE to (see Tip #2), then try a few of these:
- Do you want to talk about it?
- Are you ok?
- That must have been so hard/exhausting/scary/frustrating…
- I’m sorry that it didn’t go the way you wanted it to.
- You have every right to feel the way you do. It’s ok to feel exactly what you’re feeling.
- I’m here to listen if you need someone.
- You have been through so much. You are truly amazing and strong.
- Which part was the hardest for you?
- Was there a part of the birth that went well, that you are grateful for?
As we’ve already mentioned, LISTENING is the key here.
If you DID say something insensitive and hurtful (wince!), don’t pretend it didn’t happen. If you realize that you said something you shouldn’t have, apologize. Explain that it wasn’t what your intentions were, and that you’d like to do better to support her.
Do something for her. Most of the time, a mom possesses the skills she needs to work through her pain and suffering on her own, but dealing with her experiences and keeping a baby alive might not leave her much room to do anything else.
If you have the means to help her out, here are some suggestions for thoughtful things you can do that will help her:
- Offer to babysit (especially if she has older kids)
- Provide an outlet. Painting, drawing, writing, and exercising are all good therapeutic outlets.
- Help out with household chores (dishes, groceries, cooking, etc.)
If it seems that she doesn’t know where to turn, offer up additional resources/ideas. Offer to help research them, if she needs.
Follow up with your friend. Checking in just after the birth is important, but the first three months especially are very difficult and lonely for moms. A friendly text message every once in awhile saying, “I’m thinking of you, can I drop off lunch this week?” would be greatly appreciated.
*A special thanks to my friend Lyndi Thompson, for adding these valuable tips!
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