Book Review by Doula Kate Vivian
With 1 in 3 women in Australia describing their birth as traumatic, ‘How to heal a bad birth’ is a must-read for mothers, partners, birth workers and other professionals who work with mothers.
Written by Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould, the founders of Birthtalk.org, How to heal a bad birth lives up to its tagline – making sense, making peace and moving on. It offers practical advice and meaningful support for both mothers and those who may be supporting them.
The book is broken down into two main parts, part one – Beginning your Healing Journey and part two; How do you feel right now? Each part is then broken down into sections (some short grabs and others longer explanations) making it as easy as possible for the reader to take from it what they need. As a reader, this makes it easy to start your healing journey in the time and space that suits you. The authors seem to understand that having a new baby at home, or even having older children at home, doesn’t always lend itself to reading a book from cover to cover. It also means that you can move through the book in a way that suits you and your healing journey or simply turning to the section that describes your journey at that particular moment in time.
How to heal a bad birth starts with Melissa Bruijn’s own birth story and it is this sharing of stories that continues throughout the book, which is so beneficial to anyone who has experienced a bad birth. It is so reassuring to know that you are not alone – even when it feels like you are.
One of the most powerful things about this book is that the authors recognise that bad births and good births are different for everyone. They beautifully describe how two similar births in terms of birth outcomes – such as vaginal birth with a healthy baby, can be perceived completely differently by those experiencing the birth. In fact, they describe what may be perceived as a good birth or a bad birth with no mention of the birth outcomes. Rather, they talk in terms of how a woman felt during and after her birth that can affect her response and attitude to the birth in the weeks and months (and I would go so far as to say, years,) after the birth. A live baby does not automatically equal a good birth.
As Bruijn and Gould say ‘The process of birth is meant to give us gifts for parenthood’ – yet a bad birth can leave you feeling anything but this. The authors talk through the feelings and experiences a birth can have on women postnatally. This is important for both the birthing woman and her partner to be aware of if she has had a bad birth. This helps them both understand that what she is feeling and how she is reacting has nothing to do as her capability as a mother. Instead, it is a response to how she feels about her birth.
As a woman who had experienced a bad birth, I found the practical exercises and information in the book extremely valuable. The Birthtalk Breakdown, in which you write out the specific events of your birth and how they made you feel, made me realise that there were certain parts of my birth that caused it to be a bad birth. And it wasn’t the parts that I was expecting. Knowing this enabled me to better work through my own healing journey.
The second part of the book (How do I feel right now?) helps women recognise that their healing journey isn’t linear and that there are so many feelings that can come up as you deal with a bad birth. Being able to turn to a particular section (for example I feel guilt) makes navigating the healing journey feel easier as you can work with the feelings that are coming up at that moment, rather than taking a broad approach and hoping something works.
How to heal a bad birth isn’t just for mothers. I would recommend this book for anyone supporting, caring for or working with women in the postpartum period. For partners, it can help them understand why a birth may have been bad, even if the baby is healthy. It can also give them practical ways to support and hold space for the mother as she starts her healing journey.
As a childbirth educator, birth and postpartum doula and mother this book is a must-have in my toolkit and I recommend it is in yours. And If you are one of the one in three women who have had a traumatic birth, or you are supporting someone who is, make sure to get your hands on this book. It really is a valuable tool in your journey to healing.
My name is Kate Vivian and I want you to feel confident and empowered to give birth on your own terms.
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