I was out of town without internet last week and when I returned and read through Kveller I was shocked when I saw the reader responses to Rachel Minkowsky’s birth trauma post. I thought about it over the weekend and all I can come back with is that the majority of the comments were so uncharacteristic of the Kveller community but clearly the post triggered a lot of emotions for our readers.
Rachel wrote about something that happened to her that she is struggling with and has struggled with for three years. Common feelings about the human birth experience that many, many mothers share. She was told that she has no right to grieve her birth because her baby was healthy, because she could have had it worse. Her opening her heart turned into a birth-trauma pissing contest for everyone to read and chime in.
Would we tell a mother who lost a child to get over it because at least she only lost one child when others have lost two? Where does it end?
When I recently wrote about my anxieties about having a baby girl, I was told in the comments to stop being stereotypical and be lucky I’m having a baby. As a high-risk Mama who laid on strict bed rest for 10 weeks with my first child and now gets hip injections and biweekly ultrasounds, I am thankful. As a Mama who has shared the heartbreak of my past miscarriage, trust me, I am thankful. But as a Mama who has grieved, processed, talked about and worked through my past trauma, I also allow myself to recognize my feelings no matter how big or small they may be. My emotions don’t minimize your loss, and neither did Rachel Minkowsky’s.
When I was 26-weeks-pregnant with my second child, I began to doubt my body. I felt like I had failed my firstborn, even though I carried him to term (laying down), my birth didn’t go as I had hoped and my son was eventually diagnosed with failure to thrive after my difficulties with breastfeeding. Failure was the only word rattling around in my head, and it led to post-partum anxiety that I successfully worked through. Or so I thought, until the familiar wave of fear and insecurity rushed over me once again.
Like Rachel, I wanted to feel whole again. I was scared and I needed to be allowed to be scared. I needed to acknowledge and feel those feelings. I needed to believe that there was nothing I did to cause my cervix to open prematurely. I started by praying more, but in addition to praying for a healthy baby I prayed for the anxiety to stop. I started breathing deeply and telling myself that my body was strong, my measurements were good and I was upright carrying a baby in my third trimester just as I had always wanted. Even though we couldn’t really afford it, I hired a babysitter for an hour a week while I took a prenatal yoga class. I focused my mind and body on connecting with my unborn son. I found a doula. I talked through my fears with my husband. I pictured the birth I wanted, knowing it might not be the birth I’d get, but letting myself plan with strength and hope.
Going into my second birth, no matter what actually happened, I was stronger. I am stronger.
We don’t build resilience by burying our feelings. Our own emotions don’t just go away by knowing someone else had it worse or harder. We don’t know anyone else’s pain, we only know our own. But we can listen to each other’s stories–stories that just by being shared connect us–and we can hold each other up instead of breaking each other down. We can work together to build a supportive community where sharing is encouraged and feelings are acknowledged.
I was recently inspired by this post in Relevant Magazine:
Our culture tells us it’s our right to comment on everything, regardless of whether it was addressed to us and without consideration for how it might affect others. We have been given covered space from which to throw grenades, without requiring us to take responsibility for the weight of our words.
Before commenting, Tweeting, or posting anything out there for the world to read, what if we asked ourselves.
Is it kind?
Is there a better way to say this?
Would I say this to a friend?
Am I being triggered by something in this post?
Is my criticism constructive?
Is sharing my story empathizing with the reader and/or furthering the conversation?
Will my words hurt someone?
Women who write here open their souls to the internet hoping to share and connect. If we tear them down they will stop writing, they will stop sharing and we will all stop connecting. This does not mean that as writers we are not open to criticism, because constructive, kindly worded, conversation-building criticism can humbling and thought-provoking.
One of the things that makes me most proud of Kveller is the supportive, intelligent, empathetic community that engages with our writers and each other. This virtual environment has attracted a broadening readership of Jews and non-Jews; mothers and soon-to-be mothers; and inspired writers to share cutting edge pieces on sensitive topics such as abortion, child rearing, birth, parenting, religion, and loss. I hope we can continue this culture of respect no matter how large our audience grows because our readers make our writing better and the connection between us all speaks volumes of our community.