In the early days of a pregnancy, I went to see the midwife every month. Then it became every two weeks. Then, it began to feel as if I saw my midwife more often than I picked up my mail. We would go through the usual routine: blood pressure (always low), heart rate (always low), measure the size of my baby bump (always jaw-droopingly huge). For my last baby, I went to a new midwife and midwifery practice for me. My former practice closed up shop and moved to Chilliwack a few years ago so I started from scratch here. One of the reasons why I love midwifery is that instead of walking in and checking off tick-boxes, I have found that midwives typically (not always! I know a lot of wonderful OBGYNs who are very woman-centric, too) focus just as much on my emotional and spiritual state as on my physical state, believing that all of the aspects of my life are deeply connected to birth and health. I’ve found pregnancy and giving birth to be my greatest metaphor, absolutely, too. I can’t separate my spirit from my body particularly during such a mighty time of life.

Near the end of my pregnancy, I confessed to her that I hadn’t been sleeping well. It wasn’t just the typical have-to-pee-every-hour stuff (although that’s very real, people). And it was more than the bout of sickness we had had here for the past few weeks. I was run off my feet with sick kids and a sick husband, culminating in my own punishing chest cold. Yes, I was up coughing but that wasn’t it, either.

Really, it was the dreaming.

I have vivid dreams at the best of times. I don’t know if it’s the INFJ thing or a spirit-gift thing but I’ve often had a weird dream connection to my spirit and even, I would argue, to the Holy Spirit. I’ve often experienced almost a sense of the prophetic in dreams – for my self, for my husband, for our children, even for my sister on occasion. It seems to be a place where I meet God or work through life for some weird reason. So I know enough by now to pay attention to my dreams. And in the last weeks of my last pregnancy, my dreams became oddly consuming and consistent.

I would dream in vivid detail of my actual self in my actual life. I even dreamed the same pajamas that I was wearing at that moment. And in my dream, I woke up to find that I had either given birth to the baby in my sleep or – more frequently – that I was about to give birth. In the dream, I would wake up out of my sleep and feel the baby just seconds from being born. And then I would feel an absolute tidal wave of grief and fear and anxiety, a profound sense of aloneness in such a key moment of my life. Then I would wake up. And inevitably, when I woke up, I would have a hard time distinguishing between the real and the dream. It would take me a few panicked moments to realize that it was a dream, that it wasn’t actually happening.  And I would have this dream all night, every night, for weeks. I repeatedly woke up, panicked that I was having the baby alone. I went to bed every night in dread of it.

So I told my midwife about my dreams. I told her in the way that I always tell things that alarm me: I joked about it. I don’t know if I’m the only person who does this, but I have some weird affliction that makes me downplay or self-deprecate my own fears or needs. I joke about them in an attempt to disarm them, perhaps, to downplay my hurts or my fears or even my grief. So I told her about my dream and then tried to crack a few jokes at my own expense, “oh, can you even imagine that happening?” and “as if I need another reason for disrupted sleep!”

Har har har.

I think this is one of the reasons why I love midwives, they have a finely tuned bullshit detector and aren’t afraid to call me on it. They see right through my “it’s not so bad” and “ha ha” and “it’s not a big deal” words to my spirit somehow. And so without missing a beat, without even cracking a smile at my lame attempts to disarm my own fear, Carolyn looked me right in the eye and said, “Sarah. Have you ever dealt with the trauma of your son’s birth?”

And just like that, I couldn’t breathe.

I started to cry. I hadn’t even said it out loud and she knew somehow exactly what these dreams were about: they were about my birth experience with our son.

At the time, it had been six years since I had an unattended, unintended free birth. That basically means that I went into labour, the baby came too quickly, and we were left in our building’s parking garage having a big baby by ourselves. It’s a story I have told a million times, usually for a laugh. I use it as an ice-breaking anecdote at women’s retreats, I wrote about it on my blog, I use it as a sermon illustration when I preach at Christmas: I have all my jokes down pat. I tell people about how I hung onto a cement pole and hollered at my husband that the baby was going to FALL OUT. I tell them about the crowd of strangers standing around us, calling 911 on their mobile phones. I crack a joke about how I’m so glad that this happened before the days of smart phones, otherwise it would have been all over Buzzfeed before the placenta was delivered. I tell them about the guy who walked out in the middle of it all, took in the scene, and said “I think I’m going to take the bus!” before beating a hasty retreat. I tell them about standing up with my husband’s arms under my arms, a total stranger kneeling at my feet to make sure that the baby didn’t hit the cement floor, and how I delivered that nearly 9 lbs baby boy into my own hands. I tell them about the fire trucks and the ambulance, I joke about how my mother’s nerves will never recover, I always get a laugh when I tell everyone about how I was whisked away in an ambulance with our baby and Brian was left standing alone in the parking lot wondering what in the hell just happened. He went into shock and just mechanically started cleaning the floors instead of following us. A guy wandered out into the parking lot, took in all of the blood all over the floor, and freaked out, thinking someone had gotten shot. Meanwhile, I went to triage at the hospital to be stitched up by an over-tired ER doctor whose stitching consigned me to a year of recovery from that experience.

Oh, I’ve got all the jokes for that birth experience. Har har har.

My mother has often broached the subject with me, wondering if I was as upset by that experience as she was. But she underestimates my ability to compartmentalize. I can compartmentalize like it’s my spiritual gift. I’m even better at compartmentalizing than I am at being passive-aggressive, and that is saying something.

No, I have not dealt with that trauma, Carolyn. I do not feel like I am allowed to be traumatized: it turned out fine. Look! See! A healthy baby! Everything is fine! I’m fine! He’s fine! We’re all fine! Let’s move on! It ended well and so let’s not make a fuss about it. Let’s carry on.

But six years later, I was reliving that moment of feeling so completely out of control, so afraid, so alone, so unprepared, so exposed over and over and over again in my dreams because I refused to feel it in my awake life.

If we don’t deal with our trauma, our trauma begins to deal with us. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel our feelings, they have a habit of peeking around the corners of our lives, breaking in at the most inopportune moments. And like most damage we experience – whether it was inflicted on us by another or by ourselves or just because this is life and, as Wesley said, life is suffering princess, it’s almost always rooted in our fears but it manifests for each of us different – rage, anger, self-harm, self-neglect, frenzy, numbing, whatever.

I didn’t need tips on how to sleep better. I needed to deal with the root of my sleeping problems and that was unresolved trauma about birth.

As soon as she asked that gentle question, her pen down in her lap, her eyes straight on me, I knew that she had sliced right through to the issue. I had not dealt with my fears and trauma from my son’s birth. And so my spirit or subconscious or whatever you want to call it was going to keep tapping me resolutely on the shoulder until I finally did so.

I feel like we give out gold stars to people who get over things quickly. And like any former evangelical over-achiever I wanted my gold star. We want people to heal on a timeline. Yes, yes, that’s terrible but aren’t you over it yet?

It makes me wonder how much of my trauma or sin or grief or devastation I have not dealt with yet. I wonder about my miscarriages. I wonder about my damaged body image from years of trying to earn approval for my uncooperative body. I wonder about this season of my life now – am I dealing well with this new season? With the death of a few dreams? With my new reoriented path? Or am I just shoving it away away away from myself, tucking it in my secret room, refusing to deal with it. My trauma is my own, you have yours, we each have it.

And sometimes we judge or rank our sorrows, I know I do, I feel I don’t get to be sad when other people are sadder for better reasons. I stack my sorrows up against the sufferings of others and think that because I don’t have it as bad as someone else  that I don’t get to grieve, I don’t get to talk about it, I don’t get to deal with it. So because I survived that birth and because Joseph miraculously survived that birth experience, I have to be over it. Now.

And I was not over it, not really. It had just taken me six years to admit it.

Carolyn took the time that day to walk me through my memories: the sad and scary ones. Instead of my anecdotes and one-liners, my jocular “it’s all fine now” version, she let me tell the other side of it. How I was angry. How I was afraid. How I bitterly regretted leaving our apartment, how I blamed everyone else for that decision – we lived only five minutes from the hospital and everyone was desperate to get me to the People Who Knew What To Do. How I put my hands between my legs and felt the perfect dome of my son’s head there and knew that this was happening. How I felt so wildly out of control and afraid. How it felt to have strangers watching me as I squatted and exposed myself and blood ran down my legs. How it felt to be cold and how it smelled like gasoline and cement, how I tore so horribly because there was no midwife there to easily guide the baby safely out of me. How much I missed my husband at the hospital and how we couldn’t find him, not knowing he’d gone into shock at the parkade and was blindly trying to clean up the mess we had made of the floor there. How I resented the ER triage doctor for butchering my stitches so thoroughly.  And how I couldn’t stop thinking “what if what if what if” as I nursed that wee boy in the hospital that night. What if he’d needed oxygen. What if I had dropped him. What if he had been hurt. What if I haemorrhaged. What if what if what if. I could never have forgiven myself if he had been hurt. Never.

I had never told my dark side. I had never admitted to the terror and the pain and the humiliation of that experience. I had prepackaged it for consumption, leaving out the very darkness that gave the light its beauty.

I had turned my son’s birth story into an anecdote and in so doing, I had lessened the power of our experience.

It is a glorious and weird story, yes, but it’s also a dark story to me, filled with regret and fear as well as laughter and resolution.

It makes me wonder how much pressure we feel to sanitize our stories so that they don’t make people uncomfortable, how we anecdote our experience with the lightness or the healing or birth or new life alone in order to make it acceptable. We simplify and sanitize and so we miss the healing we could have if we only spoke the whole truth.

We then talked about what would be different this time around. Now if, heaven forbid, that happened again, what would be different? We crafted a detailed contingency plan – a plan we ended up needing to use as even Maggie’s birth did not go “as planned” either. And so we go, disarming the fear with honesty, with empathy, with letting ourselves admit that its not okay and we need help to become okay, and then by empowering ourselves.

I left her office that afternoon feeling cleansed.

And that night, I went to bed and I slept. I slept and slept. I slept like I hadn’t slept in months, easily and lightly and dreamlessly.

image by Sharalee Prang Photography

When you feel a bit selfish for pursuing your calling
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  • Elizabeth Grasham

    Amen. This is why I keep telling the dark stories around my ex-husband’s incarceration. Trauma lingers, especially when we can’t talk about it.

  • Cheryl

    Thank you, Sarah. Thank you.

  • Rea

    Yes. I’ll be sharing my story about post-partum OCD in front of…well, a WHOLE lot of people 1 month from now. Including friends who may or may not have read my story before. I feel as if I’m getting ready to strip naked on stage. I worry that it’s too much. But I also know that if being honest about my story can be a light for just ONE woman, it will be worth it. Even if that one woman is just me.

  • Linda

    This was beautiful and raw, and I am blessed to have read this. I have been a performance based evangelical, who has sanitized much of my adult life. Thank you this was freeing!

  • Hannah

    Thanks for sharing this, Sarah. I feel like you reached into my heart and said what I have struggled to own to myself and others. I had a very traumatic birth with my firstborn; I’m just entering the third trimester with my second, a son, and SO much is surfacing that I never realized I buried.
    I have actually been chastised for sharing some honest feelings about it-because ‘it turned out fine! Just be grateful you have a healthy baby!’–and of course I AM grateful for that–it doesn’t change the trauma written into the cells of my body. I definitely have played up the hilarity angle–the difference between our plan(a good one) and the nightmare that unfolded, somehow believing that if I make it funny, the fear will dissipate and I’ll forget the searing pain, the loneliness, the terror, and the ‘robbery’ of my dreams.
    Thanks for welcoming us into your story; it is so GOOD to accept the healing in shared experiences!

  • Sarah Beckman

    Thank you for this!
    After my friend died of cancer, I landed in the hospital with an acute anxiety attack 9 months later…because I had tried to just move on, and I thought my grief wasn’t as bad as her kids, her husband, her parents, siblings, her other friends. I finally got a counselor and we tapped into some deep childhood memories that I had “packaged for consumption” in my speaking after we waded through the grief. It was some stuff I hadn’t worked through, and the abandonment reared its ugly head in the weirdest of ways when my friend died. It was so amazing to finally find some freedom from that girl standing in the driveway at age 5 – who was being left. And to recognize truth that I’m not only not her, but that not everyone else in my life will abandon me. I love this post. Really well said. I will refer back often.

    p.s. I just wrote a post about the grief I faced when my friend died. I spent about 10 hours crafting that sucker, because it was so emotional to write, and what I had to remember was “be real. because otherwise it doesn’t matter to anyone” Real resonates. Just as you said.
    If you want to check it out, just know you have someone else out there in cyberspace trying to fight against the “cleaning it all up” mentality!

  • Amy Tapper Crawford

    SO many good things in this post, Sarah.
    As a therapist, it absolutely grieves me how cultural it is that the only measure of success in “getting over” something is speed. Mentally emotionally, physically. I think about the pressure on Moms to get their “pre-baby!” body back nearly instantly. I think about how short leave is in the USA for Mothers, for those who are grieving a loss, for those who are sick. And it grieves me how frequently I fall into that trap. How many times a wash of emotion comes over me, from long-ago pain, and I all but bludgeon it down with a “what are you doing here?”

    As a very narrative-focused person, I really resonate, too, with how easy it is to white-wash emotion by turning into an anecdote or a funny quip. It’s so much easier to handle it when it is nicely packaged, but it can be such a shield against vulnerability. I’m guilty of this, and this post made me think, Hmm, I should sit down with my own narrative and double check on them to make sure I am giving it the full breath it needs.

    Also, holla to my Spirit-connected Dream ladies! I am also one of those prophetic-type dreamers, and it’s one of my particular giftings to unravel symbolism and meaning within them. It’s one of my favorite parts of being a therapist. Dreams are the door to the dark corners of our hearts, I am quite sure of this. They shine so much light into those places.

    One more thing: I had no idea that a place called “Chilliwack” existed, and it’s an amazing name for a town, and I would never ever stop saying it if I lived there.

    • Dreams are the doors to the dark corners of our hearts – wow, that is profound!

    • Completely relate about dreams. So much our mind, our subconscious works through while we sleep. I sometimes don’t remember dreaming and other weeks I can’t shake the horror all day long. But if I pay attention it can help clue me into what I need to work on with my therapist or at least be sensitive to as I wade through my mental clutter.

  • Ellen

    Thank you Sarah for telling the truth, even when the truth is itchy and uncomfortable and hard to tell. I am in a season now that is so beautiful and frankly not exactly as I’d hoped it would be. And so it always is – beautiful and thorny too. I am grateful for your truth-sharing. It cleanses me and I’m sure your other readers too.

  • Taylor rauschkolb

    Oh Sarah, thank you. This is sacred stuff. So beautiful and true and everything in me is saying “YES!”

  • This is beautiful and brave. Thank you.

  • Kay

    I definitely needed this. I have not experienced child birth, but I recently had acute appendicitis and needed emergency surgery. I’ve felt post-op depression hit like a ton of bricks, and I’ve tried to “santize” my hospital experience before breaking down under depression a couple days ago. I’m going to a counselor soon, but this is really the first big step I needed towards feeling better. Thank you so, so much for sharing.

  • Tara_pohlkottepress

    yes to all of this. I just had this discussion with my teen grief group last night. Three highschool girls who spoke of not bringing up their own internal struggles with their life without their loved ones for fear of making other friends uncomfortable. that sometimes it was for them not wanting to go there, but a majority it was because they’d feel bad to make other people feel bad. so we sat and allowed space for those truths to be spoken. to be heard. to be validated. I love this circle of birth and death and how it ties us together in the holy thin places.

    • I love that you’re having these discussions with teenagers – what a gift to start your life with these lessons! Thank you for that, Tara!

  • This is easily one of my favourite things you have ever written. So much truth. I feel the permission to embrace darkness of my go-to sanitized stories that have trauma at the root of them. Sans jokes.

    I’m going to have to revisit these words. Many, many times over.

    Love you.

    • Love you, too Teen. xo

    • Libby

      Fully agree! You took my words Tina. Thank you Sarah! I wish there were more believers who lived this way. I feel like the Lord used your words to reassure me that my story shouldn’t be hidden by laughter but used to encourage others to walk in light and freedom by being honest about their real life experiences. Thank you Sarah!

  • Laaur

    Oh, Sarah. Thank you so much for writing this. I have never had a baby, but I have other traumas in my past and I definitely have that same affliction of self-deprecation and jokiness no matter how dark the story. I feel it also dovetails with how people don’t KNOW how to respond to a sad or dark story, and it makes us all uncomfortable — but people know how to laugh. Sometimes I’ll even begin a story honestly, but end it with a jokey comment, just because I don’t know how else to end it.

    • Yeah, the self-deprecation thing is still strong in me. In some ways, it’s good but sometimes it can be used as an unhealthy coping thing. Figuring it out alongside of you, girl.

  • Ashley

    Thank you for your beautiful honesty and willingness to vulnerably write about this. This message is so, so needed. It’s so hard to truly heal and live fully and in good health when we are afraid that vocalizing the true messiness of our lives and hearts and experiences is somehow “wrong” or “too much.” I feel you–and I am so happy that you were able to have this experience with your midwife [who sounds like a rock-star!] and begin to heal.

  • Amanda

    I’m so sorry for the trauma you experienced, Sarah. Thank you for this encouragement to be real with ourselves and others. I think this is a huge cause of depression these days… we forget to let ourselves feel. This time, postpartum with baby #3, I barely know what I feel anymore… but this real, raw, beautiful story gives me hope that I can process it all too.

  • My turn for tears! Oh Sarah, I love this post so much. Birth trauma is a real thing. (I know so well). We really do disarm fear with honesty and empathy, admitting we need help and becoming empowered. Thanks for reminding me of these great truths. Working on a talk I’m giving on Saturday and was SO stuck. I think this is it. I was trying to sanitize it. I can go back to the drawing board now. Phew. Love <3

  • THIS….is perfect in timing and gives so much truth! Thank you so much for opening up!

  • Amber

    Man, I needed this. Real bad. My daughter was born in like four hours which, sure, is nice and quick — but I also barely made it to the hospital and had to have an emergency C section at the end of it. And when I tell this story it’s always “I had a baby in just a few hours!” And everyone says, “You’re so lucky!” And I say “Yeah!” And everyone has a good laugh. But really, it was terrifying. I wasn’t ready and I was scared. and now that I may be pregnant again, my only thought is what if it happens again, what if it happens again, what if it happens again. What if I have a baby at home or a PARKING LOT?? (Not fun, right?!) I don’t want to do that! I don’t want another C section! I didn’t even know it but I needed to admit that it was scary and I’m scared and I didn’t like it and I don’t want it to happen again. Thank you for the safe space to do that.

    • So glad to come alongside of you even in this small way, Amber. All four of my births were so different from one another and each one takes time to process. It’s a big thing in our lives and it’s weird how we think it won’t mark us – physically or spiritually.

  • Wow, Sarah! Thank you so much for this. I just recently published my first book on this exact thing. My life is full of traumas from long ago. Last year I felt the Lord say it was time to write them down. I ended the book doing my best to explain the importance of actually grieving all our losses, sorrows, traumas, disappointments. It took me years to realize I had skipped that step. I had to let the Lord minister to me through people like your midwife, who were willing to come alongside me and shoulder the burden. But they can only do that if we are honest and willing. I so wish I had this blog as a reference when I was writing my own story. You do such an incredible job here explaining all the same feelings I explored in my writing. I’m so sorry for your scary experience with Joseph. Even though it all turned out wonderfully, there’s no way that wasn’t terribly frightening. Lots of love to you.

    • Writing it down is a powerful thing, Blake – what’s the name of your book??

      • It’s called The Journey of the Black Heart. Actually, you and I have a friend in common! Jonathan Martin. He was my pastor for years and he wrote the forward for my book. Writing it down was so powerful!! I’m so thankful for all the ways you encourage the rest of us to be brave. You and your work are a true light and gift!

  • momzilla76

    This story rings true. Last Sunday my husband and I had our first fight. We have been married for 18 years and we disagree, we get miffed, we irritate each other but we don’t really “fight”. We irritate our friends no end about our lack of real fights. It was an epic in your face screaming hurting match that left me wondering what in the world went wrong.
    Later that afternoon he finally figured out that he had never cried allowed himself to deeply feel when his mother unexpectedly died last year. My normally have-it-all-together guy had managed to bottle up that pain for a whole year. Sure he teared up at the funeral but he had not let it all out.

  • J. Collard

    This is beautiful, Sarah. Thank you for sharing it.

  • jonperrin

    Exceptional article, Sarah! Although Robin is the one that usually reads your articles (and tells me about them), I’m glad *I* read this one. I appreciate your authenticity and vulnerability. We all have hidden scars from trauma – real or perceived – that fight to see the light of day. As I was reading, I realized that there were a few experiences in my life that I haven’t honestly dealt with. Sanitizing them or trying to put a positive spin on them only makes the brokenness and loneliness grow. Thanks for being honest and sharing your life with us. Robin and I appreciate you. – Jon

    • Thanks, Jon – right back at you both. Glad to still be a part of each other’s lives!

  • Sarita Hartz Hendricksen

    Thank you so much for sharing your truth! It’s something I’ve been preaching to myself for a while, but it’s so good to see others carrying the torch of authenticity and dealing with our past trauma. Well done, girl. I think you definitely earned your gold star. 🙂

  • Needed to read this today. Thank you, Sarah, for recognizing AND sharing the truth about trauma and the dark places.

  • julieneils

    Yes and amen. Thank you. It took me seven years to publicly write about the death of my son for the reasons you mention, “I had turned my son’s birth story into an anecdote and in so doing, I had lessened the power of our experience.” I did not want my son’s life relegated to a spiritual object lesson, a devotional topic and especially– a passing fact of my life. He is our one and only– as we all are to the God who made us, loves us and cares about our pain.

    • That is such a responsible and meaningful way to steward that story, thank you. And I’m so sorry for your loss.

      • julieneils

        Thank you so very much. Tomorrow is the anniversary of his death. I am and will always be unapologetically in love with him and anticipate the not yet. Blessings on you.

  • Nel Shallow

    So brave lovely Sarah ~ bless you for your honesty, vulnerability & healing grace x

  • Tears. Thank you for sharing.

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  • Melanie

    Yes. And artists who allow themselves express the truth and beauty of the hurt can be such a blessing to others. I’m hurting right now not for anything happening to me but for close family who are enduring trauma. I’m supposed to be the strong one but I need to be able to say ‘I can’t bear the pain of bearing witness today’. This was a helpful post for me. Thank you.

  • Anne

    Sarah, could it also be that it is difficult for us to deal with trauma because the church has done such a poor job modeling how to do so–especially for women?

    I suggest this from experience–I also had a traumatizing birth experience and found myself struggling afterwards with how to create a narrative for it. I needed to be able to voice my disappointment and pain (literal and figurative), but felt like those were not considered “appropriate” emotions for a Christian woman to express. In my community (which I love, but feel able to criticize), there is so much emphasis on the blessing of children that to articulate the horrible-ness of my labor and delivery experience seemed close to blasphemy and indeed, as if I were ungrateful for God’s provision of a child.

    At the same time, I wanted to rejoice in God’s goodness. My son was healthy, I was alive (though like you, quite severely injured), and my husband was a wonderful labor coach through it all. I didn’t want to ignore those very real proofs of God’s grace in the midst of a difficult situation.

    I had a hard time reconciling these narratives, until my therapist suggested that it wasn’t an either/or situation, but an “and” situation. My labor was horrid in some ways AND it was good in some ways. I was deeply traumatized AND God was good through it all. I was so helped by her observation.

    I do still wonder about the gendered nature of storytelling in the church, however, and how many women have pushed aside their real struggles in the desire to give a good testimony or project the “right” or “most godly” attitude. I imagine you might have some thoughts on this as well.

    P.S. Everything that you’ve been writing lately has been an incredible balm to my soul. Thank you for the ministry of your words.

    • Pardon me for joining in uninvited, but Anne I believe you are correct. Although mine was not a traumatic birth story I too walked through a traumatic time and I agree, the church had (in my case) slowed the healing process by their inability to model how to maneuver through that period of my life. I nod my head at your words: the need to project “the right” or “most godly attitude”. In my circles this was termed “being in faith.”

  • John D Blase

    We count spiritual coup and move on, don’t we? But we really don’t, do we? Thanks for writing.

  • Thank you so much for sharing. I am an ENFJ and I so hear you! What a remarkably real and profound sharing x

  • Yes, yes, yes, Sarah. You always see right through me. A fellow INFJ, I get the tendencies. My first birth was super traumatic (ended in emergency c-section) and I had to work with a doula and do some art therapy to be okay with my second birth (which came fast and furious and all natural). There is so much danger in being vulnerable and sharing the dark and not making anecdotes of the hard. It requires such a level of trust.

  • Jami Lason

    Sarah, I wish I could find you and hug you! Thank you thank you thank you for your honesty and bravery in sharing this. I begun chronicling my own struggles with my health and the trauma that built up alongside it on my blog… It is so hard and scary to go to the closet of tucked away fears and pull them out. I too felt pressure to keep the hard, negative feelings tucked away and focus on the positives as a Christian. Praise God for guiding us in processing ALL emotions! Long distance hugs from a fellow sister in Christ in Warrenville, IL.

  • Joy

    Oh Sarah. This is far and away my favorite piece of yours now. By the third paragraph I started thumping the table and by midway through I was hollering YES! YES! YES! exactly, and then promptly started to cry. A friend of mine who lost a child to Trisomy 18 and I (lost a child, almost died myself) have been talking about the fact that no one wants to discuss trauma like we’ve experienced. But it’s not just about loss and miscarriage and all as you’ve so wisely pointed out- it’s so much bigger than that. Such a very, very good and timely word today, dear heart. Thank you.

  • Chelle

    We all need “bullshit detectors.” Thank you for this! Too often I find myself listing my fears and anxieties by their wow factor and then feeling guilty if someone who has it worse seems ok. It’s ok to bring our traumas out into the light and talk about the gritty reality of them…all of them.

  • Leah Perrault

    Thank you for sharing the story of recovering from a trauma you hadn’t realized you’d buried. I think lots of us who are story-tellers are able to compartmentalize and author our experiences quickly, and we forget to let them fully happen in us. I find it especially easy to forget how stories change in time, and how the way I tell one story of my past changes as something new happens in my future. Praise God that our experiences change not only our present and our future, but also our understanding of and ability to grapple with the past. I needed this today, Sarah. Thanks.

  • This was beautiful, Sarah. Thank you

  • Oh, I wish I had adequate words to express how this made me feel. Thank you…I will be revisiting this post. I’m in a “season” (and I’m starting to loathe that word, quite honestly) where something deep within feels unsettled, but I can’t pinpoint. And reading this resonated in a way I will need to mull over for awhile. So thankful for your voice and the wisdom God imparts to you.

  • Tears.
    Because this:
    “I feel like we give out gold stars to people who get over things quickly. And like any former evangelical over-achiever I wanted my gold star. We want people to heal on a timeline. Yes, yes, that’s terrible but aren’t you over it yet?”

    This, I get.

    And – also – I wish there were more people saying what a traumatic experience birth can be. So many women find it hard to talk about because – baby at the end! Can’t complain! – but there are scars (physical and emotional) that take so long to heal.

    Beautiful and terrifying writing, friend – I was right there with you, and I was scared with you. You tell such stories of power.

  • Julie-Anne

    Oh Sarah! I read your birth story and you might have been presenting its best face, but believe me the subtext of the smells and the cold and the strangers was there and ringing in my head as I read, and I don’t even have a personal context for it. So even if you weren’t yet ready to deal with the trauma, it was heard and empathised-with. I am glad, glad, glad that you have a wonderful midwife who supported you in saying the difficult things out loud and putting that trauma to rest <3

  • Sarah Penner

    The first story I read on your blog was that story. I was in awe. Thank you for sharing it wholly though. I’ve had to sanitize my life in order to stay out of isolation. Sometimes the ugly truth is there and we do keep going, but we don’t have to separate the two in order to keep walking. I wish people would just allow us to be both the joyful and sorrowful in one being rather than separating ourselves for everyone’s comfort.

  • Alison Williams

    As an INFJ, dreamer and writer this hit me square between the eyes… THANK YOU SARAH!

  • I love this post. Thank you for digging deep and re-visiting pain to write it.

  • Maria

    Thank you thank you thank you. I can relate to this in so many ways. I too had a traumatic birth experience, my daughter just turned 7. Passed around from doctor to doctor because none were available for the due date, finding out too late she was positioned the wrong way, nurses yelling at me to “push your baby out NOW!” She came out blue and was whisked away, then I had to endure the horrors of getting stitched up from here to THERE without enough freezing and the doctor asking for a vaginal template to put me back together. Nine days later I haemorrhaged, landed in the ER, then had to have a D&C for the placenta that remained inside, despite the fact that the nurses had checked the afterbirth and declared it was all there.

    Birth is such a perfect mix of the absolute messiness and pain of life with the miracle and wonderment of life and God’s creation. I just can relate so much to what you say about feeling like we have to stuff down the bad and focus on the good. She’s here! and she’s healthy! and we are so blessed in this country with doctors and medical equipment! and mother is doing great! When in reality we are not.

    I’m so sorry you went through that with your son, but so glad for you that your midwife helped you work through it a little.

    Thank you so much for this post and validating so many of our feelings about this.

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  • Karol Cartwright

    Thank you for sharing your story – sitting here with tears for you rolling down. I had an emergency caesrian 1st time & high forceps the 2nd time. I have always been fine about the births – it had to be for the health of the baby. It’s only been since our youngest became pregnant that I’ve realised I’ve never seen a baby being born, and would really like to. I’m rather surprised to be feeling this way, since I didn’t feel this way with the birth of our 1st 2 grandchilden. The mind is a strange thing!

  • This was exquisite, Sarah. Thank you so, so much for sharing your story — the full story.

  • Donna Meredith Dixon

    Excellent…such an important truth.

  • Bethany Vitaro

    Wow, I don’t know how I came across this, but it was very much what I needed to read. I actually had the traumatic birth of my third child just a week ago. I kept feeling guilty for emotions surrounding it because everyone was healthy and from the outside, my experience doesn’t necessarily seem traumatic, but it was for me. Tomorrow I’m meeting with a counselor, and part of me feels silly, but I also know that I can’t just ignore this and make into a funny story to tell.

  • Melissa Stanley

    Thank you for writing this! Just today, I was helping high school kids write personal statements for college applications. Many of the kids chose to write about how a painful life experience like the death of a loved one had shaped them into the people they are today — but every single essay seemed to rush through the actual tragedy in the kids’ eagerness to show how much better, stronger, more motivated they are now. I am trying to figure out how to give them the courage to explore the pain more deeply and to write through it; maybe I’ll have them read this post. 🙂

  • Thank you for this Sarah. Honesty is the air grace breathes.

  • Dana Mo Joy Portwood

    This is so profoundly beautiful. I’ve spent the better part of this year dealing with a 6 year old festering event from my past. And like you, I sanitized.
    Am I over it yet? No, but I’m so much healthier now that I’m not sanitizin to make it a more palatable story.
    Thank you for this.

  • I may or may not have just had an ugly cry here at 8:54pm on my couch. Sweet one I am so grateful for the truth of your words. Please keep telling it…..” We simplify and sanitize and so we miss the healing we could have if we only spoke the whole truth.”

  • Ashlee

    Just beautiful, “We simplify and sanitize and so we miss the healing we could have if we only spoke the whole truth.”

  • pamela

    Your words hold so much power and beauty. I too, had an unexpected, terrifying birth in our tiny bathroom at home, in a province where midwives and homebirths are not an option. I could feel everything you said, though the situation was different.

    I wonder… I wonder how I have let the trama sink so deep and tried to push away the story. I have not written it. I still feel the apogogies I kept saying while pushing my baby girl out as I leaned back on the toilet.

    Thank you for sharing and opening the dialogue.

  • First time visitor to your blog, Sarah. And I’m blown away that you wrote THIS today. I was just challenged last night with telling my story and it’s terrifying. Thankful for your words and encouragement

  • bellsg

    In developing a new relationship with a new counselor the word trauma has cropped up. My dreams, my distress, my fears – she says they are signs of trauma undealt with. I didn’t believe her. Didn’t I deal with this stuff already years ago? Then why do I keep telling the stories, presenting them as (if not amusing anecdotes) then at least as information worth knowing about me in conversation? do I have to keep telling them because I haven’t dealt with what made the stories even exist? My dreams torture me. You’ve given me something to really think about here. Maybe telling a story isn’t dealing with it. Maybe finding a plan to go forward is the answer. Thank you.

  • For all of these reasons and many of my own, I started up with a new therapist recently. When she suggested EMDR, I thought, What me? Trauma? And then we went there and WHOADANG.

    Thank you for these words and the permission to be in process, even in the spotlight (or especially so.)

    Love you.

  • Pamela Jessen

    This is the first article of yours that I’ve read. It takes me back 33 years when my son was born 6 weeks early. I’ve made the story a very funny one about how I was babysitting when I went into labour. How I couldn’t track down the parents and had to take the 2 year old with me. How a friend dropped us off at the ER and drove away. How my husband was already a patient there and unable to really help me.

    I don’t talk about the terror of having that 2year old with me and leaving a note where the parents might not find it. Of walking into the ER saying ” I need some help” and having nurses rush away with the child, leaving me behind in pain and fear. Of giving birth early at the age of 19 and having never held an infant in my life. Of being with a man with a criminal past and having no place to live when he and our 6lb baby are released three days later.

    Thank you for giving voice to the things we never say…the stories we hide away…the pain we never show. I think it’s time to share my true story.

  • Sarah,

    What got me the most was being given room to grieve. I’m thankful Carolyn gave you that room that day. After losing Willy I think of this often. I can remember times I haven’t been gracious to someone who has walked grief and other times the opposite. I keep thinking about how do I make room for others? How do I allow this space for them and myself to share the parts of me still walking in the grief? How do I keep some of it to myself until it’s time to share it?

    I want to be that person who always makes room. I think of Martha in her grief asking Jesus where he was and if he were there her brother wouldn’t have died. Jesus doesn’t reprimand her. He grieves and allows her to do the same. He made room. You made room by sharing your story. Thank you.

  • Oh yes! Me too! I have struggled with birth trauma too. I felt so, so alone and confused until it surfaced (in a puddle of tears at the midwife) when it came time for my second to be born. I thank God for providing a wise, godly counselor to tend my aching soul and EMDR trauma therapy. He is good, even in deep places of pain. Thank you so much for telling us the other side of this story.

  • Jemelene

    Spot on Sarah.
    When Allison was kidnapped and returned within an hour, only one person from my faith community actually came by to check on me when we got home because afterall, she was okay. I wasn’t alone to be anxious because she was ok and Philippians says not to be anxious, right?
    When I finally got the courage to tell the story at a women’s retreat a week before the trial I was told to stop dwelling pm the past.
    This beautiful peace has already begun to set captive free my friend. Thank you for the permission to walk out and talk about the stories that need to be told for the storyteller as well as the listener.
    Love you so very much.

  • Saskia Wishart

    I don’t even have words to say how much I appreciated reading this Sarah.

  • WHOA. All of this. And meanwhile, the subplot in my head, while reading your story of trauma and dreams and not comparing pain and how you are weaving it all together, I keep thinking: She’s brilliant. BRILLIANT.

  • Brett FISH Anderson

    Wow, excellent post. Thank you for sharing and for your honesty. You will never know how many people read this and don’t comment in any way but are deeply affected, encouraged, changed because you had the courage…

    Don’t stop
    love brett fish

  • Caiobhe

    thank you. Just thank you. I keep telling myself I should be ok. Ok from sick children. Ok from church abuse. but I’m not. and that’s ok. Glad you were heard and seen x

  • 2362 words, Sarah. Thank you for expanding the boundaries of what can one do with blogs.

    “I’ve often had a weird dream connection to my spirit and even, I would argue, to the Holy Spirit. I’ve often experienced almost a sense of the prophetic in dreams – It seems to be a place where I meet God or work through life for some weird reason. So I know enough by now to pay attention to my dreams.”

    That’s really interesting. Stories often come to me in dreams. I should begin writing mine down.

  • Jill Fortriede

    I was just debating on sharing the raw truth of my son’s death 6 years ago (today) on an online mom’s group I’m part of. I hesitated be a use of something a friend of mine once said to me. She had walked in and saw her friend and neighbor’s dead body and it traumatized her. She told me that she hoped I hadn’t seen Alex (my son ) die, because seeing a dead body like that is horrible. Meanwhile, one of my most treasured memories of the night my baby boy died is holding him, singing to him, and showing him love and comfort as he breathed his last. It is a raw memory…and painful….at the same time that it is treasured. But it was an experience I am comforted by, in a strange way.

    I have also hidden the raw story behind a controlled public story. A story about God’s grace and how my son brought my husband and I to Christ. And how I see God’s hand in my story before we even became believers, though subtle manipulations that were not visible at the time. Both stories are true. Both stories have meaning and even their place. But given that today marks six years since we said goodbye, I feel like it is time to share my raw story with some people. People who may need to hear it, for whatever reason. People who might benefit from it.

    Thank you for giving me “permission” to share my raw story with others.

  • Paula

    I came here thanks to a link posted on my favorite baking & real talk blog, and I am so glad I clicked through. My therapist often stops me when I’m talking about a difficult time and points out that I’m smiling over my recollection. Isn’t it so difficult to unlearn — especially in the face of social media, which enables sanitizing even further? Even as a Christian-turned-agnostic, every word of this spoke straight to my heart. You’re magnificent!

  • Your best ever, Sarah …

  • Ashley Stills

    Wow! Thanks for sharing.

    It is so true that we often times rank or judge our own sorrows against others in attempts to make ourselves stronger. I’m guilty of it myself. Through my own ministry I see the hurts, sorrows, needs of the world. But in reality no matter where you live, no matter what material things you have, what you have access to…we all hurt. We may have different struggles, different hurts, different stresses, different problem. But we all hurt. And Jesus is the only answer to every single one of them.

    I LOVED that you shared how your midwife saw more into what you were telling her. She sounds like a gem. Midwives truly are amazing. Good ones understand the physical needs during pregnancy but also the emotional and spiritual.

  • My question is what if you story involves someone else. I hear unvarnished, wrenching stories from bloggers and motivational speakers these days that were not considered appropriate ten years ago. I have these stories too, but I’m always afraid of exposing or offending the other people involved in the story. What’s you opinion?

  • marek wakulczyk

    Thank you for sharing this powerful text. I have used it on Linkedin with a hyperlink to you. Too often in the business world I see suffering from masks being worn – from all genders. Imagine a world where there is a bit more compassion, a bit more time to heal and deal with the pain before we resume the marathon of life ?
    Thanks again

    Marek Wakulczyk

    Here is the text that accompanied:

    “You are human – even if you lead $100 million in programs”. I too-frequently meet brilliant leaders who fail to treat themselves with compassion – some claiming they are to busy. Ironically, it will cut short their time of influence and impact. You want to change the world or grow your business? Heal/help yourself for the marathon that it is.

    Stop. Remove pebble. Resume race.

    Sarah Bessey yesterday delivered a powerful text, about cultural pressures to “get over it” when we in fact it is impossible to rush healing.”

  • christine kolb

    I have those type of dreams too. I never considered the deeper emotional issues buried at the core. I also felt ashamed of not pulling myself back together after the birth of my daughter. I was very depressed, angry, and sad after she was born. I hated the obligation/responsibility she represented. Did I ever once say anything in the doctor’s office visits, no because I had a beautiful healthy little girl that was an angel to look after so I shouldn’t complain even though I wanted to die. I knew I would never hurt her or myself so I just trudged through the pit , knowing it would eventually be over. Now I have put off having another child because I do not want to go through that again. Even now I have a hard time dealing with the constant emotional demands she requires, but how can I voice / complain because I am so blessed to be able to stay home with her? If I complain, It comes across as ungrateful, I am not, I am just sometimes so very very burdened. That part is my own making. But it is so hard to fess up and acknowledge the hard and hurting parts. The temptation to delete this is so stupidly strong.

  • Sarah, so many things that I want to say about this, but… I’m finding I’m a bit too emotional about all of this at the moment. As an INFJ, an anecdote-teller, a compartmentalizer, a look-now-its-fine-so-it-must-be-alright-er, I can relate to every word you’ve written.

    I needed this encouragement today, this prod to allow things to be not-ok for once. Thank you.

  • Lizzie Goldsmith

    Oh Sarah, thank you for sharing this. I too tend to turn my painful, fearful moments into rather jokey “make light of it” bits for public consumption.

  • Elise

    Thank you for writing this, for giving a voice to birth trauma and traumatic life experiences in general.

    I understand birth trauma all too well and can relate to your sleepless nights. My first baby was born via an emergency c-section at 2:00am, after an intense and difficult fast-moving drug-free labour, involving 2 hours of pushing and dealing with harsh attending nurse.

    When I became pregnant with my second child and my due date approached, I suffered from endless recurring nightmares about my first c-section. Ultimately I wound up with another (unplanned) c-section and more trauma that wasn’t dealt with because I was thrown into being a full time mommy of two.

    Then came (unexpected) baby number three. After an extremely difficult pregnancy, followed by an agonizing 26 hours of labour with a magnesium drip (read: flushing a burning salt solution through your veins) and an(other) emergency c-section, my baby was brought into this world at 25 weeks gestation. (3.5 months early and still not out of the second trimester of pregnancy.) We spent 4 months in the NICU, almost losing our baby several times. I’m still grieving the loss of my pregnancy and the suffering my child had to endure. (Yet, some days I’m told that losing my pregnancy wasn’t a “true” loss because my baby survived…)

    While my youngest’s story is a miraculous story of God’s grace, and almost unbelievable at times, I would agree that people want the “sanitized” version. No one wants to hear about my physical suffering, my tearful prayers, my anxiety attacks or the emotional pain that my family and I endured.

    Thank you for giving me the inspiration and the courage to share the RAW version of my youngest’s life when the time comes.

    Be blessed!

  • This so spoke to my heart. I too am a epic professional compartmentalizer (although ENFJ). This resonated in me to address the things I brush off as “not traumatic”. I was always taught the “suck it up and move on” mentality because you still have to perform and work the next day. Yes, recovering performance addic also.

    I appreciate the wake up call.

  • Natalie Wilson

    Thank you for this post. I had my second baby in the car en route to the hospital. He was okay. I was okay. We moved on. It’s become a joke. Reading your words has awakened the other part of that story in me, that I also have been skirting around for 6.5 years now. What if? I shudder to think about it. I find it impossible to express. Thank you for putting it into words.

  • kristinhamm

    Wonderful, touching post. Thank you for sharing <3

  • pastordt

    YES, yes, yes, yes, yes. We do it. All the time – and it is so not helpful, to us or to anyone else. Thank you for writing this out. And the dream bit? Oh, yeah. DREAMS are HUGE and valuable and a primary means of God speaking to us, enabling us to process things our conscious mind can’t or won’t face into. Beautifully done, Sarah. So, so sorry for the trauma, but so grateful for the healing. (Dream work was the only thing my dearly loved former spiritual director did with me. Every month. It was powerful and life-changing.)

  • Christina

    Welling up with tears at my desk because in one week my son turns two
    and around his first birthday last year, what should be a happy
    occasion, I would dwell on his birth find myself so angry
    and upset with my husband for not being there when I needed him most.
    My son was born in the front seat of the car outside the hospital and so
    much could have gone so wrong. Thank God nothing more did, he is healthy and perfect and mild. And while I
    should have done more, educated more, said more, I put a lot of the
    blame for the traumatic birth on my husband. I was angry at him for not being there all day while I
    labored, for not noticing how far along I was, for leaving the house for
    20 minutes while I was in very active labor and having to attend to our
    4 year old by myself when all I wanted to do was rest, for not
    listening in the car when I said to take the freeway instead of the
    streets, for missing the turns! I never realized all the anger I was harboring until the one
    year anniversary rolled around. I wonder how I will feel at his 2nd
    birthday next week.

  • I just love how God reached you in your go deeper into the truth and the raw emotions buried underneath the surface of your ‘strength’–to show you how to experience life fully through vulnerability and relying on Him!

    What a gift He gave you with your profound dreams–and the wisdom of your midwife!

  • Whitney

    Sarah, I am so, so sorry you had to go through that.
    But I am so, so thankful to you for writing this… I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for years and am just now ready to finally start meeting with a counselor about it. I also feel like I “don’t get to be sad when other people are sadder for better reasons.” I very much need to allow myself to grieve and not compare to others. Thank you.

  • Erin Wert

    Thank you for this post! I am so guilty of downplaying my own traumas to make it easier for others and myself to digest. This year I finally saught out therapy to help me to better process the dark side of everything I wanted to forget, and it’s been so important. A sermon series on lament being a form of worship and the movie Inside Out were also really helpful in cementing this idea to me.

  • Connie

    Thank you. I have had a lot of trauma for a long time. Seems to keep happening in different ways. ..many different ways. I am so angry, and afraid, I am having a hard time. Avery hard time. I know I have Jesus, and yet I hurt, deeply. Thank you.

  • You’re such a blessing as a writer and inspiration — never stop doing what you do!

  • Karen McGivney

    Wow awesome story and your point applies to so much! It applies to any trauma or loss regardless of the outcome. I think you may be kin I am an ex know it all too!

  • Oh so good Sarah! Wow-I relate on a different level as I continue to deal with ongoing recovery issues since my accident in January and yes it could have been much worse and yes I am alive. But it is still hard sometimes and I weep sometimes. These words heal- when you say, ‘I feel like we give out gold stars to people who get over things quickly. And like any former evangelical over-achiever I wanted my gold star. We want people to heal on a timeline. Yes, yes, that’s terrible but aren’t you over it yet?” – wow-thank you for truth, Sarah.

  • Emilie Bishop

    In the interest of honesty, I will say I had to take a break from your blog for a bit because of all the blissfully happy references to nursing your sweet baby. That is my trauma–my son’s birth was nothing out of the ordinary (so I’m told, as it’s my first), but nursing was horrible. Our hospital and birthing classes made sure we knew nursing was THE BEST THING we would ever do for our babies, but I left the hospital 25 hours postpartum with one bruised nipple, one scratched nipple, and a baby who had never successfully latched without the help of a nurse. Our check-in on his third day of life showed he’d lost 11% of his already-small body weight and that he was dehydrated and starving because I was only producing about half the milk he needed. And he still didn’t latch. Nor could he swallow what was coming from a bottle without gagging. So we had another night in the hospital and started a nurse-bottle-pump regimen that left me exhausted and feeling like the biggest mommy-fail around. I had to wean him at 2.5 months because my sanity couldn’t take any more. I say I’m fine with formula, and I am, but that second hospital stay, and the dismissiveness of nurses from our first stay, just about did me in. It broke my heart and I felt like such. a. failure for letting it happen. As if I could completely control my lack of milk or my child’s poor latch. Thank you for being so honest here. It was a great reminder that just because one thing goes well for someone doesn’t mean everything does.

  • Gave me goosebumps. You are such a WRITER, Sarah.

  • Lauren

    As fate would have it, I came across this article on Huffington Post today. The words and images capture the deep pain that you’ve described:

    Thank you, as always, for sharing yourself with us, Sarah. I always love reading your words, but you have outdone yourself with this post. I wish you many days of writing and many nights of peaceful sleep 🙂

  • Tracey Casciano

    This is such an important topic. I feel that it’s important for people in the church to be able to share their fears and know that no one will judge them. It is what makes us a community of caring Christians. Thank you for sharing!

  • Bobbie

    I had a terrible birth experience with a disabled child at the end and didn’t deal with it. When I became pregnant again every time I was my doctor I went home and had a panic attack. I never tell my story unless directed by the holy spirit – I tell my daughters story but not mine. I needed this today – she is almost 30 and all of here peers some worse than her have already gone to be with the Lord, so it is a constant on my mind. Thanks for sharing I have to admit I laughed but saw the terror too.

  • Michelle Gunnin

    This one touches us all. Thank you for opening your heart to the masses. There is healing here.

  • omg – thank you for sharing this powerful story.

  • Kristyn

    Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. As a society we are so quick to avoid the discomfort that comes from sharing and hearing the difficult stories. And yet, it is, as you say, the depth and the truth of the darkness that lets us see the breadth and joy of the light. There is space to hold both: to carry grief and trauma and to acknowledge loss in one hand, while carrying hope and forgiveness and courage in the other. Both. Both is good. Brutal and beautiful. Or “brutiful” as Glennon would say.

    Thank you, Sarah, for your bravery in sharing this story with tenderness and strength.

    “Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.”
    ~ Leonard Cohen

  • NatalieDN

    Such an incredible piece of writing about birth and motherhood and facing our darkest fears. Thank you for writing this. xxx

  • This time last year I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t fix my son’s Tourette Syndrome, I couldn’t face my marriage issues and I had just lost a full time writing job that was going to sustain my house and family while my hubby started his own biz. Today, one year later, I still don’t have all the answers, but I am finding that speaking my truth, as messy as it is, IS the answer. It doesn’t mean getting angry and resentful. I means facing life on life’s terms. Truth gives me permission to be me, all bits of me – the scared, the hopeful, the worried and the brave. I suppose I thought knowing God would fix it my issues, but what I realized is that when I said yes to Jesus, I’d have the strength to face them, despite life not being perfect. Your piece was so beautiful and encouraging to me and so many women. Keep on keeping on! I’ll do the same.

  • Jill

    This is so honest and raw and real. I’m a health care provider, a labor & delivery nurse and we do push diminish our pt’s emotional response to the sometimes trauma of birth. I feel pushed to “get that baby breastfeeding,” get the pt recovered and done so I can go on to the next patient. I dreamed about my computer charting last night, programs not working; not able to do my job and take care of mothers and babies because of software glitches and programs freezing. Dreams are a window into our deepest fears.

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  • Karenie

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time! Humble thanks for sharing your trauma; I know it takes a lot of courage to expose yourself to it all over again…been there! And having a baby is usually such a happy time that it must have made it that much harder to tell it like it really was. Glad you found your healing!

  • Marilyn Gardner

    So powerful. I often have dreams the same way. Dreaming I was naked in a crowd for 6 months when we moved to Cairo, only to weep over it with my husband one day and figure out we had had 4 moves in 3 years, and 3 babies in 4 years, and I was always facing something new, it was all too much. My sister-in-law says that dreams are housekeepers of the soul….I love that. Thank you for not sanitizing.

  • Carla Patton

    Sarah, thank you so much for being willing to share this. My husband and I lost our first child at 27 weeks in August this year, and dealing with the pain of that experience is the most difficult thing I’ve been called to walk through. One of the hardest part of sharing a story that is still unfolding with others is a hesitancy within myself to share what a hard time we’re having with other people, or to be frank with myself about how it’s affected me. I don’t want to make them feel bad, and I don’t want to admit that I’m struggling with it.
    I feel like I pressure myself to “get over” things that should never be gotten over. Because God uses the experiences He allows us to go through as tools to mold us in His image, I don’t want to “get over it” because it wouldn’t have changed me. I don’t want to forget my daughter, but most of all, I want to be able to be molded by the experiences He allows me to go through. I want to carry it with me, not by wearing it as a badge of pity or pride, but I want to learn how to wear the scars of my experiences with His grace. I want to be able to acknowledge that it happened, and to acknowledge that God is indeed still good, not in spite of the fact that it happened, but because He was with me the entire time.

  • Angelique Daley Daniel

    Wow. Wow wow wow. Thank you so much for this! I’m so guilty of it, in the areas of several traumas in my life, some very much alive at this very moment. Everyone says, think of how strong you’ll be when it’s over! God will use this to help you minister to others who don’t have it quite as bad! Talking about it will make you feel better! So I turn it into a story, a script that I can recite as if it happened to someone else, which makes it easier to shelve. So I don’t have to really accept that I’m not as strong as I should be, as someone who is importuned to deal with this is supposed to be. And someday, when everything else more important is done and no one can see, and I’m in an audience and consequence free environment, I can take it down and answer the why’s and do all my crying and lashing out, and then neatly dispose of what’s left and go back to pretending to be the badass I want to believe I am. This was such an illuminating piece and I cherish your unique and much needed insight.

  • Kristen

    Thank you for sharing the [whole] beautiful story, of how you were finally able to heal.

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  • Mburns14

    So wonderful and honest. Thank you.

  • mamavalveeta03

    Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share your story, Sarah. I think it crosses boundaries to all sorts of trauma. You’ve helped a lot of people today. Blessings to you!

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  • Wow! This is so good! While I know it applies to many other events in my life, the part about not being traumatized with your son’s birth story because everyone was okay really hit hard.

    PS. I am the same way with dreams. Sometimes when I share my dreams with my man, he is in awe about how in depth and detailed they are.

  • Anita Betancourt

    Sarah. This is powerful. I was just talking to my pastor about how quick I am to de-sensitize traumatic events. I’m so good at it. For so long, I was proud to desensitize the loss of my son. It was 12 years ago, I was young, and he was born too early. For 10 years I struggled on the inside, and on the outside, I sugar coated my experiences. This left me numb. I suffered with PTSD, depression, and grief. Through 6 months of intensive counseling, I confronted this grief, these fears, this great loss. And I found myself at the foot of the cross. I sat in darkness for so long. The light came in only when I looked grief right in the face and let it bathe my soul. It was the first time I felt drenched in Jesus’s love. I love that Jesus doesn’t make tough situations better. I love that Jesus sits and weeps with us. I love that Jesus knows trauma and how to over come it. Thank you for writing this. It puts many of my emotions into actual words.

  • Suzanne Burden

    Agreed! One of my favorites. God is so often gracious, I think, in bringing the unsanitized versions to our attention when we may be ready to, or have the resources close to us, to deal with them. We are all in denial together. Your writing encourages me to peel back the layers, feel all of the feelings, and live in the abundance I’m designed for. Thank you!

  • Thank you for acknowledging that trauma must be dealt with and not shoved in a box on a shelf once things are “fine” (whatever that is). Thanks for using your influence to help more women look to the root of the symptoms instead of kicking around the symptoms.

    It’s been 3 years since the end of my trauma and I alternate between feeling overwhelmed I’ll never finish working through all the mess and feeling guilty/angry/ashamed I’m not “fine” yet.

    Hoping many will pause before they shrug aside something in themselves or a loved one. Whether it’s a small child (who CAN get PTSD, depression, and many other wounds needing legitimate treatment, not just a band-aid) or a woman who has been playing the fine card for a decade, emotions buried alive never die.

    Thanks so much for being willing to stand against the pressure to just be fine.

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  • rach

    This is so so good. Thank you!

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  • JoMae Spoelhof

    I loved the honesty of this piece, Sarah. It says so much to so many. I spent a good bit of time this afternoon reading all the heartfelt, wonderful responses as well. What a glimpse into the realities of the dangers in childbirth – even in our modern age. And how much more vulnerable mothers were back in ages past. It makes me think about all the blood spilled and all the lives given to bring forth new birth.

    It seems amazing that when we ponder Christ’s sacrifice of life and blood, we never use this universal touchstone to express or at least echo the depth of it. To help us comprehend the gift through which we are born again. So pertinent to the story yet so unspeakable in polite Christian circles. The shedding of blood and the horrors and torture of war or other sacrificial accounts might be used to help examine the meaning of the cross, yet the sacrifice of the blood mothers shed remains unspoken. It is a shame that an experience so common in the world of women is not allowed to carry over to help gain insight into Christ’s gift of life delivered through his shed blood and pain.

  • Megan Gahan

    I have to admit, I often felt a bit disconnected with you on the whole birthy-labour thing. It seemed to be so natural, so fluid, so spiritual for you. I always thought that you were someone who was meant to have babies. And, I always felt I was not. That I did not, could not, measure up. I felt quite traumatized by birth. Both times, though I know I have everything to be thankful for in terms of the outcome. And so I cried reading your words. Reading these true, raw words. Because they are not unlike some of my words. And so I feel rather connected with you through the glow of my screen tonight. And I feel a little more healed. And a bit guilty at the comparison game I play when I don’t know the whole story. So thank you this. Because we who feel less-than in the birthing arena really, really need to hear it. Also, I am so sorry for what you experienced. The pain. The trauma. I’m sorry I didn’t ask more questions. Honoring you, and holding space for that pain for you tonight. Love you Mama.

  • Oh, yes. I think my “thing” for this right now is “recovering” from the fact that we moved all the way across the country, far from family. I feel much like you about my circumstances – I should be happy, right? We live in a nice place, my husband has a great job, our kids are healthy, we have found good friends and people we really love. It’s been 3 years. I wonder if friends around here ever get tired of me talking about the MidWest and about what I miss, and complaining about Southern California’s lack of fall,etc. I especially don’t want them to feel that I am ungrateful for our friendship! But if I’m honest? I grieve living this far away. I never really pictured living this far away from family (some of the hardest posts of yours for me to read are those where you mention getting together with your mom and sister! Oh what I would give to be within driving distance of mine!). I am quite sure that there won’t be a time where I *don’t* miss the MidWest. It’s home. It always will be.

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  • In less than an hour I leave for a healing retreat as I continue to recover from a trauma of my own. My partner, my therapist, and I have spent the past month exploring what these two days alone can offer me and how best to honor my own unique healing journey. I ‘should’ be finishing loading the car but I felt this pull to the computer before I leave and found I’d opened this piece a few days ago.
    It feels like an affirming gift – the kind of gift I believe can only be offered one woman’s heart to another. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing this beautiful essay.

  • Dang girl. You write truth that translates so easily into other’s life experiences. My life experiences. I’m bookmarking this because I want your words in my toolbox the next time a friend is coming through her own trauma. How your words will help heal.

  • JosephandCatherine O’Brien

    I had a scary birth with my first baby. We were so traumatized bc at 4 days overdue, I went in with my husban bc I had a headache. The headache caused them to monitor my baby’s heart rate with very mild contractions I was having. Her heart rate dropped to 100 after a mild contraction. My heart races as I write this. We were scared. A midwife was on call and I resent that because I think now an OB would have been better prepared to guide our situation. The midwife wanted to induce that night but told us our baby was not in grave or immediate danger. WTF. That was wrong. She said we could leave, get dinner, and come back in a couple of hours after we talked about what we wanted to do. Based on that advice we chose to get dinner, go home, call the hospital and tell them we would just come back in the morning for more monitoring so we wouldn’t have to induce if it wasn’t necessary. This makes me so angry because our daughter could have died in my womb over night! I feel both guilt for making that decision and anger for the misinformation that our baby was not in grave danger! When we called to say we would come back in the morning, we were told to come back into the L&D and sign a waiver saying we were acting against medical advice and that our baby could die. I am still so confused about this! Why didn’t they tell us to stay in the first place? Is overnight a bigger issue than a couple hours – yes, so I feel guilty bc my baby was in danger, but I am also upset because I believe a c section is called for in that situation and the contractions from induction could have killed my baby if we had stayed. So much misinformation, bad advice, confusion, and guilt on my part for leaving, and also resentment at my husband for also wanting to come back in the morning. But, we didn’t know we weren’t making the best choice for our baby, and in fact it might have been if induction could have killed her. Ideally I guess just monitoring and then c section would be best… Anyway, we came back in the morning after I told my guardian angel to wake me up if we needed to go in sooner than we had planned. And we did. Thank God. This decision saved my daughter’s life. For, when we got in there at 8:30am, we were put on the monitor, and an hour later my baby’s heart rate dropped to 50 with a contraction I could not even feel, and an emergency c section was called for. THEN the stupid anesthesiologist who had been there at the beginning of our monitoring, left half way through! He must have known we were at risk from the night before, and he left, and went to the store, and a store without cell reception. The ob said they couldn’t find the anesthesiologist. I was horrified! I exclaimed in terror that I did NOT want to feel this? My husband had to stay in the waiting room. I WAS IN SHOCK. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t believe it. The ob said they had to go ahead to save my daughter’s life. I don’t remember saying anything. She told me later that I said ok. I am so angry that I do not remember giving consent! And then I feel guilty for not knowing that I would say yes to that to save my daughter’s life. She slapped down lidocaine, catheterized me after she lubed me up (this is also causing my heart to race because it felt so violating for them to lube me so fast), and put up a blue curtain. I felt alone and afraid and shocked. Then came the scalpel! The scalpel! Across my uterus people! I felt the whole damn thing. No lidocaine had kicked in. There were tears and groans and moans and I am sure swearing! Luckily the midwife from the night before helped me focus and breathe. Thank God a few days earlier my mom taught me la maz breathing a I am sure that along with God’s grace kept me from passing out (or even moving/writhing during the surgery). This was so traumatic! That damn anesthesiologist came in after the baby was out and introduced himself, and I said: THANK YOU, and he put me completely under for the stitches. THEN I had horrible support from the docs and a 5 month recovery where my incision wouldn’t close and wasn’t being treated. I hate the place I had my daughter at. The good thing was I had a good nurse afterwards.. But the recovery in hospital wasn’t perfect. There was over medication and then under medication and lots of just… Trauma from having gone through that. My daughter had great aphar scores an it is a miracle she is alive. Praise God and I hate my birth experience. I am terrified bc I am pregnant again. God will need to help me express my fears so it comes with less anxiety than otherwise. Thank you for your post or I would not have shares this. Love, Catherine

  • Adele

    This is so valuable, not only for birth but in all aspects of life

  • Julia

    I’m sorry I don’t know who you are…or didn’t before tonight. My son attempted suicide almost 2 years ago. It was gruesome and painful and horrendous. He survived. But the mark he left on our family, my marriage, and on me was profound. I’m not sure if I’ve dealt with it? Anytime I think back to that time, I cry. I don’t feel like I have the right to grieve because he lived and so many adolescents don’t. The anniversary is in a month and I wonder how I will deal with it? Thanks for delving into hard waters.

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  • Chims

    I have to stand up and applaud this article. It so well articulates what we do following birth trauma; more accurately, what is done to us by not really knowing what to do. I felt broken for so long, as though my life were shattered. I did not begin to even remotely recover until I finally grieved. I grieved long and hard, and then grieved some more. It was really ugly and it took around a full year of solid grieving. In the years since, though, I have been walking through a growth of healing. Thank you for putting your voice to the issue of birth trauma. <3

  • Teresa Finocchio

    I just love this. I am currently dealing with a similar reoccuring dream that is haunting me and stopping me from grieving properly. And i too dream my exact surroundings even down to my exact pajamas and time of night and what i did earlier that day is the same in the dreams. I have always been such a vivid and “realistic” dreamer like this. Thanks for sharing!

  • April Cheri

    So much love for this. Thank you for speaking your truth so openly and eloquently.

  • Carrie

    Thank you for this beautiful writing. I find myself rooted and refusing to deny or downplay my traumas. I really didn’t know why it was so important to me to always be telling my truth. I certainly was not encouraged in it except probably by my very brave parents. I was constantly feeling regret wrapped up in having been told in subtle and overt ways to not expose the ‘secrets/dirty laundry/uncomfortable anything’. But over time, through some amazing Godly people, God kept a central message that this was one of my gifts. Until in one of my darkest times, a dear friend and minister said ‘sharing is your gift.’ I was so caught and touched and transformed. I had considered it my liability. But, my sharing, and my (hopefully) attempt to listen to others’ stories gives us all the gift of healing, embracing, and truly living this gift of life we have even given. My traumas have helped others to feel less alone, less afraid, and more connected. They feel far more of a blessing to others in that space.

  • Chloe Woodland

    This was actually so beautiful to read. While I am not pregnant myself, your honesty in confront our fears and anxieties completely resonated with me. I love what @tinafrancis:disqus wrote “I feel permission to embrace the darkness of my go-to sanitized stories….” because that is exactly what I feel as well after reading this post. Loved this.

  • Beautifully written! This brought tears to my eyes. It’s so hard to let ourselves grieve, but oh so necessary.

  • Oh, Sarah, such wisdom. Such deep truths. Hugs.

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  • awatson

    I had a similar experience: precipitous labor of only 80 minutes at 41 weeks. We were planning to go to the hospital but never made it past the front door. I had always wanted a home birth, so maybe that was a small measure of comfort. Everything happened so quickly, I didn’t really have time to process, just live in the moment of it. I don’t FEEL traumatized at all. I felt in control. Just let my body take over and do it. The paramedics and hospital staff were caring. But I often worry that I SHOULD feel traumatized. I wonder if my subconscious is holding onto something and going to come back and haunt me in subsequent pregnancies. For now, I tell myself that it is that best possible way things could have gone in those circumstances.

  • Mark Rhodes

    Interesting stuff. Are you familiar with Carl Jung? He also had very vivid dreams, and shared the same experience of, at times, having difficulty separating the dream from his waking life. He also happens to be INFJ or INTJ (depending on who you ask). You might really appreciate his work and his writing. I’d encourage you to hop on Pinterest, do a quick search for “Carl Jung” and read some of his quotes – I suspect you might find someone you relate to on a pretty visceral level.

  • Jean O’Neil

    I get an all encompassing anger at the authors opinion on midwives being empathetic. This is of course my own fall out of my own birth trauma caused BY my midwives and nothing to do with the author herself. Three births caused various degrees of PND and PTSD. My midwives scarred me in ways I couldn’t even predict or anticipate. It was so bad that I chose to have a free birth with my last birth which incidentally healed me despite a birth growth delay, face/brow presentation, calcified placenta and a heamhorrage (all of them calmly dealt with). I never held back my anger or my truth when retelling my birth stories. Most people don’t understand how I could have suffered so much when my babes were fine but the more I tell it the more people understand.

  • Rebecca

    “I feel I don’t get to be sad when other people are sadder for better reasons.” I can relate to this 1,000 times over.

    “leaving out the very darkness that gave the light its beauty.” I live in a canyon. It is far more beautiful during the hours of some shadow and and light, rather than the noon time when it is all bathed in sun.

  • This is so so beautiful.

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  • R.dulang

    I wanted to thank you for this. My daughter turns one tomorrow, and I’ve been struggling with memories of my own traumtic birth. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this, but I find comfort and validation each time. Thank you for sharing the words I couldn’t seem to find.

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  • Pushed to heal when God says take time to sorrow, grieve and go on. As Lisa NIcholls writes in her book “no one gets a gold star for the( seen or) unseen trauma cracks -only for ‘bravely’ pressing on”

  • Gina Holt

    Thank you. I agree with you about the sanitizing and almost rewriting things, or at least editing them. In attempting to protect others, we harm ourselves.

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  • Julie Alspaugh

    I just stumbled across this, and I can’t help but think it was divinely orchestrated. I love reading your stuff, and usually sit down once a month or so to ‘catch up’. Funny thing, we both had our fourth child within weeks of each other via midwife, so I feel a sort of additional kinship to you there. Anywho, I’m quite new at this whole realizing dreams have a meaning/purpose thing, but 3 times in the past week I’ve had a dream where some contingent of my kids are killed or kidnapped, vivid dreams like you describe, where I have to reorient myself when I wake up, and take a deep calming breath that it wasn’t real. The last one happened last night, and then today this is the first thing I read, and it was like you wrote a blog about how I deal with EVERYTHING in my life. How I got here has been a bit of a rough road, but the here and now is ‘mostly’ a dream (as much a dream as life with 4 kids 7 and under can be), so I’ve minimized the how I got here, and to be honest I don’t know how ready I am to poke that sleeping giant…..But unlike you I don’t have the person across the chair to call bullshit on me, so I’m hoping maybe any of y’all have a moment of divinely inspired insight on what I’m supposed to do with these coincidences???

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  • Ashley Scott

    Thank you for reminding me I do not have to rush to “get over it”. I have always, in some odd way, admired individuals that could just “suck it up” and get on with life after traumatic experiences. Actually, it went way past admiration…into envy. Moving past things has never been an easy task for me, almost feeling guilty for “feeling”.

    Anyhow, thank you again for sharing your story. This has exposed something I do not want to ignore any longer. Your honesty is refreshing.
    God Bless!

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  • Karen

    Hey Sarah, its probably an INFJ thing, but I often resonate so much with what you say. I’m back after a tough and refining year of missions abroad and am being constantly asked how I am and how it was. Thanks for reminding me to be honest, even as some people only want the one liners.

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  • Ellen Graf-Martin

    Brilliant. Truly brilliant. Thank you for “going first” and telling your story so that others can realize that their stories – not just the glory-story anecdotes – are important. So grateful for your honest sharing (and for your wise midwife!).

  • Rachel

    Sarah, your writing so often encourages me and this was no exception. I work at a crisis center as an advocate for victims of sexual violence. Trauma is part of my job. I’m the person providing crisis intervention, telling them that it’s okay to feel and ok to grieve. But for the trauma of my own post, I still like to wrap it up and clean it up because the raw honesty of the pain is just too scary, too shaming. I treat the darkness like it’s not still a part of who I am (I mask my hurt with humor, too…I learned that from my dad who has his own traumatic past.) Thank you for your transparency. It’s always freeing to know we’re not alone.

  • Kathy Forsyth

    Thank you Sarah for your honesty. Life is made up of light and dark experiences and I have suffered at the hands of “Christians” who thought that I wasn’t getting “over” a trauma as fast as I should. If only someone would have spoken these words to me in 2007. I am loving your writings.

  • Iris Hartness

    Thank you for this. I found this because Rachel Marie Stone referenced it in her article on Christianity Today about the trauma of childbirth. My family’s immediate response to any and all trauma is to find a silver lining. I often skip feeling the feelings associated because of this effort. Thank you for sharing that even when an outcome is “good,” there can still be much to deal with in the process.

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