Talking About Your Birth Plan or Postpartum Struggles? Try this.
Pregnant folks and new parents, you deserve to be able to share your struggles and worries with people in your life and be truly heard and validated. Sadly, what happens more often than not is that when you share a bit about what's going on for you, you are met with a doomsday response about how much worse it will be later on.
Here's a common scenario:
A pregnant person calls a friend who has a new baby, looking to get some encouragement or genuinely helpful tips.
"Hey! I've got really sore hips lately, and it's making it hard to sleep."
"Oh, I know. Just wait! It's going to get so much worse in the third trimester!" the friend replies, thinking they're doing a favour by letting them know.
Then that friend, who has a one month old baby, goes out later to see her sister.
"How's it going?" the sister asks.
"Well, he slept for a four hour stretch last night, so that was a win! But I'm still exhausted."
The sister says, "Just wait til he starts teething! He'll be up all night again!"
There's also the all-too-common response to someone talking about their upcoming birth.
"I'm planning a home birth, and I'm a little bit nervous but mostly excited."
"Oh, did I tell you about my sister's birth? She was aiming for natural, but... [insert very unhelpful and traumatic birth story here]."
Why? Why is this a common response to someone who is seeking encouragement? Why do people want to throw an even worse possible future in front of someone who is in the midst of an already tender present? And how can you respond after someone drops one of these doomsday bombs on you? Let's take a look.
Many times, someone who has gone through something tough (like pregnancy, birth, and being a new parent), has some unhealed hurts or trauma from those experiences. So when you show up with your own hurts and trials, it reminds them of theirs. Perhaps their own birth experience or their baby's teething nights were really tough for them, and they weren't heard, validated or well supported in that time. Now they are talking with someone who is facing what they faced, and they want this person to know that it's going to be hard! They want to prepare you, so you can steel yourself for what may be coming. The problem is, this doesn't actually help either of you. They aren't healing their own hurts by spouting out their troubles again, and you are now left carrying their heaviness on top of yours (whether the story is about them or someone they know).
These interactions can leave you feeling even lower than you might have been feeling, when what you wanted was for someone to say, "Oh, I hear you. I remember those days, when my pelvis started to loosen and open so my baby could come down. You must be pretty sore. Something that really helped me was sleeping with a hot water bottle on my hips". Or, "Oh, wow! Four hours is a great stretch at this stage! Hopefully you get some more nights like that." Or, "Yes, you are doing everything you can to prepare for a wonderful birth. I believe in you!"
The knee-jerk response people have is to tell you to harden yourself, to steel yourself for what's to come, when what would be more helpful would be encouragement to soften into what is happening. If your latest struggle is sore hips, for example, you could step back and wonder what your body is telling you. Do you need to slow down a little? Or do more mindful movement throughout your days? You could learn about the hormones at play that are encouraging your pelvis to loosen, which will allow your baby to pass through when the time comes. You could seek out some body-balancing stretches or exercises (there are lots of great free resources on spinningbabies.com), or see a professional body-worker (chiropractor, RMT, etc.) if that's available to you. Working with what is happening is much more effective than worrying about what might (or might not) happen later.
So, what can you do when someone piles their own unhealed hurts on you like this? First, take a deep breath. If you need a few more, take those, too. While you're breathing, you can take stock of how much energy you want to put into this conversation. If it's a random stranger or an acquaintance telling you their cousin's traumatic birth story, you could just say, "This is not helpful. Goodbye." And walk away. If it's someone you care about, and you want them to learn how to be there for you, you could start with validating their own experience. Something like, "Oh, I didn't know it was so hard for you when he was teething. I'm sorry you didn't get the support you needed."
This gives them a moment to be seen and heard, after which they will hopefully respond with the encouragement or advice you were seeking. If they don't, and if you are up for it, you could ask for it. "You know, I'm really just needing someone to say they've been there, and that I've got this".
Pregnancy and the postpartum period are times when people tend to be especially sensitive to the input of others. It is so important that you are able to filter out the stuff other people dump on you that isn't helpful, and not take it on yourself. You can do this using visualization if that works for you; maybe putting a protective bubble around yourself, or letting anything that doesn't lift you up sink down through your feet and into the ground below. You can also try to be proactive in letting the people in your life know what your needs and boundaries are. You might tell family and friends that you only want to hear positive birth stories, for example, or helpful parenting tips. And when they forget, remind them.
Remember, breathe. Take stock of what you want to put into the conversation, then either end it or validate their experience and then state your needs.
You've got this. All of it. I believe in you.