Hope Amidst Heartache

It’s a fair point. Isn’t it cruel to suggest to a women who’s experienced a traumatic birth that there’s hope? Like rubbing salt in a wound?

The issue here, however, isn’t hope. An inability to hope indicates unresolved pain. What we’re discussing are two thorns—shame and fear. Shame looks back at the past and tells us we’re unworthy of love now. And fear looks to the future and tells us that we’re defined by our past—insisting that it would be a mistake to want again. (They also have a kind-hearted cousin, Grief. We’ll discuss him further down.)

We all know change in life is inevitable. But sometimes things ‘change’ in ways that we didn’t want and didn’t anticipate. These unexpected or undesired changes can leave us feeling a sense of loss. And into the gaping hole of loss often slots thorny-friends, shame and fear.

There are so many faces of loss. Loss of life. Loss of a sense of personal significance. Loss of how you wanted your birth to go. Loss of feeling purposeful. The loss that comes from feeling like your choices were taken from you.

Loss is real. And there’s a legitimate type of ‘suffering’ that comes with loss—grief. The scriptures talk a lot about this type of suffering and the growth that can be expected to flow from such heartache (Romans 5:3-5, 2 Corinthians 12:10, James 1:2-4). The scriptures also talk about the deep comfort that’s available to the broken-hearted—people in the midst of deep grief (Psalm 34:18, Psalm 94:18-19).

But then there’s shame and fear. The added ‘suffering’ they pile on is profound, unnecessary and often crushing. They weave false stories around legitimate loss—myths of hopelessness and condemnation. It’s their stories that produce feelings of anxiety in the gut and numbness in the mind.

Shame is a liar. It can be the voice of condemnation that says, either overtly or subtly, that you ‘made’ this trauma happen. That, in some way, you contributed to it and are somehow responsible for it. The unrelenting voice that what you did wasn’t enough. Shame lives in the past and will constantly drag you back into it, mentally, replaying over and over the mistakes you apparently made.

Fear is a tyrant. It’s the unrelenting suspicion of ‘what if’ something goes wrong. Fear says that if you’ve experienced trauma before, then that’s all you can expect next time. In many ways, fear is the opposite of faith and hope. If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, then it empowers an individual to boldly pursue future things (Hebrews 11:1). Whereas, fear withholds that drive. If faith is the conviction of things not seen, then fear is the conviction that what’s already been seen is all there is—all you can expect for the future. 

Then there’s grief. Grief is a healthy reaction to loss. In our culture, however, we have no commonly practiced way to honour a season passing, honour loss and honour the grief the comes with letting go of what no longer is. I buried my placenta to mark the passing of a season. Despite the wonderful home birth I had and the beautiful journey of motherhood I was on, I still experienced the grief that comes with loss. Six months after birth, under a native plant in my backyard, I placed my placenta. And as I put my shovel to the dirt I cried and cried. A wellspring opened up from within. It was a sacred moment of recognising loss and letting go; surrounded by a few close family members.

There’s a powerful difference between grief; shame and fear. One facilitates closure of a season; whereas the other two just bring torment.

Back to my initial question. Isn’t it cruel to have hope? Isn’t it like rubbing salt in a wound?

A woman need not feel condemned by the statement that she can have the birth she wants; even if it’s not been her experience thus far. Hoping extravagantly is never a condemnation on women who have gone through trauma. Believing that you can have whatever you desire in birth doesn’t negate the tension that suffering exists.

We need to fight for women who have experienced birth trauma. To support them by listening to their stories with empathy. To love them so completely that they remember they did everything they knew to do, everything they could do. And to remind them that they’re not to blame. All of these things untwist the cords of shame and fear.

Alongside love and compassion, women desperately need hope for the future. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12)Outside of the necessary season of grief that brings restoration to a broken heart, it’s vital that we hope. We can’t allow the experience of loss to endlessly dim our hope. We’re called to hope all things (1 Corinthians 13.7).

I want all women to feel free to dream again—believing that what they authentically want in life and birth is absolutely possible. To know that their ‘wants’ are powerful—more powerful than their past and more powerful than any fear-projected future. To know that their wants, even if they’re yet to be fulfilled, are valid.

We don’t need to lower our ‘wants’ to the level of our experience, rather, we’re invited to trust that a higher reality exists…and that we’re worthy of it.