Birth Trauma, an anniversary

Here’s the story that women are supposed to tell:


On this day __ years ago, this perfect little bundle came into my life. And the moment I saw his/her face, I knew that all the pain and sacrifice was completely worth it, and the joy of seeing my baby washed away all the trauma I experienced bringing him/her into existence.

Here’s the story I’m telling you today:

It’s my son’s 7th birthday today. Yesterday I couldn’t pin down why I was feeling so sad and anxious all day long. Last night I went to sleep running my fingers over my C-section scar. This morning I woke up after yet another anxiety dream, and my body felt like it was pinned to the bed. Just like that horrific day seven years ago when I discovered that I would be strapped down to a cross and cut open, and then left alone for hours with my mind and body still reeling from the horrors that had just happened. From all the echoes of past trauma that had been both physically and mentally re-opened.

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For mothers who experienced traumatic births, these birthdays are the cruelest of celebrations. We are supposed to smile and shower love on our children, and never admit that on these days we would really love to curl up in a ball and sob. We are not supposed to say that having our children took too high a toll on our physical and mental health. We are not supposed to mention just how badly our medical and social systems failed to support us when we needed it the most.

There is no space for this grief. It is lumped into a big pile with all the other unacceptable griefs in our culture and buried in a mass grave far away so we won’t have to look at how women’s bodies are routinely traumatized in the name of health care. Or how our culture simultaneously holds up motherhood on a pedestal while actively despising mothers. Or how childbirth re-activates old sexual assault trauma. All these topics are strictly off-limits.

Well I am done pretending that this day is not traumatic for me. I have seen friends who decades after the anniversary of a loved one’s passing still make room for grief on the anniversary of the death. And I think that mothers (and parents of all genders who experienced birth trauma) need to be allowed to take room for themselves on this day. Maybe we can have some kind of group ritual, much like people bring flowers to grave sites. Something to honour that pain and sacrifice. Something to sooth our grieving bodies, who very much still remember.

I think I’ll find a park bench today and sit there with a bunch of flowers and make space for tears to flow. I’ll remind myself that I am in good company, that many others feel this way. I’ll honour my body and the sacrifice it made by treating it kindly today, offering it sweets to taste and fresh air to breathe. I’ll light a candle for all those who are sitting with any form of grief today that they have to harbor in secret. And I’ll send out these wishes for all of us.

May we be filled with loving kindness.

May we make space to honour our grief.

May we be loved, supported and seen in our sorrow and our strength.


P.S. If you are struggling with birth trauma right now, I want you to know that you are not alone. If you need support, Pacific Post Partum offers phone and text support at 604-255-7999 Monday to Friday from 10am to 3pm PST.


Interested in learning more about trauma recovery?

Enroll in my upcoming online workshop: Parenting After Trauma.

Self Care in Challenging Times: When your personal trauma intersects with public trauma

There are times when we really want to avoid the news. Sometimes we forget for a moment and then click a link and instantly regret it. Bill Cosby. Jian Ghomeshi. Alabama. For survivors of sexual assault these are hard times to navigate.

The headlines remind us that there is a war on women’s bodies and that our personal trauma is part of our larger cultural trauma. I feel so conflicted at these times, between survivor me and advocate me. Survivor self is triggered into a state of feeling helpless again to change these things, to take control of both my personal body and the collective female body. Advocate self wants to hop on a soapbox and rail against the injustices of the world. But there is a toll that is paid by women who speak out publicly about anything in this society. Speaking out publicly as a feminist can lead to death threats, personal attacks, and harassment. So how do we balance taking care of our mental health and standing up for our rights? How do we balance staying informed and maintaining our mental health?

I have a list of five things we can do to take care of ourselves during these challenging times.

1. First I have to take what I know about how trauma impacts the brain and remind myself that at times like this we are triggered into our fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses. When this happens the amygdala is in control and it is taking the thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, off-line. And when that happens it’s time to remind myself to use my flashback management strategies.

2. It’s time for some radical self-care. That means lining up activities that remind me of all the good things in my life. It means connecting with friends, watching funny movies, making art, going for walks, drinking enough water, calling my therapist.

Sometimes art can help us process what we have no words for.

Sometimes art can help us process what we have no words for.

3. Watch out for inner critic attacks. When we are triggered into our past trauma our inner critic tends to get very loud. This is because we are triggered back into feeling like that helpless victim we once were. Paying attention to the inner critic voice and talking back to it is one way that we can take control again at a time when we might be feeling out of control.

4. Think small. Maybe we can’t do anything to change what is happening on a larger scale but maybe we can donate five dollars to Planned Parenthood or Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. Maybe you buy a copy of the new anthology Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors On Life After Sexual Assault. Or another new book: My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights. Make choices about when you will and will not speak up about this. We do not have to fight every single battle, we do not have to engage with every ignorant comment made online.

5. Seek out the good. When we are faced with a never-ending bad news cycle, it can really twist our perception of humanity. Make a list of all the people you know who are doing work that makes the world a better place. Include yourself on that list. Write a thank you note to someone whose work you admire.

I want you to know this above all: working on your own healing is a valid and necessary form of resistance against a culture that tells us that we do not matter. So if all you do is pick one item of self care off this list, that is still an important and valuable contribution to social change. Sometimes the hardest work we do is rooting out the voice of the internalized oppressor who tells us that we are worthless. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Interested in learning more about trauma recovery?

Enroll in my upcoming online workshop: Parenting After Trauma.

Diagnosis, a Written on the Body poem



He flips back through my chart,

scanning for evidence

of my broken-ness

to confirm his perfunctory diagnosis.


The squinty eyes light up

under his bushy eyebrows,

as he finds what he is

looking for.


“Ah, I see you have

been tampered with.”


I leave his office labeled





Many years later

she tells me

with deep compassion

in her voice:


“We are never

too broken

to be healed.”


And I want to believe her.


I am tired of being

the broken girl.


It feels such a vast expanse,

the Grand Canyon inside me.

I will have to stretch my wings

to fly across the divide.


But I am ready to let go

of this comfortable agony

and leap into the unknown,

trusting that Grace will send me

rising thermals to coast

when my wings tire.


I am ready.


All that is left now

is to step

off the edge.






© Joyelle Brandt 2016