Sunday, October 11, 2009

Birth Trauma is real

A while back I wrote about how women who have had wedding day disasters are given more sympathy (not to mention numerous TV appearances) than women who have suffered a traumatic birth. Why? Why is it taboo to talk about being upset and/or traumatized about your birth experience? 


If the wedding was a disaster, be it a torn dress or a medical emergency, does everyone tell the newlywed to just be thankful they are married? After all, even though they planned the wedding for months, invested lots of time and money into it and were anticipating it, they got the end result they wished to achieve - marriage. There should be no reason to dwell on any upsetting or traumatic events. After all, it's just a means to an end.  The moment they got married would  - and should - erase any prior upsetting events. Right?  I doubt it.  So why are women who share with others their feelings about disappointing or traumatic births told they should just "be thankful"? Why are they told that the process of birth doesn't matter, it's just a means to an end? Is it because they have the healthy baby?


Ah, yes. That's it. The healthy baby.


Women who have had traumatic births (and I am not just talking c-sections here) have heard this line countless times.  Having had a traumatic birth myself, I am often told how selfish I am. I've been called childish, cold, ignorant, sad, ridiculous, crazy... the list is long. 


Why have we been told that a healthy baby is all that matters? Is it really all that matters? Does the mother not matter? 


If you think mothers don't matter - tell that to the newborn baby. The baby that has a mother unable to breastfeed due to complications from surgery, or depressed and traumatized about her birth and it affects her mothering, a baby whose mother who has been separated from them for hours after surgery or a baby who is the NICU attached to machines all day long and unable to breastfeed, to be held by their mother, unable to start the bonding process, or a baby whose mother dies giving birth.


Oh, but that's when mothers matter? After we are no longer here? Death is the magic line we draw in the sand for when mothers finally start to matter.


When someone survives a horrible car accident, where other people die, how do we treat them and their trauma? When they need to work through the trauma of the accident, and survivors guilt, do we say to them,"all that matters is you are alive. You should be thankful."  Or throw in a few anecdotes: "I know someone who lost their daughter/son in a car accident, you should quit being so selfish and just be happy you are here". How dismissive it that? 


Those suffering from birth trauma hear those words often. 


Of course the car accident survivors are thankful they are alive. That doesn't need to be said. They have lived through trauma and it's only natural and healthy that they begin to work through it. It's normal for this event to be significant and shape the rest of their life.


Why is birth trauma any different? 


If I am not being told I should shut up and be thankful for my healthy baby, I am getting anecdotes about how someone's baby died or is severely handicapped, so how dare I express my feelings about my birth experience. Just because a woman has a live or healthy baby (and many traumatic births aren't necessarily life and death emergencies to begin with) doesn't mean she isn't thankful. The birth experience and the baby are two separate things. Hating a birth experience is not hating your baby. It's the process of how that baby got here. And in this day and age, many of the interventions and protocols involved in birth are in and of themselves traumatizing, not to mention unnecessary.


Birth is an important event in a womans' life. It is a transforming experience - good or bad. It can be amazingly powerful, peaceful and blissful, but it can also be violating, terrifying, and demeaning. Because they survived, or their baby survived, doesn't make it any less traumatic for them. Trauma is relative and is not black and white. To say to someone who has had a traumatic birth that she just needs to be thankful for a live baby is damaging and dismissive, maybe it makes you look like the childish, cold, ignorant, sad, ridiculous, and crazy one.









5 comments:

Hollee said...

Michele,
I am so sorry to hear about your experience. I have been through some traumatic experiences, and I wanted to tell you that I hope you will find someone to validate your feelings. People easily dismiss trauma or PTSD as imagined, but those of us who have been through it know that it is very real. I think you are very brave for sharing this, and I know it will help others.

Anonymous said...

You know I was reading this, agreeing with everything you said. But for some reason I wasn't emotional at all even though I had two c-sections and severe postpartum issues.

Then I realized it's because of exactly what you're talking about. The whole "you're baby is healthy" thing. I realized just now that I was the one pushing that on myself more than anyone else.

I would be so sad that I didn't get my water birth. I remember when I saw my first son being pulled out I felt like he was being traumatized coming out in those bright lights and being yanked and tugged with the vacuum and the forceps.

I felt like my body didn't work right and that I was a failure as a mother. I hated not being able to touch my baby for a long time after he was born. I only got to see him from a distance. My husband was instructed to follow the baby no matter what...so I was there, throwing up from morphine, tied down to a table, paralized with some tube suctioning out my vomit. That was NOT the way my baby and I were supposed to begin our journey together.

My second son I didn't even plan a natural delivery. I wanted one desperately but had absolutely no confidence and didn't want to feel like a failure again.

So thank you for sharing those words. They were so encourraging.

Amy Jones said...

Hi Michele,
I'm sorry to send this as a comment, but I couldn't find an email anywhere. I am i the midst of gathering some extraordinary birth sotries for an upcoming book on Peaceful Birthing. I'm wondering if you could email the contact info for the author of:
Sophia's Birth - One of the most amazing birth stories I have ever read. The mother writes: "This may rank among the longest birth stories ever written, but if you get through it you will get to some killer action sequencescar chases�action adventure extravaganza�I promise! And at the end, a breech homebirth after 2 cesareans and 55 hours of labor."

Amy Jones said...

Hi Michele,
I'm sorry to send this as a comment, but I couldn't find an email anywhere. I am i the midst of gathering some extraordinary birth sotries for an upcoming book on Peaceful Birthing. I'm wondering if you could email the contact info for the author of:
Sophia's Birth - One of the most amazing birth stories I have ever read. The mother writes: "This may rank among the longest birth stories ever written, but if you get through it you will get to some killer action sequencescar chases�action adventure extravaganza�I promise! And at the end, a breech homebirth after 2 cesareans and 55 hours of labor."

Michele said...

Amy-

I would love to, I just don't see an email address to send you this information.