It’s Birth Trauma Awareness Week (2020) and there are so many things I could say about birth trauma it’s hard to know where to start.
Do you start at the systemic level, where we have a culture of ‘care providers’ with so much unhealed vicarious trauma and repressed fears about birth. Do we look at the misogyny and at the normalisation of violence and coercion in the context of maternal care. Do we discuss how birthing systems are often understaffed and under resourced and staff feel overwhelmed and burnt out?
Or do you look at the ways in which women are groomed to expect mistreatment in birth, or to give away their power. This happens long before pregnancy, and is clearly demonstrated through the disregard and abhorrence for the female menstruating body. Is it any wonder that women come to the birth altar feeling, less than, and like they need to be told what to do. Our distrust in the normal biological processes of the female body have already been instilled for years before we become pregnant.
Or could we talk about the ways in which women are socialised to say yes when they mean no. And how we are socialised to be nice, be polite and not get angry. How women often come to birth already with a disconnection from their internal barometer, their intuition, thus demanding for our needs to be met during birth is a challenge. That the part of us that wants to scream – fuck off – is used to being suppressed before this, so we might find ourselves kindly saying “no thanks” to all the interventions that are pressured on us during labour.
Look I know the normalisation of obstetric violence is the biggest concern we have in maternity care but I’m just going to say it – you can have emotional or physical birth trauma even if you have a beautiful home birth with a known, trusted midwife. Despite all the benefits of this model, there is no guarantee you won’t face some part of your birth experience and feel overwhelmed or traumatised by it. But YES if you have a caring midwife that you trust, that shows up for you in the way you need, then this will help the healing significantly.
It’s clear women and babies and families are failed on many levels in respect to the high levels of trauma during childbirth and abuse experienced while giving birth.
We must end obstetric violence against women! The system is failing too many women (1 in 3, but really how much under reporting or mis-categorising trauma as postnatal depression/anxiety is happening…).
We can and must do better. There is lots known about what makes birth a safer emotional and physical experience for women and babies. You can search the work of Hannah Dahlen, Sarah Buckley, Jenny Gamble, and many others, and also JUST LISTEN TO WOMEN! And yes, having a doula by your side can make a massive difference in feeling safe during your birth.
But the healing is more than only at the systemic level. Birth is nuanced, complex AND our experiences of birth can include BOTH trauma and ecstasy, all in the same labour.
Trauma is personal. It is defined by those that experience it. It is a felt embodied experience of feeling unsafe or overwhelmed or as if your life or your baby’s like is at risk. Women don’t choose to assign their birth as traumatic. It’s how you feel in your body, in your nervous system that shows you.
And here’s the additional layer that I’m passionate about helping women heal from- trauma can attach itself to the developmental or attachment based issues that are already there.
So if as a child you experienced abuse or neglect, or had parents who couldn’t be present for you in the way you needed (through seeing you, accepting you for who you are, giving you the love and safety you needed etc… it could be so many different ways) then all the negative beliefs you developed beliefs about yourself (low self-esteem, lack of worthiness, feeling like a failure, needing to be good/perfect to receive love etc.) well that’s what your birth trauma will attach itself to as well. The wiring is already there and it can become an embodied example of how you failed or how others failed you. The birth trauma / abuse can just compound this.
Please be gentle with yourself and seek good support, because healing is possible.
You deserve that.