Traumatic Birth: A Mother’s Experience Matters |
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Traumatic Birth: A Mother’s Experience Matters

admin October 23, 2012

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I’ve heard this far too often: “The only thing that matters in birth is the health of the baby.”

I disagree.

Absolutely, the health and safety of the baby are paramount.  I don’t know a single mother who would choose anything over her baby’s health and safety!  But given that birth is typically not an emergency for most women, and nothing unusual will occur, the baby’s health and safety is not the only factor.

When a baby is born, so is a mother.  Birth is something the baby will consciously forget.  It’s not something the mother will ever forget.  When we have women celebrating orgasmic birth, and other women crying from the depths of deep postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder over birth, we know that birth is about far, far more than just baby’s health.

The Experience Matters

Birth isn’t a small occasion.  It isn’t like having a dinner party, or even a special family outing (in significance).  It isn’t something that you look back on with a vague fondness or mild repulsion, but which does not affect your daily life.

Birth is everything.  Birth is one of the biggest experiences a woman goes through.  Her entire body is taken over by labor, and is physically out of her control.  Her body goes through so many changes and ends up producing a brand new baby…with whom she must bond, love, and care for.  She enters a ‘zone’ unlike anything else.

To say that a woman’s experience is unimportant is completely insane.  Whether the birth goes well or poorly sets her up for how she will deal with the next several months of her life.  Whether or not she’ll experience postpartum depression.  Whether she’ll feel satisfied and eager to birth again (when ready) or fearful.  Some women have chosen not to have more children or have waited several years in between because they were scarred from their birth experiences.

If you get a group of women together and any one of them is pregnant, has recently had a new baby, or knows someone in either condition, they will inevitably share their birth stories.  It doesn’t matter if their last birth was 20, 30, 40 years ago!  They will still be eager to share.  I have heard my own mother’s birth stories over and over…every time I am pregnant and anticipating another birth, we talk about it.  And she remembers so clearly her own experiences (which thankfully were good).

A woman is impacted by the birth experience for a life time.

To say that it doesn’t matter is to completely discount what women go through in the process of labor and birth.  If a woman works hard and chooses a low-intervention setting and has a successful and amazing birth, she isn’t celebrated.  She’s told she was selfish for ‘choosing herself over her baby.’  She’s told the drugs are just fine, there are no medals handed out in the delivery room.  She’s told it really wasn’t anything special at all.  She just got lucky.

If a woman ends up with a poor birth experience, for whatever reason — she’s told to get over it.  She has a healthy baby, and that’s all that matters.  She’s just whining about something that isn’t really that important.

This is terrible.

Women deserve more respect than that!  The birth experience does matter.  It does.  Preparing for it, being supported through it, and being given a safe space to dissect it after the fact (whether it went well or poorly) is crucial for many women.  They need to talk about it.  They need to relive it.  They need to understand the amazing, out of control experience they went through.

We shouldn’t be minimizing the birth experience, good or bad.  We especially shouldn’t be minimizing it for those women who did have a traumatic experience.  They, of all people, need support!

The Traumatic Experience

Birth trauma is very real.  Women who experience it need to be heard, loved, and supported.  They don’t need their pain to be minimized and told that they should just be grateful for a healthy baby.  Because of their experience, they may have an extremely long and physically painful recovery to deal with, in addition to the emotional recovery.

Women are sometimes treated poorly, not given real choice in their care, and not treated like intelligent individuals.  They are treated like little more than a vessel that brings forth a new person.  That new person’s safety and autonomy is (supposedly) given more concern than the woman’s well-being.

A woman’s well-being affects her birth and her baby’s well-being.  Many women for whom birth became an emergency did not feel dissatisfied with their birth experiences if they were treated with dignity and respect through the process.  Supporting a woman is key to having a successful birth experience.

Some women who have experienced trauma grow bitter.  They’re told it really didn’t matter.  They come to believe it.  And they come to tell it to others.  These women who are hurting turn their hurt on other women and try to tell them that their experiences really didn’t matter, either.  If they were to admit what happened to another woman was wrong, they would have to admit that what happened to them was wrong.  Many are not yet ready to make that admission.

We need to bring this issue to light, so that women who have been hurt can get the help they need, to recover from what they have experienced.  So that they don’t feel selfish for wanting to heal emotionally, for wanting to talk about what was done to them.  They need that outlet and they need that safety.  Because it really, truly does matter.

The Baby’s Health

Nobody — nobody — would choose her own experience over her own baby’s health and safety.  There’s not a sane mother out there who would say, “I don’t care if my baby’s vitals don’t look good, I’m staying home for my water birth!”  All mothers I’ve ever met are ready for plans to change if something unexpected happens, and will be grateful for the care they receive to help their baby, if it is needed.

What needs to happen is that both mother and baby need to be considered.  If mother is happy and relaxed, and her pregnancy is not high risk, and her baby is healthy and doing well, then she should be given minimal interventions and allowed to birth freely.  If a mother is higher risk, then she may need more ‘managed’ care, but her wishes should still be respected and she should still be treated as an intelligent and respectable human being.

Baby’s health will be better — in general — if mom is in a better place, physically and emotionally.  Baby reacts to stress, and stress hormones prolong labor and can possibly cause issues for baby.  A mom who is choosing the right birthing place and attendants for her is making a choice that is best for her and her baby!  It is not either/or at all.

We need to change this conversation that relegates birth to a non-experience.  We need to support and empower women to birth where, how, and with whom they like.  We need to love and help women who do experience a traumatic birth, for whatever reason.  We need to let women know it’s okay to talk about it.  It’s okay to share how they really feel.  Only then can birth become normalized and can women who have experienced trauma truly being to heal.

What do you think?  Is the mother’s experience important?

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  1. The Mother’s Experience is very important! I had a very tramatic birth experience with my first which put me in a position to be forced into a second cesarean and I have suffered from Postpartum severly after my second. I also believe that if my Drs had taken more care to listen to my concerns in the last couple weeks of my pregnancy with my first we may have avoided the trauma both the baby and I had to endure. I truely believe that the combination of the trauma to him and his lack of oxygen during the delivery has a part in what caused his ASD.

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  2. Thank you for this post. I was two weeks late and had to be induced which turned into a C-section (for good reason in the end) and felt like I got a lot of “flack” from folks leading up to the induction because I didn’t want it at all! They felt like I should just be grateful that I would soon be able to hold my healthy little baby…but there is so much more to birth than producing a healthy little baby. I came up with an analogy of travel to help explain my feelings to others. When you go to visit your friend – you want to get there safely. But you may have preferences over whether you fly or whether you drive. And being pushed towards the mode of transportation which you least desired ends up in an unsatisfactory journey. Sure you arrived safely – that’s the end goal. But the journey should be enjoyed too!

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  3. Thank you so much for bringing attention to this issue. I’m one of the woman you describe. I had researched and planned and hoped for a beautiful, peaceful homebirth with no interventions. I ended up transfering to a hospital after 32 hours of labor (4 in transition–without progress). Though I was fortunate enough to avoid C section, I did have to have an epidural and all the interventions that come with that. My baby is five months old now, healthy and perfect. Yet my delivery still haunts me. I am so fortunate to have a midwife and husband who care and understand, but no one else does. I truly believe it will be years before I fully heal from the disappointment. Thank you so much for your care and sensitivity to this misunderstood trauma.

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  4. Thank you for understanding.

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  5. Thank you for this article. My daughter was born via c-section almost 2 years ago. I was in labor for over 30 hours at the hospital. My water broke at home and I was only 1 cm dilated by the time I checked into one of the largest and highly ranked hospitals in the United States. I didn’t realize or categorize my birth experience as ‘traumatic’ until recently looking back on the experience because I see a direct cause and effect relationship between the hospital environment and the unnecessary interventions. It’s the little things too like having to plead with my husband to find the nurse on duty (because they kept changing) to bring me a popsicle is an unnecessary distraction. Women in labor are strong and should be made to feel capable and respected; not sickly, weak, and helpless! Some women might have been able to overcome these distractions or be more assertive in labor, I now know how I react to this kind of stress in labor and hope the change to a birth center will change the experience. I completely agree that women need choices and support in their decisions during such a critical and life changing time!

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  6. Wonderful post. Someone recently told me that he thought the emphasis on having a natural birth was completely overblown because having a healthy baby is all that matters. I was shocked but didn’t really know how to sum up my position. You captured it perfectly!

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  7. Thank yo so much for this post. I had planned a homebirth months ahead but due to lack of any attention from my midwife had most horrific and traumatizing experience. Just reading this post brought tears to my eyes.

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  8. Thank you for this post! I had planned and hoped for a natural birth, but everything fell apart. We had a beautiful, healthy, baby girl via c-section. While I love her more than life itself, the whole experience traumatized me…so much so that I don’t want to ever go through it again. Everyone kept saying, “at least you had a healthy baby,” completely minimizing my feelings. This post really hit home and brought a little bit of peace. Thank you, again!

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  9. You totally are the hope I have been looking for. I am a nurse and have worked labor and delivery for a year and a half before delivering my fifth child. Even nurses are not immune for the unnecessary medical interventions. I was at the hospital a full 40 minutes before birth and now suffer from PTSD as a result of my coworkers. I completely agree with this post, intervention by the medical community has gotten out of control. I for one am proof of it, and suffering alone.

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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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