The birth of a child is usually a beautiful, happy occasion. When things don’t go as planned, however, your birth experience can be painful, depressing, and wholly upsetting. Pregnant persons are often bullied by doctors and hospital staff; they might go into labor at an unexpected time, weeks before they’re due; their birth plan might change so drastically the act of giving birth isn't beautiful, but essentially horrific. Regardless of the reasons behind the trauma, there are some things that women who’ve experienced birth trauma need everyone to know.
The first thing any woman who has experienced trauma of this kind wants you to be aware of is that, of course, birth trauma actually exists. In fact, it's a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs when the pregnant person experiences a loss of control or other negative emotions during childbirth. This can become exacerbated if the pregnant person has already experienced other forms of trauma (such as sexual assault) in the past. People also often confuse birth-related PTSD with postpartum depression, which is another illness altogether and requires a different form of treatment.
I can understand, to an extent, why people rarely (if ever) hear about birth trauma. While labor and delivery stories are shared regularly, traumatic stories are often difficult to talk about, and difficult to hear. The person who lived it doesn't want to re-live it, and the person hearing it doesn't want to be scared about their potential labor and delivery experience. So, as a result, so many people just don't know about traumatic birth, or how to help someone who has experienced one. If you’re looking to be supportive of a friend or family member who has recently been through such a trauma, know that they appreciate you and know that there are some things they really want you to know, including the following:
Some Births Are More Complicated Than Others
Many birth complications begin with maternal health. Not all women receive adequate care or can take time off when needed. Other complications are simply a matter of chance. No one can prevent a breech baby or an umbilical cord tying around a fetus’ neck. There are so many factors when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth and assuming that it’s all a straight path from A to B is, well, ludicrous.
Finding A Good Health Care Provider Can Cause Endless Stress...
A good OB/GYN or midwife is often hard to find. I’ve personally lived a number of horror stories when it comes to health care providers. As a birth trauma survivor I need folks to understand that, should I ever get pregnant again, I will likely be absurdly stressed out just trying to find a good doctor who treats me with kindness and respect (and who happens to take my insurance).
...And Not All Of Them Have Your Best Interest At Heart
If you’ve had the unfortunate experience of being bullied by a doctor, you know that they don’t always have your best interest in mind. It would be wonderful if they did, but it's sometimes the case that they would simply prefer to do what is easiest for them. Or worse, money becomes a factor in incentivizing doctors to perform unnecessary c-sections.
Deciding Where You Give Birth Can Cause Paralyzing Fear
Hospital birth or home birth or birthing center? You’d think this would be an easy choice, but thanks to the trauma we’ve endured, we might feel completely frozen in trying to make the right decision.
Many Of Our Bodies Have Been Drastically Hurt In The Process Of Giving Birth
Birth trauma can often yield a set of matching physical scars. For some, these are the c-section scars that could have been prevented by more caring doctors. For others, these are the second, third, and fourth degree vaginal tears that might forever change your life (not to mention the way you have sex).
We Often Feel Anger About Our Traumas
Nobody wants to experience a traumatic birth. So, when you look back on your experience and can clearly see what went wrong and how it went wrong and why it went wrong, it makes you want to scream. Hindsight may be 20/20, but it’s also pretty infuriating.
We Sometimes Avoid Other Important Gynecological Procedures In Order To Avoid Triggers
Some of us can’t handle going back to a gynecologist right away. Birth trauma can cause us to avoid our doctors, sometimes even hospitals, even if we are in need of important procedures. Be gentle in suggesting and reminding us that these procedures are important and that, while we may be triggered, our physical health should not suffer due to our mental health struggles.
Talking About Childbirth Can Also Often Be Triggering
While some new moms are dying to tell others their birth story, recounting our own experiences can be pretty difficult. Hearing the stories of others, whether they were without incident or not, can also be difficult. We need folks to understand and not take offense if we need to cut out of the conversation early.
We Wish We Didn’t Have To Explain Ourselves To Everyone
Explaining that you’ve been through a traumatic birth is exhausting. Having to go into detail about how it happened is exhausting. Having to explain your triggers is exhausting. It’s all exhausting, and we hope that you’ll understand, be patient, and give us the time we need to make it through it all.
Many Of Us Are Done Having Babies (And That’s OK)
Because it was difficult for some of us to get pregnant, to enjoy a healthy pregnancy, and to give birth, many of us are “one and done.” Be respectful and don’t push the matter if we say we simply don't want anymore kids. It’s OK to not want to put yourself through major stress for another ten months, and run the risk of re-living the traumatic birth we've already had, or having another one.
We Don’t (Have To) “Get Over It”
There is no deadline for getting over trauma. There is no stopping point for PTSD. While many of us would like to move forward with our lives without thinking or reliving parts of the trauma, it’s different for everyone. Anyone who tells a trauma mom to “get over it” is obviously an insensitive (insert your preferred expletive here).
Support Is Hard To Find
No one talked about birth trauma in past generations. Fortunately, we are finally beginning to shed light on this very real problem. That said, thanks to things like health insurance complications or being a non-religious person or being a single parent, finding support can be difficult. If your friend or loved one is having trouble finding help, simply be there for them. Let them know they can talk to you anytime, and that you’re also happy to sit in silence if that’s all they need.