Author’s note: This piece discusses violence and abuse.
Birth trauma has been popping up on my Facebook feed regularly this year, but until a friend of mine shared her personal story with me and advocated for ending birth trauma, I was unaware that this movement existed – or that this problem was so widespread.
It is difficult to fully specify what birth trauma is , but the site Solace for Mothers defined it best with this quote: “When a woman looks forward to giving birth to a baby, she may not know exactly how the birth will go, but she has a basic expectation of respectful and protective treatment from her partner and from maternity care providers. This expectation includes the right to understand and to participate in health care decisions, and a confidence in her own and her infants’ safety. When these things are not present, the results can be severe.”
Wanting to learn more, I started reading testimonies of woman after woman who felt that she was probed more than was necessary to the point of pain when in labor, and many stated that they were denied epidurals. Even a certified midwife wrote that she felt she was refused a deeply personal experience with her daughter and credits it with their lack of connection. She didn’t get to see her child for almost 24 hours after she was born, skin to skin contact was blatantly disregarded, and for a great deal of this time, she drugged without her consent.
Though we fully expect that in more recent times we should have more modern methods of delivery, there are still an alarming number of women coming forward with stories of abuse. Consequently we are becoming aware of movements advocating for kinder, more informed treatment for women and their partners. Anywhere from 25-34% of women report having endured a traumatic birth (and there were 3.98 million babies born in 2014 in the United States alone). I was horrified by some of the stories I read of women being discredited and even shamed for not understanding, or asking questions, during labor. Some accounts even went beyond that claiming outright verbal abuse and blatant disregard of consent.
Long-term effects of a traumatic birth for mothers include difficulties breastfeeding as well as connecting with and thinking of their child as theirs. A more severe long-term effect of a traumatic birth is PTSD, which can affect up to 6% of women.
Luckily strides are being made to help women during the birthing process as well as afterwards. Groups such as Improving Birth, Solace for Mothers, and PATTCh are actively working to provide information to women seeking it. They have excellent forums to support moms who wish to discuss their experiences and give legal advice for any who want to file a complaint, including step-by-step instruction to do so.
If you had an experience in which you feel like your right to choice was violated in any way during the birth of your child, or your consent disregarded, I would highly recommend checking those resources out. My friend feels validated now that her story has been heard, and it could perhaps guide a friend or loved one through the terrors of postpartum PTSD or depression.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.