I’ve spoken to 3 women this week who had traumatic birth experiences, so it’s very much on my mind. Make no mistake, there are a tragically high number of women amongst us bearing birth trauma. So here’s what you can say to be helpful and kind
I HEAR YOU – the story of birth = pain + suffering is a strong one, and with good reason. Lots of women experience poor care, loss of control and loss of dignity when they have their babies. It’s such a strong story, that the stories of deep trauma, of PTSD diagnoses and physical damage are sometimes minimised and lost. Women deserve more than this. When someone tells you they have had a traumatic birth, take a moment to hear them and respect it. They are carrying a heavy weight and they deserve to be recognised.
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT – I have often called out the hypocrisy that encourages women not to bother preparing for birth. It seems that knowledge is power in all areas except birth, and antenatal education still carries a reputation for flimsy whimsy. I DO think women should step up and demand good antenatal education…..but being well informed about your body is not the only factor that will influence your birth. We have to be honest about this; a woman in labour is vulnerable, and she is at the mercy of the individuals, the insititution and the dynamics around her. When birth goes badly, it is not her responsibility.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO ACCEPT DAMAGE – women who have had traumatic birth experiences carry both emotional and physical scars, and these can have very direct, visceral effects on their every day lives. From recurrent nightmares, to depression, to incontinence and pain, these are painful daily reminders. And worse, women are often fobbed off with excuses like ‘baby blues’, ‘post-natal depression’, ‘well, you had an instrumental delivery, you can’t expect to be back to normal so soon’. Actually ALL women should have access to specialist physiotherapists to encourage them that having a baby needn’t mean the end of your vagina, or your pelvic floor. And there are specialists available who are able to address traumatic birth PTSD and anxiety.
BIRTH WON’T ALWAYS BE LIKE THIS – in time, almost inevitably, all women have to choose whether to have another baby or not. For women who have had traumatic births, this can be an excruciating decision, and one to be taken in their own, unique time. How can they trust anyone again, having been violated before? How can they protect themselves? How will their partners cope? It is not easy to allay these fears. It’s so important for women to speak their experience and be heard. In saying it, in facing the cause of the trauma and holding it in the light, it IS possible to turn the pain to purpose, and make practical plans that give traumatised women confidence to birth again. Subsequent births CAN be healing.
YOU HAVE CHOICES – there is no ‘one size fits all’ here. There is not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to proceed, to deal with it, or to birth again. The ONLY thing that matters is a woman’s right to the time, space & information she needs to make her own, unique informed decisions about how she wants to move on.
Finally, you might want to recommend some of these resources;
Charlotte Edun is a doula, hypnobirthing practitioner & Positive Birth Movement facilitator.
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