Hi - this thread has been motivated by the thread "Does Birth Trauma Exist?". I have copied here an excerpt from an article Birthtalk wrote to explain Birth Trauma.
So why is it so hard for women to find validation for their traumatic birth? In many other traumatic life events, there is widespread support, and counselling, and understanding that a certain event could have a lasting impact if not processed. Last night I saw news footage of those passengers onboard the QANTAS jet that had a gaping hole in it. The TV news showed these passengers arriving in Melbourne on another jet, and embracing their loved ones. Most were crying, some were shaking, and all were visibly affected by the experience.
Passengers told of the few minutes when they wondered if they would die, as the plane plummeted 19, 000 feet, their voices choked with emotion as they recalled their extreme fear, panic and anxiety. And I imagined these people going home with their families, who welcomed them at the airport with outstretched arms. They would likely be cosseted and fussed over, offered comforting food and drink, and encouraged to talk about their experience.
But would anyone say to them, “At least you didn’t die.”, and try to shoosh them up? Would anyone tell them, “Well, I understand that plane trip didn’t go quite how you’d planned, but all’s well that end’s well, hey?”. Of course not. And would family understand if these people were a bit shaky for a while afterwards, and needed to feel safe? I’d say they would.
But imagine the same scene after a woman has a traumatic birth. Is there anyone waiting for her with outstretched arms? Generally not. Women after a traumatic birth are usually not cosseted and fussed over, or comforted beyond a perfunctory ‘there, there’. This is not meant in any way to be a dig at midwives, or husbands. We understand that a midwife’s job is enormous, and that you are all hugely stretched as it is. We understand that most husbands either don’t understand the legacy from the experience, or have been traumatised too. Even a woman’s loving parents often don’t understand what has just occurred, and usually the woman has no words to voice her experience that don’t leave her sounding ungrateful.
As a community, we seem quite comfortable with telling a woman traumatised from her birth, “At least you have a healthy baby.”, and placating her with, “I understand that birth didn’t go quite how you’d planned, but all’s well that ends well, hey?”. And then she has to learn how to look after a child, cope with sleep deprivation - usually without the hormones designed to support her with this due to the trauma of the birth – and tackle a mountain of laundry, cooking and home duties. Welcome to motherhood.
So how can we compare the possibility of death by plane crash to the meeting of one’s healthy child through birth? Best thing to do here, is look at the definition of a traumatic event, and what response warrants a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
According to this Manual, the stressor or event that causes PTSD should involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or damage to self or others. And the person’s response should involve intense fear, helplessness or horror. Note that it says “actual OR THREATENED”.
So even if everything seems completely ok to an outsider during the birth, if a woman perceives that she or her baby is threatened with damage; or feels horror, fear and helplessness at a procedure that is routine to medical staff; she can experience that as a traumatic event. This is regardless of her level of pain relief at the time. It is regardless of the fact that she and her baby leave the hospital alive and physically healthy.
If birth matters, then it matters that we acknowledge the presence and prevalence of Birth Trauma in our community. There is too much traumatic birth (see Cas McCullough’s article in this issue for the latest data). Traumatic birth is not normal birth. Traumatic birth is avoidable. And if women are not having normal births, we need to offer them support, and understanding, and a chance to be heard.
©Birthtalk2008 Published in Birth Matters Journal
To read the full article, download (for free) the September issue focusing on Birth Trauma, at www.maternitycoalition.org