There’s a great irony in the persistent denial of birth trauma. On the one hand, a woman probably spends most of her life believing that birth is dangerous. Some even go as far as to say it’s the most dangerous thing a woman will ever do. It’s worse than swimming with sharks, and you need a team of experts with big machines to keep you alive. But on the other hand? Women who are traumatised are ignored, and told to get over it.
It’s rather contradictory don’t you think? Birth is really really dangerous, life threatening, you must heed this dire warning and obey the experts at every step of the way. Then after a haemorrhage, forceps, a caesarean, or whatever else might have happened, just move on already! Focus on the baby. Stop thinking about yourself, stop being so selfish!? That’s just how birth is don’t you know ….
We expect people to be traumatised after car crashes, natural disasters, military service, after all manner of understandably traumatic events, but after a birth we should all just be glad to be alive. There’s no more, and no less for you, just a baby, and a pulse. Birth is dangerous, but it isn’t traumatic. Now move on.
Why are people so determined to deny birth trauma? Is it because they think birth is an embarrassing “ladies only” topic? Someone might say VAGINA, so let’s change the subject? Or is it because there’s complete a cognitive dissonance thing happening. We can’t work out if it’s safe because there are doctors and expensive machinery, or dangerous because it’s birth.
Whatever causes the denial of birth trauma, the results are the same. Mothers who need support, who may need medical treatment, who may even be suicidal, are left alone with nothing but an infant who is totally dependent on them. Often they’re even further traumatised by the heartless responses they receive, and even more critical of themselves because they need support when surely they should just be glad they got healthy babies. Birth is so dangerous, but they survived! Surely that’s enough, to want more is a sign of greed, of weakness, of unrealistic expectations.
We need to work out whether birth is dangerous, whether it’s actually something to fear or not. If we decide that it IS in fact something worth being afraid of – and given the billions of dollars spent on maternity hospitals every year, we have to assume that people actually view birth as a risky thing – then we need to start treating traumatised mothers with the same care that we treat other trauma victims.
The top killer of new mothers in the year after birth is suicide. Society has a lot to answer for when we look at that statistic, and yet hardly anyone is even aware of it. We have to assume that not all of those deaths are the direct result of birth trauma, however if we provided better support to new mothers, it may just prevent some deaths. Furthermore, we may come to understand the impact of birth trauma more clearly.
Another little known fact is that up to 6% of new mothers are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). This statistic is directly linked to birth trauma, and likely the view that birth is dangeorus. Birth trauma is as real as life gets, and the longer we continue to deny it the worse things are becoming. We raise our daughters listening to the horror stories of birth, they see screaming births on television, and yet when they express any emotion other than unbridled joy and gratitude after birth we look the other way.
Offering mothers the support they need as they process trauma and settle into motherhood is vital. Not only do we rely on them to care for the next generation, but no woman should be alone with her pain, grief, and trauma. There’s simply no excuse to allow the continued denial of birth as a potentially traumatic event, in a society that believes that birth is life threatening. It’s a giant contradiction to suggest that birth is dangerous, but birth trauma isn’t real.
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