Birth Trauma – It’s Never Your Fault

Your support team should have held you up, reminded you of your plan, found ways to help you manage, or simply held you silently while you laboured.

Birth Trauma – It’s Never Your Fault

Taking responsibility for your actions and the consequences is an amenable and mature way to manage most of life’s dilemmas but not when it comes to birth trauma. Birth trauma is a completely different kettle of fish. A rape victim is never at fault for her rape, nor is a birth trauma, or birth rape victim ever at fault. Women say things like “I should have known better” , “I should have fought harder” , “I should have researched more” , “I shouldn’t have trusted them” , “I shouldn’t have caved in”,  “I should have listened to my instincts” and “I should have stayed home”. But are women really at fault for being vulnerable during pregnancy or labour? I think not.

Birth Trauma and Broken Heart
Birth Trauma effects women everywhere
Seyed Mostafa Zaman | CC BY-SA 2.0.

The cultural norm in industrialised countries is to hire an “expert” to advise us during pregnancy and to assist us when it comes time to give birth. We are expected to trust them in all matters and unlike with other medical fields (oncology for example) we are expected to unquestioningly follow their directions – after all, a healthy baby is our main goal, right? But when we do what is expected of us socially and find ourselves damaged physically and emotionally, suffering from painful birth trauma, we are silenced and told that we had unrealistic expectations of birth, that childbirth is by nature undignified, and the most common silencer “at least you got a healthy baby”.

This is the fault of the “experts” and their propaganda, and the media who have promoted medicalised – albeit dangerous and financially driven – childbirth to us since we were born. It’s been promoted to our mothers and their mothers, and depending our our age, our grandmothers too. Making childbirth choices that align with what our society expects is not something we are at fault for. When those choices don’t work out for us, when they leave us with birth trauma, it’s not our fault if we grieve or rage or are simply confused by the voices in our subconscious that tell us we have been wronged – whilst our society tells us our expectations and perception are to blame.

Expecting to be treated with dignity and respect, and expecting to be at the helm of decisions and to be given adequate information on which to base decision making is not having expectations that are too high, not unless those expectations are too great for a cancer patient as well.

Let’s address each of the points individually.

I should have known better:

You hired someone else to know better. They went to university to study, they earned the privilege to sell themselves to you as an expert, why do you have to know better than them? Isn’t it THEIR job to provide you with the most up to date, evidence based, safe medical advice? It’s THEIR job to provide you with information – ALL the information, benefits vs risks – and then to stand back while you make decisions for yourself and your baby. It’s NOT their job give you information based on what their insurance company or employer has given them as protocol nor to use fear of any kind to create compliance. It’s their job to facilitate the care that you want, regardless of what their personal beliefs are. Builders build ugly houses all the time – they’re doing their job. Painters paint houses ugly colours all the time – they’re doing their job. Doctors should attend births that are directed solely by the mother – IT’S THEIR JOB. Hospitals should provide the right facilities to suit each woman’s needs – IT’S THEIR JOB.

I should have fought harder:

No. You shouldn’t have had to fight. Your bodily integrity is a basic human right. No one should ever be expected to fight when they are heavily pregnant or in labour. It is the job of our care providers, and in fact our community as a whole, to support mothers, not to create situations in which they are vulnerable and feel it is necessary to fight for their well being, to have their choices respected, or to have their bodily integrity respected. Fighting is not conducive to birth and conflict has no place in birth space.

I should have researched more:

No. You hired someone to attend your birth because they claimed to be an expert. You should be able to give birth without any knowledge of the subject at all, simply knowing that your care provider will give you all the relevant information and not make any recommendations unless they are evidence based. Obviously situations can arise when it is necessary for a care provider to suggest altering a birth plan however after conveying the information and evidence, the care provider needs to respect the choices made by their client.

I shouldn’t have trusted them:

It is never wrong to trust someone.Trusting people shows that you are a kind natured and that you assume  other people have good intentions. There is no fault in that. It is ALWAYS wrong to abuse the trust of a vulnerable person. Always. No. Matter. What. If someone trusts you and you abuse that trust it is inexcusable. Trusting is kind and decent, abusing trust is abhorrent.

I shouldn’t have caved:

You didn’t cave in. If you went into this situation with a clear set of goals and were pressured into something that you were unsure about, you didn’t cave in. The person who pressured you took advantage of your vulnerability. You also didn’t cave in if you chose to get pain relief in labour, you just needed greater support. Your support team should have held you up, reminded you of your plan, found ways to help you manage, or simply held you silently while you laboured. YOU DID NOT CAVE IN. Expecting ourselves to manage the roller coaster of labour, both physically and emotionally, and to stand by our birth plan is unrealistic in the face of transition or in the face of the fear that so prevalent in our birth culture.

I should have listened to my instincts:

In this day and age? We are raised to ignore our instincts, to implicitly trust the intentions of birth care providers, and to make decisions with our brains whilst completely ignoring any hint of emotion. Then somehow or other we expect ourselves to heed our intuition when we are at our most vulnerable? Birth is undoubtedly a very intuitive process, that’s why we are so deeply altered when we suffer birth trauma or rape. However it is the job of hospitals to provide the right conditions for women to give birth, not the job of women to rely on their instincts under fluorescent lighting, confined to creaking “sterile” beds, surrounded by masked, gloved, strangers who believe they know better than we do.

I should have stayed home:

Pink daisy drooping in the rain
Birth trauma drags women down. License: Creative Commons CC0.

If you believe that you could have avoided trauma by staying home then once again it is the fault of the institution and the society that upholds it as the safest place for us to give birth. Surely if there was no reason to intervene then your wishes should have been paramount to the outcome? Furthermore if there was a medical need to intervene it should have been done in such a way as to leave you feeling safe, supported. You should be able to give birth anywhere, at any time of the day, under any circumstances, with anyone in attendance and have your needs met.
The time has come for us to start blaming the people and venues who are actually responsible for our mistreatment, heartache, and birth trauma. We did not hurt ourselves, we did not lie to ourselves, we are not at fault for the deception of other people nor for trusting them, we can not expect ourselves to be intune with our intuition under unnatural circumstances that we have not experienced before, but what we CAN expect, is for people who proclaim themselves and their places of business to be the safest, most reliable places for us to give birth to provide us with nothing but the best. The most humane, the most thoughtful, evidence based care that is possible. And no matter what … BIRTH TRAUMA IS NEVER YOUR FAULT when the system fails. No one with birth trauma is ever at fault.

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