Gaslighting is a term used to describe a form of emotional abuse where the victim is told that their perception is wrong, and made to feel like they are crazy. The term originated from a 1939 play and 1944 movie, where a man tried to make his wife believe that she was crazy, by having the lights flicker and denying that it happened so she would be committed to an institution, and he would take control of her fortune.
Although the movie is long forgotten, the term gaslighting is growing in popularity. More people are exposing it’s insidious impact on relationships, and in particular on the lives of women. There probably isn’t a woman alive who hasn’t experienced some form of gaslighting, but gaslighting in relation to birth trauma or grief is an important issue that has rarely been considered.
Whenever a woman is told to focus on her healthy baby, when she is told that it doesn’t matter how the baby gets here, when someone says that they had a similar experience but weren’t traumatised, when women are told that doctors / midwives / nurses would never do anything to hurt them or anything unnecessary, it is gaslighting.
Regardless of the intention of the person who says it, the effect is the same. It silences the woman and makes her doubt her perceptions.
Here are some common examples of gaslighting in response to birth trauma:
When they say “At least you got a healthy baby, a traumatised woman hears ”There’s something wrong with you, you shouldn’t be concerned about yourself, you are selfish, you don’t love your baby enough!”
When they say “But I loved my caesarean!” a traumatised woman hears “You’re just a whinger and a weakling”
When they say ”Doctors would never do anything to harm you” a traumatised woman hears “You’re just a liar, I don’t want to hear this because you are wrong”
Why do we have so much invested in denying women’s feelings about their births? Do we think that dismissing their feelings will help them feel better? Why are people so damn uncomfortable listening to women talk about pain and grief? Especially the sort that relates to birth, and how they met their babies.
Gaslighting in domestic violence leaves women feeling alone and frightened, second guessing their perception of events. It leaves women feeling desperate, and on edge, like they are losing touch with their sanity. Gaslighting for birth trauma can happen in intimate relationships, but it can also happen with friends, family, and random strangers. Some women have even reported professional therapists gaslighting them when they sought support for PTSD, PND and / or birth trauma and grief.
When a woman is traumatised by her birth it isn’t because she’s crazy. It isn’t because she imagined things that didn’t happen. Nor is it because she’s selfish and uninterested in her baby’s health. Birth trauma happens because sometimes things don’t go to plan in birth. We seem to have a disconnect between the acknowledgement that things don’t always go to plan, and the fact that this can be traumatic.
Being gaslit is commonplace for many women. Many will never be able to name what is happening because this method of abuse is only just surfacing for social discourse now. That is dangerous enough, but owing to the fact that the single biggest killer of new mothers is suicide, gaslighting has a whole other element of danger to it.
As gaslighting is gaining attention through the slow increase in social awareness about domestic violence, so is birth trauma. Both are inching closer and closer to daylight, neither fast enough for many women, but for many women, simply knowing that they are not alone makes a difference. Support groups are springing up across the internet, and many are meeting face to face around the world.
If you have experienced birth trauma and gaslighting please know that you are NOT alone, and there are people out there who know just how much you love your baby, people who believe your birth story, and many many women who have stories that traumatised them, as yours traumatised you. You are NOT crazy, you are grieving, and you are traumatised, but YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. Perhaps the people who think birth doesn’t matter are the crazy ones.
No More Caesarean Guilt