You go to one baby shower and inevitably, you start to hear the worst of the worst birth stories. “Did you hear about Kim’s birth? She pushed for FOUR hours and the baby was 11 pounds. Imagine. that. tear.” Everyone squirms.
“Andrea had to have an emergency c-section. She was induced and the baby’s heartbeat decelerated and they needed to deliver the baby immediately. Andrea’s blood pressure dropped and it was really scary. They said she almost died.”
Or, still, even worse:
“She asked for no episiotomy but the doctor insisted and cut her right before the baby was born. She had a 4th degree tear. Healing from that was the worst. She’s afraid to have another.”
While some of these stories may sound like just another unfortunate birth story, some of them are legitimate birth trauma. There is a term, called “obstetric violence,” that, on its surface, seems implausible. Obstetricians are all about bringing new life into this world; how could one be violent?
But when abuses bring with them “loss of autonomy and the ability to decide freely about their bodies and sexuality,” there is a price women pay at the hands of their care providers [Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence, supra note 13, art. 15(13)].
We know this does not characterize all or most OBs. But in the United States, in 2018, there are still too many women who experience birth trauma and feel more like a vessel of a person delivering a baby, and not like a human themselves.
Experiences such as these can have unfortunate consequences. Of course there’s the physical pain and recovery one must heal from. There’s also psychological and emotional recovery one hopes to experience as well.
In an article for The Atlantic, Ilana Strauss recounted stories of women who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after giving birth. Not to be confused with postpartum depression, postpartum PTSD can be characterized by “hyper-vigilance, intrusive memories, flashbacks, severe emotional distress, irritability, trouble sleeping, and nightmares,” as is explained by Anastasia Pollock, a therapist who specializes in treating trauma.
Strauss also explained that the theory behind women who develop postpartum PTSD is complicated, but it often has to do with expectations. When you do not expect to have a problem with birth and then it happens, there can be long lasting psychological scars.
So… what does one do? How do you appropriately create your expectations?
Aside from talking to a wide range of women who have given birth before you and hearing their experiences, another very practical thing you can do is actually quite simple: take a childbirth class!
Not all childbirth classes are created equally, so do your research on with whom you study. What all is covered? Policies and procedures of the hospital? What meds you’ll be given? It’s important to discuss who your care provider is, and what his/her track record is for vaginal vs. cesarean deliveries. It’s also important to know your hospital or birth center’s policies and statistics. Even Consumer Reports is reporting on this. Read CR's article here.
What else would you cover in a childbirth class?
In our Birth Boot Camp series, Training for an Amazing Hospital Birth, we discuss EFM or electronic fetal monitoring, the use of IVs, frequent vaginal exams and your care provider and/or hospital’s VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) policies.
We look back on the history of birth in this country and how it continues to impact the birth experience today. We discuss the physical and emotional happenings of labor and arm both mom and her partner to navigate it successfully. We share the stages of labor, including pushing and what positions are helpful and how the birth partner can help.
We educate on ways to avoid a cesarean, and how to feel at peace with one if needed. And perhaps most importantly, we arm you with the tools and knowledge you need to ask informed questions as you plan your birth and postpartum.
Taking a birth class does more than just show you how a baby is born. It shows you how amazing your body is, and how it’s your body, and how you can have a say over what happens to it. It encourages you to find and work with care providers who honor you and that process and respect your baby and you.