Reflections on Birth TraumaThursday, 6 November 2014
In six short days, Alfie will turn five years old.
Five WHOLE YEARS; sometimes that feels like I sneezed and a full grown child appeared calling me mama, and sometimes it feels like time didn't exist before we became parents.
While we focus on invitations lists and party food, the lead up to his birthday marks a far less welcome anniversary: It marks the start of the chain of events that ended in a very dis-empowering birth.
Alfie’s birth left me raw and hurting in ways I couldn't comprehend until I became pregnant with Esme.
Like many others that leave women suffering from Birth Trauma, it was a birth that medical professionals would consider to be “successful”. After all, both he and I left for home in good physical health. So what was the problem? Did I expect too much from childbirth?
I don’t think so.
Like most women on the verge of becoming a mama I had a “basic expectation of respectful and protective treatment from … maternity care providers. This expectation includes the right to understand and to participate in health care decisions”
You will note there is no mention of being bullied, belittled or emotionally blackmailed by The Dead Baby Card mentioned in that quote. They are NOT things that a pregnant woman expects, and they were not what I deserved.
In the early months of Alfie’s life, there were times when I would wake up terrified of completely irrational fates befalling my son, and become hysterical over who the hell knows what. I didn't admit these things to my Health Visitor because I didn't need to; I clearly wasn't suffering from PND and there were no questionnaires about whether I had found birth traumatic.
Why would there be?
Doesn't everyone find birth traumatic? Isn't having a healthy baby the “most important think”? In a society which is increasingly focused on the outcome of birth, the journey to that goal is often treated as insignificant.
I didn't realise it until this year, but even midwife Ina May Gaskin is a veteran member of the Birth Trauma club.
She experienced the birth of her first child in a traditional hospital setting during a period of US obstetric history when labouring mothers were given mandatory epidurals and forceps deliveries and it left her “traumatised and scared of things that I shouldn't have to be afraid of; like driving back from the hospital and being afraid that my daughter could get out of the little crack in the window”.
Today she retells this story with a wry smile, but it is a classic example of the way in which a “medically successful” birth can leave a woman feeling broken and vulnerable and less able to care for her child.
So why I am putting a downer on my son’s birthday by talking about this now?
Well actually I’m not, because the outcome of my experience in 2009 was to propel me into a world of birth activism. That one act of betrayal galvanised me, and defined me.
It redefines me still.
And secondly, I promised long ago that I would write about this story, and how it ended.
The answer is that it turned out pretty well.
I spent time talking through my experiences and making my peace with them. I planned two amazing births which allowed me to feel respected and empowered by surrounding myself with the right kind of support.
And I came out the other side, a little scarred, a little tougher, but no worse for those things.
One day, with the right support, you will too. I promise.