16 Jun So, why is birth trauma still such a taboo?…..
I was on a facebook thread just the other day that asked that same question and my first thought was ‘it isn’t a taboo for me or any of my colleagues that work in the field of perinatal health’ I am happy to talk about birth trauma and always encourage those who have suffered birth trauma to seek help (usually with me!) But then when I thought about the many tens of thousands of mums who suffer birth trauma every year hardly any of them do receive the perinatal help that they desperately need. So why is birth trauma a taboo for so many mums still?
First of all I think it’s because mums who have suffered a traumatic birth don’t speak up, they are reluctant to acknowledge that they have suffered. The reasons for this denial I feel are pretty clear; there is an expectation from society and indeed ourselves as mums that we should feel elated and filled with unconditional love when our babies are born. The problem is when a mum has had a traumatic birth these feelings are often absent (not always, but often). When birth has been long, frightening and out of our control it’s normal to disassociate from the process, which in turn can interrupt the normal bonding process. So it goes against the grain to acknowledge birth trauma because the universal belief is that we should be happy and elated now our babies are here, right?
Also as birth practitioners, doulas and antenatal teachers we have our part to play in this taboo too. That’s because we have such a dogged focus on birth as a positive, normal event and whilst that is so vitally important for antenatal preparation it is absolutely devastating to a new mum who has done everything she possibly could to prepare for a calm, peaceful birth experience. She has attended the hypnobirthing classes, antenatal yoga, planned in everyway possible for a positive experience and it has been ripped away from her. How can she talk about it to others? She was part of a class just months ago that was encouraging her to close her eyes and ears to the negative birth stories. The feeling of confusion and betrayal for these mums is huge. And it is our responsibility, as antenatal teachers and doulas to square up to this issue and say ‘look if your birth isn’t like that and you need help coming to terms with it, I’m here’. I strongly believe that our relationships with our clients shouldn’t end after the last hypnobirthing or NCT session it with a wave and a ‘have a good birth’ cheer. All antenatal classes should continue to offer contact and support to mums if they need it post natally. Birth practitioners need to be better prepared for when birth is traumatic to acknowledge this for mums and offer them a helping hand should they need it.
Another reason for the taboo, from a mum’s point of view, is that they just want to move on. They don’t want to go back there. PTSD is evident in both the polar opposite responses to a traumatic birth. One mum may want to talk excessively about what happened (re-traumatising herself with every recount) another mum may never, ever want to talk about that day. And at the same time close friends and family maybe adding to the confusion by saying ‘the main thing is you have a healthy baby?’ or ‘you must be so happy now you have your baby?’ and mum is thinking ‘yeah, I should be feeling like that, so why do I feel so damn awful all the time?….’ All of these contradictions add to the taboo. Unfortunately though this avoidance tactic does nothing to ease the symptoms of PTSD. Although for some they do fade naturally on their own it is not because of avoidance.
Birth trauma and PTSD can also lay fertile ground for other mental health disorders to grow such as substance abuse, alcoholism, PND and self harm and so it’s no wonder that mums are wary of looking too closely at what they are experiencing for fear of opening that Pandora’s box. And who can blame them but unfortunately this hiding away from what’s really happening for them often just serves to isolate mums with PTSD and denies them the opportunity for treatment. But as guilty as sufferers of birth trauma are from hiding away what they are feeling, we, as birth practitioners are guilty too. We are guilty of thinking ‘hmmmm, I think she is struggling after her tough birth but I better not ask her about it in case she is upset and then I would feel awful’ or ‘hmmmm, I think she is not coping well but these matters are best left to the ‘professionals’’. We all need to work harder to create safe havens for mums where they know they can go for unconditional support and practical help. It’s not as hard as we think.