The Truth About Traumatic Birth is…

Well, the truth is…there are so many lies about traumatic birth! Lies, and myths and misperceptions, that each serve to maintain the deception that women must just ‘get over it’ and ‘be grateful’.  These lies and myths are fed largely by ignorance, and perpetuated by the media, by health professionals, and even by ourselves.

Everyone has an opinion on birth, and especially on the existence (or not!) of traumatic birth…and from our Ministers in Parliament, down to the local check-out chick at the supermarket, everyone feels entitled to share their opinion with the world.  And that’s because everyone was, at some stage, born!  Everyone has a relationship with ‘birth as they know it”, often developed through a combination of tv sitcoms, romantic comedy movies, horror stories told by friends, and family legends passed down through generations.

The lies that abound are endless, the myths are rarely challenged, and the misperceptions are sadly maintained and perpetuated through lack of awareness.  And the internet is buzzing with online versions of these untruths.

We’ve read chat forums that continue the tradition, telling women who are suffering from birth trauma that the most important thing in the end is a healthy baby, that their relationship is now doomed for keeps, and that they should stop whinging and think about women who have it worse than they do. Sigh.  There is much work to be done.

We have begun this blog to try and address the sea of untruths that spans our world.  These lies and myths about traumatic birth are damaging. They prevent women (and men) from processing and healing.   And they have the potential to – and sometimes do – destroy families.

Winston Churchill once said, “The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.”
The truth about traumatic birth IS incontrovertible.  Birth trauma is real.  It is researched, documented.  And birth trauma is also largely avoidable.  Considering how widespread birth trauma is, this is a very sad truth.

We, as a culture, need to acknowledge the presence and prevalence of Birth Trauma in our community.  There is too much traumatic birth (current stats show 1 in 3 women are reporting a traumatic birth[i], and this well-regarded study was undertaken in Brisbane, Australia).

This is what women need to know…along with certain health professionals, well-meaning partners and mothers-in-laws and even people at the check-out at the shops :

Traumatic birth is not normal birth.  And that is the truth.

And if women are not having normal births, we need to offer them support, and understanding, and a chance to be heard.

Gandhi said, “Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.”   This blog is our way of sweeping away those cobwebs of ignorance that abound about traumatic birth, in order to let the truth shine through, and support the healing process of wounded women everywhere.

We hope you’ll join us here!

©Birthtalk.org 2010


[i] Gamble, Jenny and Creedy, Debra and Moyle, Wendy and Webster, Joan and LcAllister, Margaret and Dickcson, Paul (2005) Effectiveness of a Counseling Intervention After A Traumatic Childbirth : A Randomized Controlled Trial. Birth 32(1):pp11-19

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45 comments

  1. This is so true. I look forward to reading more of your posts:)

    1. Thanks, Rem 🙂 Lovely to see you here 🙂

  2. Lucie · · Reply

    You guys at Birthtalk are my saving Grace. God bless you for the amazing work you do! In my life you have made a real difference, and will continue to do so as I try to heal and get to a better place xox

    1. aww, thanks, Lucie 🙂 We feel privileged to have been along for your healing journey.

  3. Susan · · Reply

    Gosh this is just so true. I have lost count how many times people told me “But you have a healthy baby – you should consider yourself lucky”. But what about a healthy mother? And not just physically healthy – but mentally and emotionally healthy as well.

    1. You’re right, Susan…I’ve lost count too! Emotional health in a new mother just cannot be underestimated. It can change everything, can’t it?

  4. I can no longer talk to my parents about the births of my two daughters as I get the same thing…healthy mother, healthy baby. I am not healthy. I have not entirely healed. My surgical birth openings may be less sensitive but my heart and mind still feel the pain. I still feel robbed of the
    natural birth experience and sometimes feel “less of a woman”. I feel my girls were also robbed of the natural rite of passage and were “taken” instead!! Thank goodness I have stood up for my babies rights to breastfeed for as long as we want, that has been wonderful. Thankyou to Birthtalk, especially Deb and Mel for helping me through this long healing process and my social worker Leigh.

    1. You’re most welcome, Michelle 🙂 I felt robbed for a long time too. I totally understand those emotions. And yay that you reclaimed a bit of empowerment in your breastfeeding decisions…I did the same thing, and it did feel good. Thanks for commenting 🙂

    2. I share your sentiments… The not wanting to talk about certain things, and the feeling that my son was “taken.” I had a cesarean, also. I keep getting hounded [well, not *really* but it FEELS like it] about how we should have circumcised, and how formula isn’t going to hurt my [breastfed] son, or how he should be eating baby food by now… I ALSO get the “Well you should be glad they did a cesarean because the baby was in distress!” Yeah, he was in distress, from the pitocin contractions, and I never should have let anyone induce me. Sorry for the rant. I felt like it was an opportunity. 🙂 So, needless to say, I don’t talk much about the birth to my MIL or her friends or anything like that, and I try not to talk about other things. Their remarks remind me that I wasn’t happy with labor/delivery, and it makes my blood boil. I’m glad there are sites like this where mothers can share stories and offer each other support. 🙂

    3. I have often felt similar feelings, I came across this saying from Grantly Dick Read a while ago which i felt really sums it up

      ‘It is every womans right to give birth to her baby, and not have it delivered to her’.

      Just thought I would share…

  5. elizabeth · · Reply

    Thanks – This is good info. Now when people ask me how my birth was I just shrug and say “Oh, you know, not fun”. What surprised me most was the way the mid-wife came to see me the next day and almost told me that any issues I had with it were to be expected and that there was nothing wrong with what had occured, that my baby and I were healthy and thats all that mattered. I just smiled and said “Don’t worry about it I’m fine”. But there wasn’t any immediate risk to either of us until they intervened in my pregnancy. Typical overdue; induction; epi; c-section process. It amazes me how much I still despise them for it, and the way they went about it – and I’m not someone who despises people usually. And so I imagine that there are lots of women with similar feelings out there. And I think this forum is a great idea!

    1. Hi, Elizabeth – thanks for your comment. I can imagine that ‘not fun’ is a bit of an understatement when it comes to your birth. And whilst I am not surprised that the midwife focused on physical health & underplayed the importance of your emotional status, Deb and I are both deeply saddened by this. I can understand that you have some bad feelings towards your carers, and you are right – there ARE a lot a women who feel similarly. And I guess knowing that does not make it better..but can reduce that sense of isolation. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  6. This is all so true. Having suffered a traumatic birth with my first child, I was blessed to meet two wonderful doula from Birth Buddies in Townsville who helped me heal from my first birth and assist at my second birth, which went a whole lot better. Some time later, I was on a course about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the armed forces and realised that I had all the symptoms of PTSD after the birth. I was lucky I was able to find help and support, many don’t, so I am very happy to hear you are addressing the issue

    1. Yay for Birth Buddies! Debbie, we are also very glad to hear that you were able to find help and support, and yes, many don’t…which is precisely why we have begun our blog 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment.

  7. Great information! Thank you so much for creating a forum for this subject. I experienced two very traumatic births and have worked on healing for years (my “babies” are 21 and 24). I ran into the birth activists who had to think I was not up to the challenge of birth so they could believe what happened to me could not happen to them. I felt very lonely in my pain because I was “fine” and had two healthy babies. I have been motivated over the years to find ways to heal and now I work as a therapist helping other women heal. I have learned so much from listening to other women and realizing how important our birth experiences are. I’m honored to help women get back to themselves and regain their feeling of self. I fear a lot of women don’t dare talk about how traumatized they felt during birth because there is nothing they can do about it. Admitting it is the first step and I applaud you for allowing women to talk.

  8. Great Blog! I have four children, my first 3 were homebirths – happy births – my fourth was in hospital and I feel I was treated awfully – very traumatic! You are brave and are doing a good thing!

  9. Lindsay · · Reply

    this is so true, it reminds me of when people tell a rape victim that they are “lucky” to be alive. it is completely ignorant because emotional well being is just as important as physical! thank you for spreading the message.

    1. jacinta · · Reply

      It is NOTHING like a rape victim being told they are lucky to be alive! Your baby did nothing wrong.. when someone is raped it is a crime, it involves malice and perverted behaviour. Your baby needed to get out, and you needed it out. That doesn’t even compare!! I am saddened by the fact that some women actually feel this way. As i have never, and never will. i DIDNT put my hand up for a cesarean, but it definitely isn’t the worst thing that could of happened to me or baby.

      1. Jacinta – unfortunately Lindsay is right. We have written a reply to your comment, and felt compelled to turn our reply into a completely new blogpost, as there are some big issues that need exploring to understand why Lindsay has made her comment, and we wanted to address the concerns that you have expressed, that others also share. To see our reply, go here : https://birthtraumatruths.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/when-birth-becomes-a-violation/

  10. Carrie · · Reply

    Thank you for your work on this very important and much misunderstood area. I suffered birth traumas with 2 of my 3 c-sections. My last was the worst. My oldest is 23 and my youngest is 15. I have learned over the years as to why I didn’t have a problem with my 2nd c-section. I felt that it was necessary in order to save my baby. I also learned that what I had with my 3rd was PTSD and believe me I still have issues with it even today. Several years ago, I went back to school and got my bachelors in Maternal Child-health and Lactation Consulting. The neat thing about this program was that if I had an interest in learning something that wasn’t already a course, then I could create it. I wanted to learn more about the Emotional and Physiological Aspects of Labor and Delivery and how it affects a woman throughout her life. Partly because I wanted to understand my own birth traumas ad partly because I wanted to help other women. I used to think that every woman that had a c-section was an aweful experience and that every woman that had a vaginal birth had a wonderful experience. I have since learned that is not true. What I learned that affected women the most was that they had no choice. They had no empowerment and then also they were not given the chance to work through their birth experiences…they were not validated. I also learned that the birth of child is one of the most if not the most important life changing events of a woman and can have lasting affects on her for the rest of her life and even carry over in other areas of her life.

    I look forward to seeing more on your blog!

    Carrie

  11. Nicki Zieth · · Reply

    after a traumatic birth 15 years ago I want to thank you so much for talking up for us women who have been told our experience was normal. I am expecting another baby after 14 long years of trying and I am terrified…….but I am also impowered to make sure I have the best chance at a “normal” birth that leaves me with both a healthy baby and a healthy mumma.
    Thankyou so much for saying what I wish I could of said all these years.

  12. funkylamb · · Reply

    “Traumatic birth is not normal birth. And that is the truth.”

    Brought a tear to my eye, it’s a truth I know intimately but haven’t quite acknowledged – thanks.

    1. jacinta · · Reply

      yes this quote is true.. Its not normal, but not everything in life is. Doesnt mean its bad. Olypians aren’t normal, some a freakishly strong, have large feet for swimming (eg. Ian thorpe) but that doesnt mean its a negative, its what you make it.

      1. Jacinta – thanks for your comment. We are not saying that traumatic birth is a freak of nature, like Thorpey’s feet. We are saying that it is not normal as opposed to ‘not usual’. Our culture supposes that it is ‘normal’ to be traumatised by birth just because it is USUAL. That is, many women’s births are emotionally traumatic and have an emotional impact postnatally. This is usual in our society…but it is not normal, as in, not intended by nature for the majority of women. We are not talking about the medical emergencies that sometimes occur (which are truly not normal, but do occur), because even these births do not have to be experienced overall as traumatic, if the woman is well-supported and has excellent care. We are trying to shake the common belief that ‘birth just sucks’, which is difficult, because birth DOES suck for a great many women…regardless of how they are birthing. But it doesn’t HAVE to. We have seen countless women prove that. And if it does suck…then there is something wrong and we need to acknowledge that there will likely be repercussions emotionally for that woman, because it is not normal or the positive transition into parenthood nature designs us to have. Most women we meet who have a traumatic birth find that their births are traumatic as a result of how they were treated. To quote Dr Jenny Gamble, “… in our current system …30 per cent of women report that their birth was traumatic. When we look at what was going on there, the quality of the interpersonal interaction played a part in them feeling traumatised.”. It IS a negative to be poorly treated when in your most vulnerable state, when being well-treated could have made the transition to parenthood so much easier and have a positive impact. This is not cause for complaint, but cause for action. Unfortunately, because most women don’t know that it is not normal to experience a traumatic birth, they do not seek support, and struggle to process their experience. That is why we have created this blog – so women can access the support and validation needed to begin the healing journey.

      2. Jacinta… I’m interested as to why you felt compelled to write a comment? Invalidating comments like yours are just hurtful to women who have suffered birth trauma.. not helpful at all 😦

      3. Difficult, even painful births are not always traumatic, traumatic births are not always physically difficult… The way you are treated and your fear for yourself or those you love is what makes it traumatic…
        I had two good births in a midwife unit, followed by a hideously traumatic induction and unnecessary section in a different unit, an experience which left me with PTSD. My fourth baby was a beautiful home birth… Sadly the comment I get most is about how brave I am to birth at home, when in reality I’d have had to be fearful for my life before I set foot in another maternity unit to be lied to and duped into medical ‘care’ I neither wanted nor needed. Being held down and forced into major surgery is not normal and should not be common or usual either. Being lied to and degraded and having 17 different people’s fingers inserted into my vagina in the name of checking my baby is not even close to something I can ‘get over’ or ‘make it OK.’
        Difficult births are a variation of normal (but nowhere near as common in nature as we make it with intervention) but trauma is NOT normal, it is a defensive response to a situation where we have no control and where we are fearful for our lives or our bodily integrity… The suggestion that birth trauma is normal is like saying that since sex is physical need, rape is not traumatic, or that a woman asked to be treated that way because she wore a short skirt.
        Women need to stand together and say that this is wrong, and to support each other to heal the hurts we have received in the effort to bring the children we love to this world.

      4. jacinta · ·

        Thank you birthtalk, your comment has actually helped me to understand, as i really struggle to grasp why some of these women feel the way they do… However in my mind birth is just a hurdle i had to get past to get to something better (holding my baby). Im sorry if your offended lucie, but not all women understand.. But having it explained to me like this helps. However when just reading the other comments without this explanation, i felt that some of the attitudes that women had were just wrong, and i certainly dont agree with them all. But this has given me a little insight..

    2. You’re welcome, Funkylamb 🙂

  13. I am a midwife and had a “traumatic” birth. One of many! Looking forward to reading through your site. Thank you for your work. There is so much we need to uncover in our culture about birth — and trauma, suffering, disappointment, violence, and fear are just a few.

  14. Thank you for this blog, the most valuable for me is reading all the above comments, thank you ladies for sharing. I am a Massage therapist and DONA trained birth doula, i still struggle with appropriate “wording” with laboring and postpartum women. Eventhough they teach you better ways of saying things and try to “reprogram” our brains from the “healthy mom -healthy baby” comment I still find myself stopping myself from commenting this way. I too would like to go further into learing more about the psychology of birth and how to effectively help a woman through her experience, both during labor and especially postpartum. any comments/suggestions are welcome and may help future moms. thanks!

  15. I do not talk about my first birth anymore. The physical scars have healed as best as they could but the resulting physical issues will never improve and only get worse as I age. More surgery looms eventually. How can I heal emotionally from the experience when I am physically and permanently damaged as well? I could not bring myself to attempt a natural birth the second time and cried during the c-section. My partner and I separated. I wish I could find a way to not cry after I hear my friends birth stories. I have shame and grief but no way to ease it. In the end silence always wins and I just say nothing.

    1. Renee, thank you so much for posting. We can understand that it is challenging to heal emotionally when you have constant physical reminders of what you went through. We can also completely understand crying through the caesarean with your 2nd birth, after your first experience. It makes sense that silence would appear to win, in our culture especially, as most people do not have enough of an understanding of birth trauma to be able to validate and acknowledge the enormity of what you are dealing with, so their response is often not appropriate anyway. We want to reassure you, however, that there ARE ways to address the shame and grief that you feel, and hopefully to ease their intensity. We want to encourage you to keep talking about it…but to people who understand. We are here, whenever you are ready. And we hope that you continue to read our blog and gain more insights into traumatic birth, which can be an important part of the healing process. Thank you for sharing here.

  16. I suffered a traumatic birth with my daughter and am now just weeks away from meeting my second baby. When I booked in to the hospital I was so distressed they referred me to their ‘birth afterthoughts’ service. An experienced midwife & counsellor spent a number of weeks going through our notes with us (prev. experience was at another hospital), and then I underwent a session of ‘human givens rewind therapy’. HGRT is usually given to soldiers etc after traumatic events, and appears to work very quickly. I found it helped me a lot, although there will always be aspects of my last experience which I will find difficult. However – the therapy has enabled me to look to the future and face my next birth experience with a cleaner slate. Perhaps it’s a type of therapy which might interest others in the future. I believe my counsellor is trialling it, and there may be feedback available in the future. I feel very fortunate that I was given this option at the hospital, and I believe it’s something which would benefit many many other mothers. I look forward to reading your blog. xo

  17. I felt I had my son had been ripped out of me and I had a vaginal delivery. I was induced which I tried to stop at one point because I wasn’t happy with the decisions being made. I was made to feel like a criminal for wanting to leave, my husband felt the same too. We felt bullied and pressured and everything felt wrong. It was, for me, a very long and painful birth and was very traumatic. I can’t even talk about it cause it pains me so much. I sat for days crying holding him and wanting to put him back inside. All I’ve ever got from friends and family is “let it go, he’s here now and healthy” and all I want to do is scream “BUT I’M NOT HAPPY, I AM SCARRED” no one seems to care at all which just adds to the trauma.

    1. Bec, I am so sorry your birth was like this. There is simply no excuse for treating you so badly. It doesn’t sound like you got much support, and if your husband was bullied too it might have made it very difficult for him to support you. That is one of the reasons women hire a doula, to provide additional support, just in case things don’t go to plan or the staff don’t agree with what you want. If you want to scream there are people who will listen. If you can’t find anyone local you are more than welcome to contact me via AIMS http://www.aims.org.uk. xx Vicki

    2. Bec – thank you so much for sharing your experience. There is absolutely no reason that women need to be bullied or treated like a criminal, in any situation, but especially not in birth. Being treated the way you were is, as Vicki says above, inexcusable. It sounds like there was so much about your birth that was disempowering, to say the least. Just to touch on one thing from your comment : a situation where you are not being involved in decision-making can have a huge impact on how a woman feels about her birth, & it sounds like you were denied the opportunity on a number of occasions to be involved in your own care, & treated poorly when you attempted to be involved. And that’s only part of it. It would be perfectly reasonable that you might be impacted by your experience, & need some support to be able to process what happened. Thank you so much for sharing.

  18. While my experience was not as bad as some of those shared here, I still feel that it was traumatic. I planned a midwife-attended water birth at a local birthing center. Instead, my previously perfect and easy pregnancy went downhill with a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia. I was transferred from my midwife’s care to a hospital. I landed in the hands of a stranger. The staff at the hospital were not rude, were not openly disrespectful. Some even encouraged my continued journey towards a natural, drug-free labor and delivery.
    However, I was not kept openly informed of my condition. I was not told when it took a turn for the worse. I was not given a goal, if you will, of reaching a vaginal birth before my condition reached a certain point. No one sat down and told me, flat-out, how bad things had gotten. No one, that is, until the doctor came into the room, checked my still-stalled dilation, and announced that I should have a c-section. No warning, nothing. Just threw it out there. I started bawling. I didn’t know what to think. I was overwhelmed. I was scared out of my mind, especially since I’d never had any kind of surgery before, beyond having my wisdom teeth removed. We begged for two more hours, but even with their agreement to allow us this extra time, all hope had been drained from me. I was made to lie down several times during my labor, due to my rising blood pressure, and this made my pain so much worse. As we neared the end of those two hours we’d been given, I gave up. I told my husband to get the doctor. She came in, checked me, and said I’d made no progress. I gave in and consented to the c-section.
    I asked that my mother be in the operating room, along with my husband. They surprised me by saying yes. I asked that we be allowed to have both a camera and a camcorder in the room. For some reason, which even after-the-fact research could not explain, I was told that EITHER a camera OR a video camera could be present. Not both. Disappointed, I chose the camera. I wanted pictures for my little girl’s baby album. Finally, I made my most important request: to have the drape dropped at the moment of my baby’s birth, so that I could watch her come into this world. This was especially important to me, and made even more so by the restrictions that prevented us from having a video camera there. They said NO. I was heartbroken. All I wanted was to be a part of my own child’s birth. I wanted to see her being born. I should have fought harder. I should have refused the surgery until they said they’d let me watch, even for just those few precious moments. But I was tired. So I gave in. Again.
    I was wheeled into the room, transferred to the operating table, and made to endure the spinal without my husband there. They started the surgery before my husband and mother had even entered the room. I was so scared. Then the haze of drugs took over. I have fuzzy, sluggish memories of her first cry, of wishing with all my heart that I could have seen her face first. I was jealous of my mother and husband for getting to witness something that *I* was supposed to be witnessing, too. I couldn’t control one of my arms, which kept levitating off the armrest of its own accord. My baby was lifted over the curtain for a brief moment, and then taken away. I watched them scrub her dry, which was NOT what I wanted — my birth plan clearly stated that I wanted her dried softly and lovingly, and I wanted the vernix rubbed IN, not OFF. But they wanted to do it their way, and they wanted to stimulate her, so once again, my wishes were ignored. She lay on the warmer, crying out for warmth and someone’s arms to hold her. For MY arms to hold her. But all I could manage was nuzzling her cheek when my husband finally received her and held to beside my head. I remember crying. But mostly, I remember the drugs.
    And then, in a final blow against my wishes, I was asked if my husband and baby could go back to our room while the surgeon finished up with me. Again, my birth plan had clearly stated that I wanted my child to remain in the room with me. But I was tired, and out of it from the drugs pumping through my system. So I gave in. Again.
    I was drugged further at the end of the surgery (or so I believe, because I became extremely compliant and unresponsive at this point). When I returned to my room, I was finally allowed to hold my new baby, a full hour after she was born. They turned me onto my side, since I couldn’t move on my own. They laid the baby next to me, guided her to my breast. She fed. She was then held by my mother. Because of that last dose of drugs, I don’t remember what it was like to hold my daughter first time. I was holding this baby I didn’t recognize, my brain moving sluggishly as it tried to comprehend what was going on.
    It has now been almost seven months since her birth, and I still have issues. In the days and weeks following her birth, I had panic attacks every time I had to deal with my incision site. My anxiety levels would go through the roof, I’d start to shake, and I’d freak out. My husband didn’t know how to help me, but he did his best, bless his heart. He helped me clean the site when I could bear to do it myself. He took care of me when I couldn’t take care of myself. I could barely take care of my child. And… MY child? This strange, noisy creature belonged to me? THIS was the being who’d grown in my belly, whom I’d talked to and caressed so lovingly? Why didn’t I feel anything for her? Why couldn’t I recognize her at even the simplest of levels, let alone the deepest? Gradually, the panic attacks faded, only to be overtaken by Postpartum Depression. And, I now believe, PTSD. It is an ongoing fight for me. I am paralyzed with fear that my next birth will happen the same way, that my choices will be stripped from me once more. I still have not fully bonded with my baby. And I hate that.
    And the icing on the cake? My family’s continued conviction that I “should be grateful my baby is healthy.” I AM grateful! Who are you to lecture me on this?! And furthermore, SHE was PERFECT. There was NEVER a hint of danger for her. It was MY body that failed. It was ME who was in danger. So… what about MY health? What about MY healing? Doesn’t it matter…?

    1. Amy, it’s Melissa here from Birthtalk – thank you so much for sharing. It hurts our hearts too (like Renee says below) to read about your experience. We would agree with you that your birth was traumatic – it doesn’t matter that some women have had ‘worse’ things happen to them – what matters is how you felt during your birth, and what impact those feelings are having on you now. I personally completely relate to your feelings of grief, the panic attacks, the numbness towards your baby, the impeded bonding, the PTSD – I experienced all of those postnatally after my first child’s birth. The first thing I want you to know is that your healing DOES matter. The second thing, is that all of those things you are experiencing are REASONABLE considering what you went through. It would make sense that there would be such a fallout after what happened in your birth…which doesn’t at all make it ok…it just means that it is completely understandable that you feel the way you do. There are so many occasions during your birth where you were not fully informed, supported emotionally or respected in your decision-making. This is incredibly disempowering at such a vulnerable time. You were stripped of your dignity as a mother & your instinctive need to welcome, smell, touch or soothe your baby. Why? Because your health carers did not meet or even advocate for your emotional needs amongst the machinations of your hospital. They did not honour the immense importance of this for the ongoing wellbeing of you & your baby, or your right to make informed decisions. I know you felt you ‘gave in’ on a number of occasions, but at Birthtalk we certainly wouldn’t see it that way. On every occasion where you felt you ‘gave in’, that you have mentioned, you were in a position of extreme vulnerability, physically exhausted, in some cases emotionally abandoned, with no-one advocating for you, no-one explaining the pros & cons. You also were in a position where you were relying on these people to help you birth safely – it’s not like you were in a normal everyday situation, where you could have just got up and left – you were making decisions for the survival of you and your child, whilst drugged, strapped to machines, and completely vulnerable. I see nowhere that you have given up in any of those situations you mention – more that you made the best possible choice given the limited power, physical capacity, & support you had available to you. And it was not at all your fault that you were lacking in any of these things – good maternal health care would not have put you in this position. On another issue – it would make sense, on a physiological level, that you did not feel connected to your baby. Due to the drugs you received, plus the anxiety of the situation, as well as your baby being rubbed clean, and not being allowed to have skin-to-skin, it is likely that you did not have the required levels of hormones for an immediate and strong connection to occur. The reason you didn’t feel anything for her, or recognise her at any level, is likely because your hormones were compromised, so although you ‘knew’ intellectually that this was your baby, on an instinctive level you did not have access to that information. This occurs in all mammals, not just humans – it is a normal response to an abnormal situation. (ie it is abnormal, nature-wise, to not receive your baby immediately postbirth, gooey with the smells of birth & skin-to-skin, all of which triggers the hormones that promote bonding). It is possible to reconnect with your child – I have done so with my son, who is now 12yo, but it took time, courage and support. It is also very possible to not have such an experience with your next birth. You already are becoming clear on what aspects of your birth felt wrong, so you already have some information on what your needs will be next time. You may find it helpful to read our latest blogpost, “Birthing Again After Traumatic Birth – Emmy’s Story” https://birthtraumatruths.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/birthing-again-after-traumatic-birth-emmys-story/ to see how one woman worked through her fears, and had a wonderfully empowering birth.

  19. It makes my heart sore, reading your story AmyM. After a extremely traumatic first birth with both my life and my daughter in danger, and permanent physical repercussions for myself, people would say things to me like ‘this has happened to you because you’re strong enough to cope’ and ‘your daughter is healthy and you’re both alive so it’s all worked out’… I couldn’t even explain the distance I felt between myself and my daughter. I didn’t know what was normal. I didn’t feel an overwhelming love or bond. I didn’t think she was beautiful. I don’t think I felt anything like that for her until a moment when she was 10 months old and we had a moment on our back porch where she seemed to look into me with the most compassionate and knowing eyes. And my heart broke and I cried and hugged her and said sorry. Up until then I wasn’t even sure if I loved her and that I was just going through the motions of survival really. I still feel guilty and sometimes worry how that first year of my ‘absence’ has affected our core relationship. Everyone would say I was such a great mum, but inside I felt like such a failure. For failing at birthing well, failing at recovering (I took a long time to physically heal) and then somehow failing to parent. I hope for all of us that have experienced a traumatic birth that we are able to somehow find some acceptance of the events that happened and the trauma softens a little. My second birth was very different but much more positive and I wish you all the best for your next baby. :o)

  20. Jen Keast · · Reply

    Hi, like someone said not all physically difficult birth is traumatic and not all physically straightforward birth is emotionally straightforward. A lot of it is to do with how humanely you are treated and the human part of the process. Combine that with invasive procedures in sensitive areas and that is why it can be a very similar experience to being raped, and the fact that one in three women is a victim of sexual abuse means that an awful lot of people will be being revictimised by their birth experience. To be honest Jacinta I was winding up to blast you (not helpful I know, sorry) but am grateful that you are starting to understand. I’ve experienced both and there are some obvious stark differences but some dramatic similarities too. And I agree that this is why I fear for my life in hospital but easily birthed my second child at home, Jen

  21. Lucie G · · Reply

    Oh Amy…I really, honestly feel for you, it took 6 months for me to actually feel Love for my son and im talking about basic love..it took till he was 2 for me to feel real, deep, absolute Love for him. It will happen for you too.

    Birthtalk… You are both amazing, see how much you help people? Awesome!!

  22. I just feel so much compassion for all these women. I experienced pregnancy trauma, i had hyperemesis gravidarum and was treated with contempt and roughness in hospital including a coerced vaginal exam for no good reason, and was also treated with suspicion and a ”get over it” attitude by friends and family. Thats the short story. To put it simply i was INCREDIBLY sick for MONTHS and so dehydrated my feet peeled, my esophagus tore, i developed a hiatus hernia, and had signs of wernickes encathalopy-which can cause blindness, paralysis, brain damage and death. I’m so blessed that all this prompted me to do a lot of research, hire a doula and birth in the autonomy of my home environment. As a result, in spite of low blood pressure, lots of vomiting and bubs asynclitic position, i had an empowering birth! I know how easily it could have been a whole lot different and i just want to say i believe this kind of support is so important for women struggling to get over the abuses and disempowerment they have suffered.

  23. kezziness · · Reply

    This blog is much needed. There are so many times I hear women saying to other women ‘at least you are both healthy, that’s all that matters’. I cringe when I hear that. Is that all we can offer women? How demeaning. Birth can be so much more. It’s hard to know what to say as women are often very sensitive & traumatised by their birth & just believe the lies in the blog. They often aren’t open to hearing anything different. I’ve decided that sharing my empowering home birth story is the best I can do at this point as it shows a different way of birthing.

  24. Comadrona · · Reply

    None of this is new, but it is still very relevant. My traumatic births led me to become a Midwife because I wanted to help women in the public hospital system to be well-informed about exactly these scenarios. I was incredibly lucky with my last child because I had a lovely home birth with her (not without getting abused one final time by a Dr for even contemplating a vaginal birth after 3 C/s). Actually, he did me a huge favour. I suddenly realised that the ONLY person who could really know what was best for me and my baby was me. I lost my fear, found a wonderful MW who would attend me at home and just did it. It is funny how ordinary and normal I felt. I always tell women now who are contemplating a VBAC that they have already done it the hard, painful way and normal vaginal birth really is much easier and more rewarding – if only they can find someone to support them in their decision. I’m sorry to say that I have recently bailed from the hospital system (much as I feel I did some good during my years there) because I got tired of the unending parade of women who went in with expectations of a fulfilling natural birth and came out damaged. And nobody talks about the sequelae of drugged, surgical birth – breastfeeding difficulties because of drugged baby or anaemia from blood loss or pain; long term discomfort with surgical scars, body dysmorphia, low self esteem…the list goes on. I am dismayed by the simplistic assumption that we should be grateful just to have a live “healthy” baby (actually babies suffer from traumatic births, too). To those women who may not have the opportunity to right the wrongs done to them, I applaud your recognition of your pain – so many are in denial – and hope that you can find a place of peace soon.

  25. I just discovered this blog and am so happy I came across it. The birth of my son was traumatic in my eyes. It kills me that I barely remember his “birth”day. I have to rely on my husband to tell me certain details. I love my son and luckily didn’t have bonding issues and yes, I AM thankful we are both here and healthy but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt and the pain (emotional and physical) I experienced wasn’t real. Thank you for giving women an outlet and more importantly a voice.

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