Just one day?
Years ago, I used to run antenatal classes for the local twins club. I remember saying to mums – “Birth is just one day of your life – try not to get too focussed on it and focus instead on how you’re going to manage your babies”.
This was way before I did any of my doula training or really became involved in the birth world. I think deep down I knew this wasn’t totally true as every time I spoke about my own births I would still often cry about them. I was still very angry about what had happened.
Maybe by saying that to mums – it was a way to dismiss my own feelings of failure or hoping that they’d join me in my birth club? I’m not sure. And commonly, other women who think or say the same – haven’t had great experiences themselves.
Healing my own births
When I did my doula training, it unearthed so much for me. I was constantly triggered reading bookings, viewing films and chatting to people. I felt I had never really given birth – there was something very deep within me that felt wrong. It started a path for me of healing and over time, I grew in confidence, I forgave myself, I came to terms with what had happened and how it had affected me. And I healed.
Working in the world of birth trauma
More and more working as a doula I was sought out by traumatised women from their births. This was never where I thought I’d be working. I presumed my work would be all twin support – instead most of my work with birth trauma and VBACs (often with some level of birth trauma/grief). The descriptions about how they felt about their birth really resonated with me – grief, disappointment, a sense of failure, loss and a feeling of being powerless.
I came into the world of birth trauma – not realising it was something that I was already affected by, and how many other women were really affected by it.
It’s estimated around a third of women might be traumatised by their birth. That’s trauma on a spectrum from those experiencing PTSD (incorporating flashbacks, hypervigilance, anxiety, panic attacks) to those with much milder trauma. Everyone is different. And how everyone reacts and reflects on their birth experiences is different – even for a like for like experience.
Sometimes I listen to birth stories and it’s often not been that traumatic an event, but the reflection is traumatic because of how unsafe a woman has been made to feel or some re-triggering of a previous life event. Other times I hear stories and I’m shocked at what’s happened and I feel this need to say, as a human, “I am so sorry you were treated like that” as an apology on behalf of the human race for all the errors that have happened to them.
I ended up sitting beside a woman on the bus the other day with the cutest little boy who was 15 months old. She was asking me when I was expecting my baby. I said it was baby number 4 – and she said very clearly because of what happened in her birth – she would never be having any more children.
That’s something I hear regularly… women who have had such terrible birth experiences that it puts them off having children again. A sad yet common scenario – do some research in the birth trauma community and you’ll hear that story again and again and again.
Lack of emotional support
When we examine these stories – more often than not, it’s not what’s happened at the birth but how a woman has been made to feel. She’s been left alone, been made to feel unsafe, she’s not been supported, no one has listened to her, sought her permission, she’s felt coerced into decisions, health care professionals have stepped over emotional or physical boundaries. And no one has stepped forward to say I’m sorry. No one has acknowledged how she’s felt or is feeling.
Whilst I know that sometimes emergencies do happen – often birth trauma is not the result of a naturally occurring emergency but more what has happened to a woman as the consequence of an intervention or not being emotionally held, respected or listened to. Birth can leave women with both physical and emotional scars.
Birth trauma can also affect dads too – something that is rarely acknowledged. We must be much more understanding how the birth process can really change the family dynamics. Not only are they traumatised by the experiences, at times they can feel powerless and helpless. And occasionally they are blamed for all the things that happened during the birth. It can really create a rift.
Can we reduce the risk of birth trauma?
My main interest, however, is reducing the risk in the first place through the birth experience. Mainly what I believe is that educating women to be informed, know their rights, have the right birth support and know how to ask all the right questions is key to reducing birth trauma. That’s in addition to developing a positive mindset, understanding primal birth and how the body works and preparing physically.
I was delighted to get this from one of the recent Birth Bundle users who said….
“We had a planned homebirth. We went into labour naturally at 23.30 and he was born at 15.30. We feel so lucky to have got our homebirth but had been prepared things might take other routes, we went into hospital initially as there wasn’t a midwife and then there was meconium. We were offered to speed things up but due to your course I questioned this and they agreed things were moving fast at that stage anyway. After monitoring they advised it was safe to go home and the homebirth midwife was back. And we went home at 5am. The homebirth midwives were wonderful, they were in the background but gave us confidence and support when we needed it. It was so special for us to have our baby at home and to all be together in our own home. But we also felt prepared and able to make choices had we have been in hospital.”
Super proud of this mum – to know how to ask questions and make decisions based on your own choices and beliefs. It could have been a completely different experience (which I know all too well).
Having a birth “speeded” up (ie augmented) or induced is one of the biggest things that can ruin a perfectly good birth. There are occasionally times there are valid reasons to have this intervention. As the World Health Organisation, however, recommended in their recent publication, if mum and baby are both well, then interventions are not always necessary.
“Whilst much is known about the clinical management of labour and childbirth less attention is paid to what, beyond clinical interventions, needs to be done to make women feel safe, comfortable and positive about the experience. The growing knowledge on how to initiate, accelerate, terminate, regulate, or monitor the physiological process of labour and childbirth has led to an increasing medicalization of the process. It is now being understood that this approach may undermine a woman’s own capability in giving birth and could negatively impact her experience of what should normally be a positive, life-changing experience.” (World Health Organisation, 2018)
I recently attended an amazing HBAC (homebirth after caesarean) where the mum patiently waited her baby appearing. There had been various challenging meetings where again and again she was told of numerous risks. The odds, however, of her body and baby having a beautiful birth were stacked very clearly in her favour (as they are with the VAST majority women).
My client ended up having an amazing and super speedy birth with a complete fetal ejection reflex (where the body literally takes over and the baby pops out – the second time I’ve witnessed this – both times it’s been at hands off births at home).
She told me – after she got into bed she said to her partner – “I want to do that all over again”. I got an amazing text saying “I feel invincible”.
She’s not the first person to ever say that to me after an amazing birth experience. She’s a typical illustration of how birth can clearly make a woman feel – and that’s powerful.
You don’t need to have a vaginal birth to have a good birth
I don’t for a moment believe that only women who have vaginal births at home have brilliant births. I believe that all births can be amazing – when women are ACTIVE decision makers in the process and are well supported and cared for.
Birth is a profound, pivotal and spiritual moment
In my opinion birth is a profound, pivotal and spiritual moment in our lives. It shapes us as women and has a life-long effect on us. It affects how we start our experiences as mothers and how we feel about ourselves as women.
Much love, Tricia xxx