Every now and then, when I have one of my depression roller-coasters, that ultimately end up with me breaking down, crying, frustrated at life, Dave and I always come together. We sit and we talk to each other, trying our best to understand this horrible cloud that has been placed over my head. After the tears, snots and cuddles, my witty humour always comes back out the closet. And the line we always, well I always utter is ‘have kids they said’.
Our life was relatively normal, stress free, non-mental before the birth of Jessica. Still, 2 years down the line we are trying to understand when and what happened to allow my depression to take hold. I have joked on more than one occasion that child birth is ‘traumatic’ and I ‘have post traumatic stress or something’, in fact I’m sure in one of my posts I do say I was traumatized by birth, but in a good way – if there is such a thing. The reason I joke, is that my idea of trauma is enduring a significant, upsetting, fearful, horrendous experience that harms a person, either physically or emotionally, such as rape, robbery, war, assault, experiencing a natural disaster or a car accident. Something that really altered your life, left you in a state of confusion and shock, something that you never want to happen to you again.
That doesn’t include child birth, right?
You can imagine my shock when I found out recently, that there is such a thing as Birth Trauma, and what’s more, up to a third of mothers experience some kind of traumatic response towards child birth. The video popped up on my Facebook feed, I was amazed at trauma and birth being used in the same context. Trauma implied a horrific event, whereas birth is a wonderful, glorious, beautiful event? It can be, but as the video states, a third, A THIRD of women do not agree and I wonder what their partners think on the subject.
Watching the video, it did make me wonder why I was not aware about ‘ Birth Trauma’, nor was my partner. It wasn’t in the baby books, it wasn’t mentioned to me by a midwife, I wasn’t told about it during my leaving hospital interview, my health visitor didn’t broach the subject, maybe no one thought to mention it because I didn’t go through any trauma. But I’m not sure that is necessarily true. Yes, I was extremely lucky to not have any major complications, I did not lose any blood, I did not need any medical intervention to birth my daughter, no doctors rushed in to save my or Jessica’s life, my baby was handed to me instantly and not removed to be placed in intensive care or any horrific place other that with her parents. I will be forever grateful that birthing our daughter was, on the scale of child birth, easy. Yet, it was a day I will never forget, and not because it was the best day of my life (can I say that?), I will never forget as it was traumatic.
All too often childbirth is described with a nonchalant attitude, it’s the ‘run of the mill, no big deal, everyone goes through it‘, kinda day. The veterans, mothers, earn a badge of ‘been there, done that, if I can do it so can you’. We poo poo a new mother’s anxieties and worries, midwives poo poo her anxieties giving helpful advice such as ‘you will be fine’, society poo poo her anxieties. What’s worse is, we force expectant parents to believe this is going to be the best day of her life, it’s natural, it’s wonderful! It must be, people have been doing it again and again for thousands of years.
However, I fear this kind of attitude creates a cloak that new parent’s must wear, forced upon them, concealing how they truly felt about the birth of their child. For me, I feel it has created an almost shameful experience about birth, as if it wasn’t a big deal and I am making a mountain out of a mole hill, I had an uncomplicated birth, I have no right to feel anything other than rainbows of love and glittering happy thoughts about my body being torn in two having my baby. Unless a woman’s life or her baby’s life is in serious peril, child birth is easy? No justification for feeling traumatized?
Take a step back and look at child birth, especially for first time parents. Imagine the woman, exhausted from 9 months of baby cooking, entering into an unknown, painful situation. For the most part, she and her baby are at the whim of health care professionals, under their complete control.
From a women’s perspective (my own) her body becomes the property of the medical staff, stripped bare, machines attached, genitals out, strangers having a gander, preparing for her baby. It’s natural, expected, how else would you get a baby out if it wasn’t half naked? That doesn’t mean that every woman will be ok with it or completely comfortable. Screaming or not, pain relief or not, she is still in unknown territory, worrying about her child. She is expected to deliver this baby buy any means, by any intervention. Some people don’t like the dentist with all their tools or torture, can you imagine being in a room with such tools that are only used on one very intimate, sexual, hidden, shy part of your body?! Of course we all want the child out safely, but that doesn’t mean either parent will push aside their fear and welcome a suction cup to sook that baby out of there! Nor will either parent rejoice at the prospect of being ‘cut’ to allow the baby out – the last thing I heard before I pushed that little vagina basher shooting right out of me. Hell no. It’s terrifying.
The aftermath of child birth is hardly a picnic either, yet we all joke about rips and stitches. Having been through such a wild ride, both parents are likely to be a swirling mix of emotions, and for many love isn’t at the top of the list. You aren’t handed your child, patched up and lead out to your unicorn pulled cart. At this stage medical intervention usually happens, whether it be the placenta injection, stitches, removing the placenta, clean up, whatever, there are going to be another batch of people at her swatch (sorry, couldn’t resist that poetry). For many new mothers, they will be hearing terms for the first time, trying to work out if that’s worry she can see on the nurse’s face. She may lie there as nurses and doctors attempt damage control in terms of sewing up vaginal rips and tears. She may need more life threatening treatment than a stitch. She will feel the overwhelming pressure of responsibility placed on her shoulders, she is a mother now. All of which she is expected to endure as it’s part and parcel of child birth. This new, tired mother is expected to lie there, feeling happy, her baby is born, child birth is over, that was easy, right?
Her partner can do little but watch and offer support. How terrifying must this be! Someone you deeply care about in so much pain and so much uncertainty. I can only imagine seeing my partner in so much pain, watching him moan, knowing that yes, s/he is more than likely to be fine, but terrible outcomes do happen. Watching as the nurse informs him/her something isn’t quite right with the placenta, half of it is still inside. To watch as his/her partner is subject to yet more intimate examinations, with a very real fear that something could go wrong, even though the baby has been born. But s/he should be happy, the baby is born, s/he has a family, that was easy right?
For my partner and myself, and I presume a huge number of other couples, it wasn’t easy. Yes, the birthing bit was on the scale of getting a baby out safely was easy, but I didn’t find it easy and my partner didn’t find it a particularity joyful ride either. He has since told me he was worried beyond belief for my safety, a fact that is often not spoken about before giving birth, nor did we think it would be an issue. He was terrified of losing his family.
Personally, I found it extremely taxing on my body and mind. Immediately after birthing Jess I was a pale, exhausted, shell – and for several weeks after. I did experience a ripped placenta and several tears. I can still remember being told the doctor would need to get the placenta out and then my labia tears would be stitched. At the time, I didn’t mind, it was a necessity. Looking back, I’m thinking, someone was going to inject and stitch my sexual organs?! After literately punching a placenta out of me?! In what way is that not considered on some low level, traumatic?
Being left with some less than wonderful emotions surrounding child birth, so too has my partner, I masked my utter horror and upset at the whole event in the form of humour. Ha ha I have a spaghetti cheese string in stead of labia now, ha ha it’s just child birth and I’m completely ok with everything. What I should have said was I was scared, I was in so much pain, I feared the placenta wouldn’t come out, my vagina was a swollen bag of rocks, I had a baby and felt nothing. But I kept my pain to myself, I slapped on a brave face, as if I had just popped out to buy a baby from the baby store, every other mum on the planet had done it and some had a real rough ride, who am I to be so traumatised?!
What should be the case, is that new parents are allowed to express freely and honestly their experience of child birth without fear of looking like a drama queen. The trauma that child birth can create should be educated before hand, expectant parents should be made well aware of the negative impact that can be associated with birth. No matter the birthing situation, life threatening or not, you are free to feel as you feel. You can experience an ‘easy’ child birth and still have strong, negative emotions about it. I fear many couples, in secret, carry birth trauma on their shoulders or maybe they aren’t aware that it exists. Maybe, like myself, they feel that they do not have the justification to have these strong emotions regarding their birth story.
It’s about high time we recognize child birth for what it is and put that damaging Hollywood image of loved up parents, smiling, relieved and happy, right in the bin, where it belongs! Child birth is wonderful as it produces a child, creates a bond, changes a person’s life forever. But child birth is also one of the hardest things a human will do, it’s isolating, it’s terrifying, it’s invasive, it’s life threatening, it’s damaging, it’s long lasting and it’s traumatising. It is a huge life changing event, a very individual, deep and intimate event, placing both parents in a situation that no one can prepare them for.
Like many aspects of birth, birth trauma is underestimated and kept well below the radar. Many women gloss over it, pretend the haven’t been affected or presume it’s a normal part of child birth. Some may even feel ashamed for their thoughts. If, for any reason, you feel that you or your partner has suffered physically or emotionally during child birth, please know that there is support available.
Any feelings you have towards child birth, good or bad, are ok to express, they are normal. Don’t feel like you need to hide or gloss over them for others, chances are other parents probably feel the same as you feel.