• Brittany Irwin

What is Birth Trauma, anyway?

How the choices we make can have a lasting impact.

You've probably seen my mission statement on my "About" page, and noticed that it starts with this:

"My goal and passion as a doula is to see birth trauma end."

Maybe you glanced over it, or perhaps you took a moment and asked yourself, "what is birth trauma?"

I'm not interested in describing the standard medical definition of birth trauma which has to do with bodily injury; but rather the psychological and emotional kind of birth trauma. Understanding what lingers after a mother has a traumatic birth experience.

Not nearly enough research has been done looking into this subject, but I'm grateful for the little information we do have.

Damage that cannot be undone.

Lamaze International’s Listening to Mothers Survey II included a nationally representative sample of 1,573 mothers. They found that 9% fully met the diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder following their births, and an additional 18% had PTS. These findings also varied by ethnic group: a whopping 26% of non-Hispanic black mothers had PTS. The authors noted that “the high percentage of mothers with elevated posttraumatic stress symptoms is a sobering statistic” (Beck, Gable, Sakala, & Declercq, 2011).  

In a meta-ethnography of 10 studies, women with PTSD were more likely to describe their births negatively if they felt “invisible and out of control” (Elmir, Schmied, Wilkes, & Jackson, 2010).  The women used phrases, such as “barbaric,” “inhumane,” “intrusive,” “horrific,” and “degrading” to describe the mistreatment they received from health care professionals.

This needs to STOP!

Women deserve better than this!

This is a perfect example of what I work hard to fight against, and what I intend to change by using my influence to support Moms and their partners.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! -Be informed. Be empowered.

As a birth doula I invest valuable time with my clients. I provide them with information and resources that every parent needs so they can be educated and prepared for birth and all that goes with it.

I counsel and encourage them to be an active participant in the childbirth experience. To sit in the driver seat of their healthcare decisions, and to not let anyone else bully them out of that position.

One thing that most people find interesting to learn is that your care providers (doctors, midwives, etc) WORK FOR YOU.

You hire them, and you can fire them too.

Did you know that if you feel that your nurse is being unnecessarily rude or rough, you can dismiss them and request another? Or if your doctor or midwife is doing things to your body that make you uncomfortable (hello, informed consent!), you can say, "NOPE!" hire a different one?

Really, it's true!

But it is imperative that you make a these decisions before labor starts.

My advice that I tell all of my clients:

1. Interview multiple midwives and doctors. And if your doc works in a practice with multiple doctors, interview them as well, because there's a chance they could be at your birth.

2. Tour hospitals and birth centers and ask to see their stats. (cesarean percentages, transfer rates, etc.) Knowledge is power here, folks!

3. Make a list of what's important to you and ask good questions, even the controversial ones.

Who you hire and where you choose to birth will have an enormous impact on your childbirth experience!

Ultimately, ALWAYS trust your gut and find the right fit for you.

Common misconceptions.

People tend to think that as a birth doula I can intervene if things are going south and start calling the shots. -WRONG! Doulas are not medical professionals. We're not legally permitted to do that.

I can't make decisions for you or speak on your behalf. I can only remind you of your wishes and the plan you put together for your birth. Either you or your partner have to advocate for yourselves when it matters the most. This is why choosing a great care provider that you fully trust is so important. It makes those decisions and preferences easier for you to vocalize, and you're more likely to see them honored.

Set yourself up so you don't have to question or wonder if the suggestions or decisions that your provider is making, has both you and baby's best interest in mind.

Ultimate goal: THRIVE!

I find it disappointing and sad that the baseline and standard for care in the US Maternal healthcare system is survival.

We ignore the emotional and mental state of mothers post birth. We do a disservice to them by dismissing the damage done from birth trauma by settling for, "At least mom and baby survived." We even go so far as to say, "That's the most important thing." -NO, it's not, and I refuse to accept this level of care!

I want to challenge you and my clients to aim higher than that.

It's time we set our expectations and focus on a thriving mother AND baby!!!

I have a dream that one day things will be different:

-From the beginning, women are being educated of their rights and options as a patient.

-They're given an opportunity to learn how their body works for them. How it changes throughout pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum.

-Taught ways to give themselves the best self-care to ensure a healthy birth.

-Surrounded and supported by a doula and a compassionate healthcare team.

-Set up for a generously supported, and restful postpartum recovery time.

...and ultimately, to see birth trauma end!

Excerpts taken from this article regarding birth trauma statistics:

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