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Birth trauma is more common than we think…

photo credit : flickr.com/MammaLoves

The words birth trauma are not words we hear often in day-to-day chat. In fact more women are unlikely to talk about a negative birth experience because of the stigma surrounding birth : as long as you have a healthy baby, and are alive, you should be grateful.

Researcher’s out of Australia say differently though. A new study conducted by Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney in Australia and reported in the May 2010 issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing says being denied the opportunity to make informed decisions about birth traumatizes women. Even worse for mothers is the dismissive attitude towards birth trauma and/or negative feelings or memories surrounding the birth experience.The article published out of Canada continues to probe different reasons women do not reveal the feelings they harbor regarding the experiences in a traumatic birth:

“The problem is trivialized and women are blamed,” says Penny Christensen, executive director of Birth Trauma Canada ( www.birthtraumacanada.org). “The attitude is that you survived and your baby survived: Be grateful.”

As someone who has worked with mothers in the past three years, often traumatized by cesarean sections rather than other types of childbirth, I have come to learn there needs to be a safe place for mothers to talk to each other, and vent their experiences without judgment.

Maybe if women know that it is not wrong to have these feelings, they will be more free to share their experiences, feelings, and get the help they really need to move on past their experiences; rather than feeling like they have no place to go, or no one to talk to.

Two mothers took the time to share their traumatic birth experiences in the original article, and I wanted to also include them here. It is important to understand what kind of every day experiences can be put into the classification of trauma.

Brockville-area mother Kerri still gets angry when she describes how she was treated following the birth of her twin daughters, Sage and Claire.

When Kerri was delivering the placenta, she started to hemorrhage. The resident on call became concerned that blood clots might be preventing her uterus from clamping down to stop the bleeding. She inserted her hand into Kerri’s uterus and without any warning or offer of anaesthetic, she began scrapping blood clots from the side of Kerri’s uterus. “She reached deep up inside and started scooping them out while pressing really hard on my uterus.. . . The resident insisted I was feeling sensation and not pain. I stated that, no, I was feeling pain.. . . She entered very roughly over and over again.”

The attending nurse and the resident, both of whom were just starting their shifts, had incorrectly assumed Kerri had received an epidural during the birth and that no additional pain medication was required. The experience was so painful that Kerri says she experienced flashbacks to an earlier sexual assault.

Just one face of trauma. Then there is Kristen:

Kristen Farewell of Toronto is still feeling traumatized by the events surrounding the birth of her son eight weeks ago. An obstetrician consulting on her case (she had planned a home birth) ruptured her membranes without her knowledge or permission. The obstetrician had wanted to admit her to hospital to induce birth after viewing the results of her ultrasound (at 38 weeks and one day). It indicated that her baby was large (estimated at 9 lbs. 3 oz., but actually 7 lbs. 13 oz. at birth) and that her amniotic fluid levels were low (though no one has been willing to confirm for her whether that, in fact, was the case). All she had asked of the doctor was a chance to go home and get some sleep. She had repeatedly stated: “I will come back after I get some sleep and when my support people are here.” He told her he needed to check her cervix — which is when he ruptured her membranes.

“He took away all my chances to try to have the birth I wanted,” says Farewell. She then goes on to describe a birth involving cascading interventions: an epidural after 12 hours of labouring naturally (when her cervix was still at 2 cm. and the baby hadn’t dropped), then a C-section 12 hours later.

Something all to common in The United States currently. While Kristen’s story may not sound like abuse, or trauma, for someone who actively wants to make decisions in their childbirth process, having those choices taken away by a stranger is something that can be considered extremely traumatic in the long run.

As a mother who has had two very difficult births, I stand next to these women, and cease to judge on what a woman may feel after delivering her baby. Which is something all of us as women should start to do, giving these women who truly need a safe space the comfort level to heal.

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