Here is an article from the UK that is making the rounds. The title is Not a Happy Birthday, and is a story of what one woman endured at the hands of her midwife, during what should have been an uncomplicated birth. It is not a “feel-good” read, but birth trauma has become too common these days to be ignored. Most women aren’t victimized in this way during birth, but some are. Even one is too many. Unfortunately, I’ve read many stories that corroborate this woman’s experience.
From what I’ve read of typical hospital birth in the 1900s, I would say that birth trauma used to be commonplace until general anesthesia for vaginal births was finally stopped. In the era of “twilight sleep” women were given drugs (at their request!) to dull the pain and to make them forget the experience. These drugs made the women act like animals, and were routinely tied to their beds. This was also the era of near-100% episiotomy-and-forceps births. Even as twilight sleep went out of fashion and general anesthesia became “the drug of choice,” the intentional (and almost completely unnecessary) cutting of a woman’s genital area and pulling her baby out by the head with cold steel forceps remained. This kind of birth was traumatic, although the women weren’t awake to experience it–they were just left to deal with the pain of the stitches and the discomfort of having their pubic hair grow back in. This is the kind of birth that my mother had, all four times, and she is basically terrified and/or nervous about birth. She has no knowledge of what it was like to give birth, and only knows the pain of labor contractions and the pain of recovery from this artificial way of “giving” birth. There is a term called “body memory” which if I understand it correctly, is the idea that your body remembers what was done to it, even if you were not fully conscious or don’t have a mental memory of it–either because you were knocked out, or the body part was numbed, or you were too young to remember it. The existence of the term makes me wonder about the past generation of women…
Now, today, we have too many birth professionals who seem to view birthing women as machines that are just supposed to spit out babies, regardless of the conditions, or how they are made to feel. If the woman doesn’t dilate according to the charts, or doesn’t push her baby out according to the statistical average, she is labeled “failure to progress” or “pelvis too small,” when the reality is, women are not machines. We are human. We need to be treated humanely at all times, but especially during birth. When we give birth, we are at our most open and most vulnerable–not just from having to be at least partially unclothed in order for the baby to come out, but also because of the hormones involved in starting labor and keeping it going. The chief hormone is oxytocin, which is the hormone also present when we breastfeed and when we make love. The vulnerability you have with your husband when making love is similar to the feelings you may have when giving birth. (Many women relate this lack of inhibition and say, “I didn’t care who was there, or what they could see!”) Unfortunately, hospitals are not very good at having an environment that encourages this openness, this vulnerability, this production of oxytocin. (Which is why labor often slows down when a woman enters the hospital; increased anxiety [“this is really IT!”] also plays a role.) And, as this article points out, this vulnerability can be used against women, to force things upon them that they would not otherwise accept.
Filed under: birth experience Tagged: | baby, baby blues, birth rape, birth trauma, childbirth, health, labor and birth, postpartum, postpartum depression, PPD, pregnancy, pregnant, PTSD, trauma, traumatic, traumatized