Whenever that phrase is thrown around it is usually accompanied by women’s stories of being forced into a c-section or being given episiotomies they didn’t want. It’s for the mothers who were treated poorly by the nurses and doctors and for those who were in essence, traumatized by their births.
When people think of birth trauma I doubt they would ever think of me.
I had a straightforward labor in which I stayed in the tub the whole time, refusing to move. I didn’t use drugs, save for the gas I still feel I only wanted because I couldn’t relax on my own with my back labor so bad and not being in familiar surroundings. I pushed for 3 hours and only tore at the very end, and I didn’t need stitches. I had skin to skin contact immediately, delayed cord clamping and my son latched onto my breast within minutes of being born. To put it plainly, I was one of the “lucky” mothers who got through birth unscathed.
Except that’s not true.
I am not unmarred by birth. I WAS traumatized.
Others may not see it that way, but I do. I couldn’t possibly explain WHY birth affects me so much more now than it did before, or why I continue to get upset whenever I see it depicted in the “wrong” way.
I can’t explain why I feel apprehensive about other women’s births and pregnancies, when it’s not like it’s happening to ME, if I don’t call a spade a spade and say that it’s birth trauma.
My sister in law went with a doctor instead of a midwife. I would hear things like “they LET me,” or “hospital policy says I have to do X”. I get angry and tell her that she doesn’t have to do ANYTHING she doesn’t want to do, and I want her and every other woman I know to tell the system to fuck off.
My stepsister is due any day now. She is also with an OB and I fear for her birth experience. Already I discover that she’s submitting to routine exams when I know they are pointless. I want her to switch to a midwife because she was with one before, but she thinks things will go fine. I don’t believe it. I don’t trust doctors. I will probably NEVER believe a thing that any “professional” tells me ever again.
I replay the last few weeks of my pregnancy in my head quite often whenever I think about or read about something to do with birth. Every time I do I get angry about it. I am bitter.
I was lied to.
I was told that my son wasn’t growing properly. I was told I was carrying too small for my dates and that I would need to change my birth setting.
I was told he would not tolerate labor and that I might need an induction and a c-section.
I went in for countless NSTs and Ultrasounds in those last few weeks. My son’s tests all came back with excellent results. He was fine.
I knew he was fine. But SHE kept telling me that he wasn’t.
SHE wanted me to consult with an OB. I never bothered to make an appointment. It was one small act of defiance, but it wasn’t enough.
SHE had put that small doubt into my head and everyone around me was telling me to just have my son in the hospital.
So I cancelled my plan for a home birth.
I got the call from my midwife, the one who had told me to hire a doula and who delivered my son. She told me that the other midwife was full of shit and that she’d ordered one more ultrasound to prove there was nothing wrong. I could have a home birth if I wanted.
And I am so angry with myself for thinking that way was closed to me. I should have told her to go ahead and to ask for help getting everything ready in time. I should have, but I didn’t.
Because I thought that it was too late and what if there was something wrong after all? What if we ended up needing to transfer, as SHE had suggested I might. SHE had said at that appointment, after the tests had come back fine, that most first time moms ended up transfering to the hospital. What did I know about it? I had no idea what my labor and birth would be like!
And I fucking believed her.
I didn’t do what I wanted. I could have, but I didn’t. And then, at 41 weeks I changed my mind. I wanted to have him at home, but I wasn’t registered for a home birth anymore and had no choice. I had to go to the hospital.
I should have insisted. I should have stayed home and just had an “emergency” home birth. But I didn’t. I went to the hospital.
I was harassed by a nurse wanting to take my blood, even though I had it in my records that I had declined that. I was laboring hard and I was stressed out just by being in the hospital and not having my familiar comforts with me. I was in THEIR environment, not mine. I had other women around me all laboring and moaning and their voices threw me off my own rhythm. I was no longer in my hypnotic state.
And then I finally got the tub. I stayed there. I didn’t want to move. Not because I was comfortable just staying there, but because I didn’t have my privacy and I didn’t want to be in that room.
I took the gas because I couldn’t move around and lean over my own furniture. I took the gas to escape from everyone and block out the voices.
If I had been home I wouldn’t have needed the fucking gas.
But for hours I was in my own trance. Breathe in, breathe out. No noise, no interruptions. I drank my gatorade and water and relaxed.
Time had no meaning.
Close to the end of my labor I felt the rush, the pressure. I knew he was coming down, and then I felt his head and knew he would be born soon.
And then hell broke loose.
The nurse figured out I was pushing and I was pulled from the tub. The gas, my only escape from reality, was cruelly taken away from me. I could feel his head literally against the bottom of my pelvis and it made it hard to walk, and still they made me get out of the tub. They forced me into the bright room and I wanted to lean over the bed and squat. They made me get on it. Where was my husband? He had stepped out to go to the bathroom down the hall, since he hadn’t wanted to disturb me. I was in more pain being forced onto the bed than I had ever been in labor. In that moment I lost all control.
I tried to push while lying on my side, but it wasn’t working and they had me semi-reclined on my back. I couldn’t get up and change position because of the back labor and then I was told to hold my breath and push. I was in the absolute worst position possible to birth my son, and now I know that had I been allowed to just do what my body had been telling me to do and been leaning over the fucking bed and squatting, he might have turned his head and come sooner.
I didn’t get cut. I didn’t have any interventions. I birthed him 100% naturally, but I am still not happy.
I know WHY I tore. They didn’t let me wait. I was going by my body’s cues and I knew I just needed that moment to stretch, and they MADE ME push. I KNEW I was going to tear. But I wasn’t in control. They threatened me with an episiotomy if I didn’t do it right NOW.
And then there were so many people in the room with me lying naked and splayed on the bed. I had specified for there to be only the nurse and midwife, maybe a pediatrician, but there were a lot more than that.
I am still bitter that I wasn’t at home.
I wanted to go home the second I regained use of my legs, but they told me to wait until morning. It was 11pm. I should sleep.
So I slept. And I was woken up in the middle of the fucking night by a nurse who threatened to catheterize me if I didn’t go to the toilet right now. So I told her to let me take a bath and I would go in there. I should have asked for a compress to cover the tears. It stung like a bitch, but I endured it because I didn’t want anyone touching me.
And for a week I had several baths a day, just so I could pee.
All because I tore and could have prevented it. I could have birthed at home in the tub, but instead I was on the bed. On my back.
And now, whenever I watch TV and there’s a birth scene, and I see the mother on her back I shake my head. And my husband points out that I birthed that way.
I know. And I’m pissed about it.
I can’t “get over” this. I probably won’t be okay again until I have that second baby and do things 100% my way.
I am so mistrusting of the “professionals” that I have considered birthing unassisted and then calling the midwife AFTER I’m actively pushing. Just so I can avoid all interruptions and exams.
They say that people with birth trauma relive the events closer to their child’s birthday. If that’s true, then I am most definitely a birth trauma victim.
It doesn’t matter if my birth was without intervention. In my mind I still feel that loss of control. My choices were taken from me and I was lied to and coerced into changing my plans.
In the end I don’t blame my midwife (the one who delivered my son). She was working within the hospital and had to follow their protocols. But I feel that if I had just stayed home things would have been so much better. I would have birthed in the pool, squatting, and I probably wouldn’t have felt so stressed. I wouldn’t have torn at all, I’m sure of it. And at the end of it all I would have been able to curl up in my own bed with my husband and my son. I would not have lain awake in the dark for hours with nothing to do, just waiting for morning so that I could go home. I would have already been home.
And yes, there’s always the next baby, but that doesn’t make this okay.
And it doesn’t make it okay for the other birth trauma victims. It’s not okay that we are lied to or forced to follow hospital protocol. It’s not okay when we’re told to “get over it” and enjoy our children and stop focusing on such an “insignificant” setback. It’s not okay when we’re told that it was “for the best”.
Birth Trauma isn’t about what happened but instead how the woman felt about what happened. Ultimately it isn’t that I had a long labor or that I pushed for three hours. It isn’t about pain (I have suffered far worse) or that I tore. It’s that feeling of helplessness that I can’t stomach. It’s having my choices taken away and not having the strength in that moment to resist. I couldn’t birth my child AND explain why I needed or wanted to get into a different position at the same time. And that is what sticks with me. It’s why I fight for women’s rights to the point that my family and friends are sick of it. But I keep doing it. I keep reading every article I can find and I cry at the injustices other mothers face in their pregnancies and births.
So if there is one good thing to come from having my choices taken from me it’s that I am more aware of the problems in our maternity care, and I’ll do my damndest to make sure others are aware of it too.
And hopefully, thirty years from now, my children will live in a world where birth trauma no longer exists.