Actually the figure varies from 25% to 35% depending on what source is quoted but either way that is still a huge number of parents who feel their birth was traumatic. I have been asked if there are factors that leave someone more vulnerable to experiencing a situation as traumatic and whilst there are it would be foolish to focus on those factors that when actually it is common medical procedure, protocol, and desensitisation towards parents that are the cause.
The ICD-10 (International Classification for Disease) criteria for PTSD states that the person effected will have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, have thought their life or someone close to them to have been in danger or that there was a threat to their physical integrity. Additionally those reporting a traumatic birth often have experienced a loss of control and have felt helpless.
Looking at the criteria it isn’t difficult to understand how some maternity practices create a traumatic scenario for birthing mothers and why 30% of parents describe their birth as traumatic.
Central to the criteria for birth trauma is that parents feel that their life was in danger or someone close to them was (baby or mother from the father’s perspective). Having been witness to a few traumatic births (unfortunately part of the job as a birth doula) I can appreciate this threat to life is often a matter of perspective. Sometimes common ‘emergency’ situations are presented by care providers as ‘life or death’ moments and this is very frightening for parents. This might be because they wish to coerce parents into making a snappy decision about care, or because they are panicking themselves as medical professionals. Either way it has the potential to traumatise parents because they don’t know what is going on, they feel powerless and out of control and they feel their life or their partners or their baby’s life is in danger. It’s really important therefore that doulas, midwifes and obstetricians calmly explain situations and options available to parents, that we encourage them to ask questions in order for them to regain control over their birth. That we honour parents autonomy to make choices for themselves and place this above the desire to process parents through the system.
Reports of being transgressed are another common feature for those who have experienced a traumatic birth. 1 in 4 women will have experienced sexual abuse and so it is important that birth doesn’t re-trigger this trauma because of vaginal examinations or any other invasive procedure. Yet VEs are often insisted upon even when mothers are reluctant and sometimes used as a coercive measure to be admitted into hospital ‘we can’t let you into a birthing room until we know how far along you are’. Continuous Fetal Monitoring also can feel like a transgression for laboring mums as it tethers them to a bed in an uncomfortable recumbent position. Unable to move and focused on their baby’s heart rate constantly it is easy to understand how this situation can contribute to a traumatic birth. Care providers need to be much more sensitive to how many medical procedures feel to a vulnerable woman in labour. It feels like an abuse, it feels inhuman, it feels like they don’t matter, that their bodies are expendable. These procedures need to be used sparingly, alternative needs to be researched, found and used because for many women these procedures feel like institutional abuse that is sanctioned and legal.
A loss of control is another factor that contributes to a traumatic situation. Parents can feel that birth is somehow taken out of their hands and dealt with by care providers so that they can feel helpless and out of control. We have a duty to support parents to birth at their own pace, to make their own decisions and to provide them with ALL the relevant information to do this.
Until we address the medical protocol and procedure around birth there will always be a high percentage who report their birth as traumatic.
To learn more about the symptoms of PTSD or the effective 3 step Rewind treatment then go towww.traumaticbirthrecovery.com