I had an awful birth experience. But I didn’t die. My baby didn’t die.
In fact, she is thriving – the brightest, happiest little ray of sunshine you ever did meet. And, almost two years on, here I am, getting the help I need. We all lived to tell the tale. So why does that tale even need to be told any more?
Because birth is not always a positive experience.
And being honest about that should not be something that women are made to feel shame or guilt over. Expressing natural feelings of sadness or anger about a difficult birth doesn’t mean that a new mother is ungrateful for a healthy baby, the opportunity for motherhood, or anything else.
Because silencing anyone who has lived through trauma is not OK.
I was utterly shellshocked by my experience, but I didn’t feel able to talk to anyone about it without downplaying it, because I didn’t want to be ‘too negative’. With a new baby, you are expected to give smiling introductions to eager friends and family. Not be a tearful wreck. I self-silenced on my feelings, because I felt the implicit judgement and silent comparisons of friends, family and strangers when I gave the basic stats and details everyone asks for.
“Ooh, it sounds like my birth…” (…but I’m fine so…?). “My labour was much longer/shorter…” (…you’re lucky).”Well at least you have a healthy baby…” (…get over yourself and stop whining). If someone has been in a car crash, or escaped their burning house in the middle of the night, they are received with open ears and arms. We are horrified and want to help.
But birth is such a commonplace event, and one which evokes so much for others, there simply isn’t the same space for a new mother to express what she’s been through with honesty, and not feel judgement or comparison. And when a traumatic experience is compounded by feelings of shame and guilt, because there is no space for open discussion, it only leads to isolation.
Because it affects more women than we think.
An estimated 30% of women who give birth are likely to end up on the spectrum of birth trauma, whether they recognise and report it or not. And it isn’t just after extreme cases where the mother or baby was at risk of dying. It is also happens for those who have experienced intervention which felt violating, and those who were not treated with appropriate levels of care, dignity and respect by the medical staff.
Sadly, because women are shamed into silence over experiencing anything less than a perfect birth, or don’t know enough about birth trauma, they often feel the impact of a traumatic birth silently. Going without treatment, they feel the negative impacts of their experience way longer than is necessary. But knowledge is power. If you know about it, and you end up as the one in three on the spectrum of birth trauma, you will know you are not alone. You will not experience the isolation of being shamed into silence, because ‘a healthy baby’ was not enough for you.