For the final installment of our Reclaiming Our Power series, I want to address something we don’t talk about much.
Warning to haters: You are NOT welcome to shame or belittle anyone’s negative feelings toward pregnancy, childbirth, PPD, or birth trauma here. Just because it didn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to others. And just because it didn’t happen to you does not mean these women are weak or bad mothers. If you cannot muster up even a modicum of sincere empathy for women whose experiences are harder than yours, then you are not welcome here. FULL STOP.
The conversation on perinatal mood disorders has become louder and more inclusive of late. Medical professionals are finally taking note of the data supporting the prevalence of the problem, and are increasing and improving the screening process. Pediatricians are taking time to focus on mothers during child well-check visits. There are numerous organizations throughout the country, spearheaded by courageous women and men, demanding funding and change in legislation to prevent PPD affected women from falling through the cracks in the medical system and to no longer ignore mothers who need help. Mom blogs are a safe haven for women who thought they were alone in their suffering. We are finally admitting that dads can get PPD. Documentaries and news reports are spotlighting postpartum depression and anxiety, and the FDA is on the brink of approving a postpartum depression drug! This is all Progress!
If you’re lucky, you can talk about all the hard things with your spouse and/or a therapist. Interestingly, even in our most intimate of discussions, even when we think we are laying all our cards out on the table, some of us are still keeping a secret.
Childbirth, the actual physical act of birthing a human being, is traumatic. I am not using that word lightly, and it is not synonymous with difficult. Birth is traumatic. We are biologically programmed to reproduce, but that doesn’t mean the process and experience is not difficult or traumatic. Whether you deliver vaginally, via cesarean, with an epidural, without an epidural, in a tub, on a bed, WHATEVER- your body is affected by the expulsion of this other human, often negatively, and often in irreversible ways.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Well, psychologically speaking, if childbirth doesn’t kill you it can traumatize your mind, causing flashbacks and lifelong stress. It can produce anxiety that never leaves and negatively affect your ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. Furthering the effects of this PTSD, women are expected to recover quickly and dismiss the negative birth experience as par for the course. “You chose to be a mom, so suck it up, buttercup.”
Physically speaking, a negative or traumatic birth can stimulate dysfunction within bodily systems, weakening of core muscles, incontinence, and misalignment of vertebrae and nerves. It can produce hormonal dysregulation, causing changes in body mass, digestive functioning, sleep patterns, and mood regulation.
Modern medicine has improved women’s lives and increased their lifespans. My daughter and I would have died during her birth without it. But, much of the trauma surrounding birth, I submit, stems from the fact that we hand over our power to the “experts”, and distrust ourselves. Doctors make a living on your pregnancy and childbirth. They are (too often) going to do whatever makes the process easiest on them. (Giving birth while lying on your back has become standard because it positions the doctors in the position of the having the most power. They can control all the variables in that position. Never mind that being on your back increases the likelihood of perineal tearing, prolapse, and pelvic floor dysfunction.) Childbirth is an industry, and its bottom line is procuring babies, regardless of the cost to the mother. And if you had a c-section, you had major surgery on top of it all.
Also, chances are, when you delivered, you were alone. Yes, your partner may have been there, your birth professionals, maybe even another family member. But, gone are the days of women rallying together to celebrate new life and empower the life-giver. Women are isolated when giving birth, and the village that once supported new mothers, giving them strength and purpose, has dissipated into a collection of individuals forced to prove their mettle by doing it alone.
How is this NOT traumatic? And these things can occur even under the best of birthing circumstances. No wonder modern women are so depressed after giving birth. So much attention lately has been given to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans, abuse victims, and survivors of catastrophes, but why not mothers?
We must stop forcing women to go through childbirth alone. We must stop removing resources that improve mental and physical functioning during and after childbirth. We must rally around the life-giver and share in the responsibility of caring for her and the life she toiled to bring into this world. We must stop ignoring the suffering. We must remember that we are all in this together. We must stop being a society of rugged individuals and start being a community of helpers. We must restore our villages.
Our mental health, our physical health, our lives depend on it.
For millennia, childbirth was the leading cause of death among women. Throughout the undeveloped world, it still is. In the United States, maternal mortality is ON THE RISE and is the highest among developed countries. If we don’t call childbirth in America traumatic, we are deluding ourselves.