I’ve learnt a lot over the last week about how I could have avoided birth trauma and subsequent PTSD. My original blog on my shit birth went viral in weeks and was viewed and shared over 100,000 times worldwide. So it obviously resonates with many and is a subject we need to talk about. Media attention followed on The Guardian, the BBC (and here too!), Made in Leeds TV and Radio 5 live breakfast show. I was totally floored and humbled by the hundreds of women bravely sharing their birth trauma stories in return. It made me feel less alone, and heartened that if we all speak up, if we all demand change, it might actually happen. A little spark ignited in my belly. Hope.
But then. The ‘wisdom’ of strangers. Honestly, I have been knocked sideways by the things I really should have known, and I am so glad to have been corrected on my ignorance (with such kindness and sincerity too!) by people who have A. never possessed a vagina, B. never given birth in their lives and C. evidently never experienced trauma of any kind, ever.
I share these Important Facts because I am sure that many others would benefit from this wisdom, so they too can protect themselves from experiencing trauma in any upcoming births, or at least learn where they went wrong last time. Because, you know, it was your fault after all. So, without further ado, I present to you highlights of How I Should Have Avoided Birth Trauma, by Expert Commenters of The Interweb:
- “Just stop being a pansy”. Oh okay then. Why not. I’ll give that a go next time. But first, I would love to know if you have ever had a surgical cut through several inches of your vagina WITHOUT PAINKILLERS. After 20 hours of labour. You haven’t? Oh! You should try it, it’s positively fun!
- “Just don’t have a baby ffs”. Or more eloquently (but equally stupidly) put, “please don’t feel it’s your duty to bear more children; at this parlous stage in the Earth’s history, one child is more than enough anyway.” Which is all well and good. Apart from the fact that A. it’s a bit late, B. my blog was to start a conversation on birth trauma, not on population control, and C. you have absolutely no right as a total stranger to comment on my family planning choices, particularly not whilst I am sharing a raw and vulnerable personal story of how I experienced trauma due to medical intervention.
- “Lower your expectations. Don’t expect a “natural birth” with fluffy bears and birdsong. Child birth is not physically a pleasant experience, it’s often traumatic, but women have been doing it forever.” That is so true. Except for the fact that the PTSD I experienced was not due to my terribly high expectations of birdsong. Nor, come to mention it, the physical act of giving birth. The 20+ hours of drug-free labour wasn’t particularly pleasant, you’re right. Nor was the emergency episiotomy with no time for painkillers. But nobody in their right mind would expect them to be a pleasant experience, would they? I certainly wasn’t under any false illusions about that. And actually, neither of those give me flashbacks at all. The trauma I experienced, and why I continue to receive treatment for PTSD, was not because of the pain of birth. Nor the duration of my labour. Nor how much blood I lost (which was a lot, by the way. I struggled to walk from one room to the next for weeks afterwards due to anaemia). Nor was it because of the way I delivered my baby into this world. The trauma I experienced was as the result of fear for my baby’s life. The helplessness and the total lack of control I felt when there was silence on the heartbeat monitor and nothing I could do to save her, despite my best efforts. It was the result of a dozen strangers putting hands and instruments into my vagina without a word to my face, as if I was a piece of meat, rather than a human being with dignity and rights, not to mention a patient in my own right, with physical and mental health needs to consider too.
- “Don’t bother with a birth plan – the use of paddling pools and rocking chairs is an absolute joke but still it is peddled.” Yes, I totally agree. Except for the fact that the birthing pool didn’t put its hands in my vagina uninvited, shove metal instruments up me against my will or cut me open without painkillers. Except for that bit, I guess you are totally spot on.
- “Don’t let your experience of childbirth define you. Many people have traumatic experiences, but they do not seek or expect or indeed, receive, a label that they then carry into everyday life”. Except that PTSD is a medically diagnosed mental health condition, one that I struggle with night and day and require weekly psychotherapy for. Not something that I chose as a definition of my character. Before I was given that ‘label’ I was neither able to understand what was going on in my world, nor seek out the appropriate treatment to be able to get better. Thank you, though, to the commenter who kindly explained that “lots of people have a traumatic experience and it will not result in PTSD, however some people experience deep trauma and do develop PTSD. It’s not through manner of choice, but through a multitude of factors.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
- “There has been some research which indicates that revisiting the trauma, which I didn’t do much (because I am An Expert), can be damaging, and that repression of the experience is no bad thing…” Oh gosh, I should have just tried that! Except, you know, those good old anxiety attacks and hypervigilance, where my heart pounds in the middle of the night. Oooh! I’d bloody miss those! NOT. It’s Not Actually A Choice. I am not ‘revisiting’ my trauma for any other reason than that I am forced to, by my own bloody brain. Actually, I lie. I am revisiting the trauma out of choice in one instance, publicy, in national media, despite my fear of being judged by people like you. Because I am sick to death thousands of women who have experienced trauma and who need to talk about it being silenced by attitudes like this. Thousands of women who need to feel less alone for ever having the misfortune of being affected by birth trauma. Thousands who need to understand it so they can seek out appropriate treatment. I am ‘revisiting the trauma’ because why should any of us suffer silently? The birth you speak of evidently didn’t result in PTSD for you, of which you should be very glad. Because if you did, you would not be talking of how you didn’t do much revisiting of it, night and day, and night and day for TWO YEARS OF YOUR LIFE AND COUNTING.
- “Be grateful. Thousands of women would give anything for dozens of medical staff with equipment.” Thanks for pointing out that for me. Because I wouldn’t have been grateful for the safe arrival of the love of my life otherwise. I totally would have forgotten that, what with the 24/7 care that I give her, the writing of every new word she utters, the hundreds of videos of messy spaghetti dinners, the hand that lays across my face at night, smelling of Playdoh and Weetabix. It just wouldn’t have crossed my mind to be grateful at all. No, not with the sleepless nights I spend, laying awake panicking that she might not be alive in the morning (thanks hypervigilance!). I am well aware that I am lucky, that my baby made it out alive. I am well aware that we are among the fortunate ones, with access to medical provisions. It doesn’t change the fact that both my baby and I have been suffering the aftermath of living with a debilitating mental condition for years after the event of her arrival, as a direct result of the treatment of medical staff who delivered her. I am not grateful for that, not for one second. And neither should I be asked to be.
- “The medical staff had to focus on the urgent task of delivering your baby rather than comforting you. You and your daughter are safe, and that was their goal.” I really wish that people like you stopped assuming that the health and safety of one patient merits the total disregard of another patient’s health and safety. I am not asking for doctors to give me a pat on the head in the middle of a medical emergency. I am asking for them to treat both patients with equal regard for their health and well-being, both mental and physical.
- “You seem to have chosen an environment with no pain killers. Perhaps you should not have been allowed to make such a choice?” Yes, you’re totally right. The answer to birth trauma is to remove all choice from the birthing mother. How silly of me.
So, there you go. It’s a beautiful display of ignorance and idiocy, isn’t it? And here we stand, in the face of it. Saying you will not shut us down, trolls. Because every one of you has a mother. Every one of you has a sister, an auntie, a cousin or friend who will have gone through birth trauma silently, because of these kind of hurtful and ignorant comments. And for as long as comments like these continue, women will fear speaking out about their birth trauma because of your judgement and lack of empathy. And at the most vulnerable time in their lives, these mothers and their children, your loved ones, will continue to be impacted by a mentally crippling condition. And nothing will change for the birthing mothers in future, your daughters.
So, for every one of you who has felt obliged to share your ‘wisdom’, here’s mine. Suck up some facts on PTSD and birth trauma before you comment on something you know nothing about please. Step away from trolling the comments section for a moment and see if you can learn something about how it feels to live through trauma and its aftermath, from this blog perhaps, or even from opening your ears and hearts to your actual real live family members and friends, some of whom will certainly have experienced it first hand. Whatever you do, for goodness sake, stop silencing hundreds of thousands of women with your bloody minded ignorance. And when you realise what a massive problem this is, you are welcome to say sorry here, and join us in campaigning for better maternity care for your daughters and granddaughters whenever you like.
PS – if you’re looking for some real tips on how to prepare yourself for birth and whether it can avoid birth trauma, you can check out some proper advice on that here.