According to Cheryl Tatano Beck, traumatic birth is defined as “an event occurring during the labor and delivery process that involves actual or threatened serious injury or death to the mother or her infant. The birthing woman experiences intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and horror” she had later revised that statement to include the woman feeling stripped of her dignity.
What is the cause of women perceiving their birth experience as traumatic? It is the systemic elimination of protective care during the birthing process.
In Beck’s study of 40 women she says that there were four themes that emerged. Theme #1 was to care for the women and treating them as human beings. Theme #2: Lack of Communication. Theme #3 was safety. Theme #4: The ends will justify the means.
With theme #1 women feeling they were objectified, and treated arrogantly and with a lack of empathy. The women were left alone, and abandoned. The birthing mother’s needs were not met by the hospital staff. An example given was of a woman from Puerto Rico who was on all fours, when a nurse brought in 20 students to observe…without her consent.
In theme #2 no one communicated with the woman in labor. They were described as having conversations with one another within earshot but not directly talking with or to the laboring mother. As if she were non-existent.
In the third theme the laboring mothers felt that the staff (nurses and doctors) did not adequately deliver safe care. The mothers were not being allowed input into the care being given for their own selves and actually fearing for their own and / or the infant’s life!
In theme #4 entailed the sense that what was endured and experienced by the mothers was the sense of being “pushed to the background” as everyone around them were celebrating the baby’s healthy birth. These women felt invisible, only the infant mattered.
The experiences mothers have had led to severe post-partum trauma and depression. Beck, Driscoll, and Watson’s book Traumatic Birth goes into detail about feedback loops [pp. 10-12] that describe the interaction of the mother and child after a traumatic birth, with a listing of the causes and consequences of the cause. Sometimes even breastfeeding is difficult, creating “…intruding flashbacks, disturbing detachments with their infants, feeling violated, enduring physical pain, and insufficient milk supply…” Often the anniversary of a traumatic birth amplifies the feedback loop.
My own reaction to the shared experiences the women in this book had illustrated the barbarism of western medical professionals, a barbarism that is completely contrary to those principles I listed from the ACOG website in part #2.
The women who tell their story of childbirth weave an astounding sense of personal alienation. It is no wonder that there is PTSD, depression, self-destructive behaviors, socially isolationist behaviors and pelvic floor injuries as a result of the improper calloused form of care received. Many of the women feel as though they were raped, yet most had no “history of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse” so birth precipitated a sense of having “the loss of the soul”.