Trauma in Birth

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 130, Summer 2019.
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Birth trauma can be so devastating, and yet most women who have had a baby are suffering from it at least somewhat. This issue of Midwifery Today has many ideas to help moms move along in the healing process. We hope that this will help you help others and maybe even yourself! There is one other way you can use it, though. I’ll explain later.

I know that the most traumatic day in my entire life so far was the birth of my first baby. I had studied anthropology in college and figured that if women all across the world had given birth, I could, too. I entered my labor with no fear at all. I innocently did not know what to fear … hospital interventions! I was truly enjoying my labor in the hospital. (I was not to learn about homebirth until after my first birth.) I found labor enjoyable in that I knew I would soon meet my baby.

Suddenly the peace of my labor turned into a nightmare. I was laboring along quite happily when into my room came an entourage to give me a saddle block. I knew I could do this, so I protested, “I am having a natural birth!” The nurse, or whoever she was, said, “This is a natural birth, honey.” They stuck the needle in my back, and soon I had no feeling from the waist down. I was completely dilated, or nearly so, because within a few minutes I was wheeled into the delivery room.

The attendants yelled, “PUSH, PUSH, PUSH, or we will have to take this baby.” I felt nothing, but my body is strong and knowing and she came out fast. They quickly showed me this purple child and then whisked her away. They sewed up the episiotomy they had cut and put me in a “recovery room.” However, I could never recover from what they did to me and how they stole my sweet birth from me. In that room I was the loneliest I had ever been in my entire life. Hauntingly lonely. Where was my baby? There I was so alone—the most alone I had ever been—when I should have held my baby tenderly in my arms.

There are many stories similar to mine but, of course, every birth is unique and the trauma is very real. Something happened to me on that day that made me want to prevent that from happening to any woman I could.

After the perfect homebirth of my second baby it all kicked into action. At that point I decided I wanted to be a midwife. I could help women have a homebirth while also helping to prevent as much trauma as possible. I used my good birth/bad birth experience to help ensure that women had the best birth possible. After a decade of homebirth practice I decided to start Midwifery Today. The trauma I endured with my first birth is the experience that keeps me passionate about all that I am called to around midwifery and birth.

I remember telling Penny Simkin about my traumatic birth and, in a way, feeling that what happened to me was nothing compared to what was happening or had happened to other mothers. Penny said there is no comparison: the trauma we carry isn’t less because someone else has more. Penny said she would be happy to work with me on the trauma, to lessen or get rid of it. This was probably 15+ years ago. I knew that the trauma was the fuel that made me keep going. I still did not want any woman to suffer trauma in the moments that should be the most joyful and glorious ones of her life.

When I started in midwifery, many of the other women I worked with and knew who were on the path to becoming midwives used their bad experiences as the power to keep them on this path. This is a great way to turn what was a negative experience into a positive outcome—improving birth. You don’t have to head straight into midwifery. There are so many other ways to improve birth practices. You can be a doula, an activist, a nurse, a doctor, or one of the many other supporting professions. We are all needed to move this paradigm toward better birth for all. Use your experience; fuel your passion.

Toward better birth,

About Author: Jan Tritten

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor, and mother of Midwifery Today magazine and conferences. Her love for and study of midwifery sprang from the beautiful homebirth of her second daughter—after a disappointing, medicalized first birth in the hospital. After giving birth at home, she kept studying birth books because, “she thought there was something more here.” She became a homebirth midwife in 1977 and continued helping moms who wanted a better birth experience. Jan started Midwifery Today in 1986 to spread the good word about midwifery care, using her experience to guide editorial and conferences. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies in the United States and around the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world!

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