We all know that birth trauma can occur in infants, but what about women? For years women have been suffering in silence from birth trauma that results from their treatment during labor and delivery of their child. The feelings some women have about their negative experiences are overwhelming, so much so that some women suffer from PTSD afterwards. Some women refer to their treatment as birth rape, especially if they had instruments placed inside them without their consent.
Some believe people use the term ‘birth rape’ to sensationalize their trauma and feel it is disrespectful to actual rape victims. The pain these women feel is just as real, and they are just as much victims as anyone else. One dictionary definition of the word rape is “to violate or abuse.” State laws about rape usually consider any forceful penetration of the vagina or rectum to be rape. Ladies suffering from birth trauma display some of the classic symptoms of rape victims, including silence and shame about their ordeal.
This can include having Q-tips, speculums, scissors, forceps, vacuums, fingers, hands, and other objects inserted into a woman’s vagina or being given an enema, IV, epidural, or C-section without her consent. Having one’s water broken is another example of doctor’s taking control, which is basically what rape is all about. Being coerced, manipulated or deceived so that one will be obedient and go along with these treatments is another form of birth rape. Some even consider making rude and discouraging remarks to influence the mother rather than empower her to be included in the definition. Moving a mother into certain positions without asking and telling her what to do are further examples of mistreatment.
Some deny the existance of birth trauma in mothers or believe that they or exaggerating, especially being that misconduct is rarely reported. Some 54% of women in one study had grounds for a complaint but did not file, which is a classic behavior of a person experiencing PTSD. Some go as far as to suggest that postpartum PTSD is caused by past sexual assault that is refreshed as a result of the traumatic birth, though many victims of birth rape have no history of abuse.
Anywhere from 3-10% of postpartum women suffer from PTSD after birth which can lead to postpartum depression. Six months later the rate is about 1.5%. Forty-three percent of those women develope postpartum depression. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes any event that causes “fear for the life of bodily integrity of the person or a loved one” to be cause for PTSD, and birth can definitely meet that requirement.
Among the symptoms of birth-induced PTD are obsessive thoughts about the birth; panic near the birth location; and flashbacks, nightmares, and disturbing memories of the birth. Generally feeling sad, afraid, anxious, or irritable can also be caused by PTSD. Some mothers with PTSD may behave differently toward their children, particularly the ones associated with the specific birth that caused the PTSD. Symptoms can last for a year but usually subside within a few months. It can take a lifetime for the wounds to fully heal, and relapses often occur.
It is recommended that birth professionals empower women to prevent birth trauma. Give her control. Show her that she is valued. Treat her with respect. Ask permission anytime you are performing an intervention or even touching her. If she asks you to stop, do so immediately. Above all, listen to her, and show her that you care not about her and not just her baby. They also recommend a period of ‘debriefing,’ where the woman is encouraged to talk about her experience. This can be therapeutic and also help her recognize ways in which she was mistreated. She can chose then to confront the abuser, file a claim, or just walk away knowing that at least someone understands, believes, and recognizes the abuse.
Perez, “PTSD After Birth” Childbirth & Family Education, Inc. URL: http://childbirthfamilyeducation.org/cfe/PTSDafterBirth.htm
Dr. N. George,”Articles about Post Partum PTSD” Tabs.org URL: http://www.tabs.org.nz/pdfdocs/tabsptsdreviews.pdf
Unknown, “Postpartum depression.” Wikipedia. URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postpartum_depression
Unknown, “A Different Kind of Pain in Childbirth.” Navel-gazing Midwife. URL: http://navelgazingbirthstories.blogspot.com/2004/08/different-kind-of-pain-in-childbirth.html