Women experience birth. Every life experience leaves an imprint. It’s really that simple.
The experience of birthing a new life (vaginal or c-section) can have a profound impact on the woman. It can be as much of a life-changing event as parenting a new baby. For some, birth results in a new awareness, confidence and purpose. And for some, it can mean insecurity, depression, and fear.
Giving birth- especially the first time- is a pivotal point in a woman’s life. She is transforming from woman to mother. She is often confronted during pregnancy with fears and insecurities about being a good mom, knowing how to respond to her baby’s cues, and wondering how life will change.
And anyone with children knows that life will most certainly change, in many wonderful ways.
The process of giving birth- the birth experience- can impact women positively or negatively based on the woman’s perception of what happened. What many care providers see as routine, women are experiencing for the first time. Because labor and birth is largely hidden from our modern society, women have their own expectations as they approach motherhood. And many expectations are based on individual factors like self-image, education, self-confidence, and the experience of autonomy women enjoy in our contemporary culture.
I have heard first-hand from women who were so traumatized by the birth of their first child that they are purposely preventing pregnancy, even though they once dreamed of many children. I read online the blogs and stories of women coerced into submitting to interventions they initially refused, trying to figure out how to advocate for their children, when they were not able to stand up for themselves.
So what happened?
In a nutshell (and in my opinion, of course) women don’t expect the world to be turned upside down because they are pregnant. If a woman generally makes her own decisions in her life, she expects to continue making her own decisions during pregnancy and labor.
Women expect, and rightly so, that being intelligent, autonomous persons, they will be permitted (and expected) to make their own healthcare decisions, even during labor. They believe that trusting their care provider equates to being cared for. Why would a doctor or midwife attempt to manipulate or rush labor? Certainly these professionals have enough experience to understand labor can occur any time of day (or night) and last as long as it will?
The relationships women form with their providers are often based on assumption, because communication is often difficult during 5 minute appointments. But women have reason to feel confident about asserting their right to informed refusal. They are often educating themselves during pregnancy, reading books that help prepare them, mind and body, for birth. Armed with information about possible complications and procedures, they expect to discuss benefits and risks with their provider if circumstances warrant.
And when situations arise, in the office or in the hospital, where the woman’s voice is ignored, where she is discouraged from asking questions, where she is told she is endangering her baby (selfish, bad mother!), where she is manipulated or coerced in submitting to procedures or tests… then she is upside-down.
The world has suddenly shifted and she’s lost the ground. All her life, she’s been told to speak up, ask questions, try harder, think smarter. Now she’s been told she’s a bad mother for expecting to have a say about her own body.
When women with stories like these speak up, they are often told to get over it; that they are making a big deal over nothing; that they are scare-mongering other women; that they are selfish for wanting to feel whole AND have a healthy baby. (And this time, it’s usually other women/mothers calling her selfish!)
Every pregnant woman wants a healthy baby. And it’s ok to want that.
But when you say a healthy baby is ALL that matters, you disregard the mother. Mothers matter too.
Mothers want to feel cared for during pregnancy AND BIRTH.
Mothers deserve to make their own healthcare decisions- even during labor. (Are other patients also treated with disrespect when they decline routine, but often unnecessary, tests and procedures?) Mothers deserve clear communication and to be approached with respect, as living, thinking, feeling human beings. Women are trusting midwives and doctors (and L&D nurses too) to provide safe care- to hold this trust, and help us be active participants in our care so we are making informed choices for ourselves (powerful, not powerless!)
And when women are offered a relationship of trust and care, when they are afforded the respect to make choices, when they are encouraged to trust themselves during birth, often they learn they are capable of amazing things- including mothering.
Mothering relies heavily on following your instincts. Babies don’t come with instructions and we all worry about knowing what to do. Having a birth experience where you trust yourself can give you confidence to trust yourself to meet your baby’s needs when s/he is born.
If you have experienced birth trauma, you are welcome to comment here about your experience. Also be sure to check out today’s episode of A Labor of Love for more information.