Home Birth What is Birth Trauma?
What is Birth Trauma?
Sunday, 15 January 2012 17:36

By Lisa Morgan

First published on Freebirth Australia.

Birth trauma means different things to different people, which makes it difficult to define. Birth trauma to doctors usually is considered to be physical trauma to the mother or baby. For example, birth injuries like an accidental cut to the baby during a caesarean.

However from the viewpoint of women, birth trauma can range from emotional trauma which doesn't meet clinical diagnosis of Anxiety Stress Disorder (ASD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); to full bown PTSD itself. There are also grey areas in post-natal depression (PND) diagnosis where traumatised women are incorrectly thought to have PND from hormone imbalance.

In some situations, birth trauma is considered to be birthrape, where sexual assault takes place during labour and childbirth. An example of this is women not giving consent to stretch and sweeps, yet having one done on them during a vaginal examination. Women have complained of their waters being broken this way also.

Birthrape has also been described as careproviders being rough with birthing women during vaginal examinations. Unneccessary force and power is used instead of care and gentleness. For women who have experienced rape in their history, experiencing this sort of treatment during labour and childbirth can intensify the fear, pain, and powerlessness of their experience.

Trauma can result from different things - birthrape, a precipitous birth, caesarean surgery, experiences of intense pain and fear, or experiences of powerlessness. It can also result from birthing stillborn babies, or experiencing inconsiderate treatment from caregivers, during a time where women are vulnerable.

Each woman's emotional experience is valid and important to her. So even if some women do not meet the exact criteria of ASD or PTSD, this does not mean their experience is invalid.

For more on trauma, see the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.

For women's accounts of birth trauma, register a free membership on Freebirth Australia to see Experiences of Birth Trauma.