Disclaimer: The article below is to aid as a starting guide into your education on how to prepare for birth. Doing these things will not ensure that a birth will not be traumatic, however can reduce some risk associated with them. Trauma is unique to each person and their experience. If you have experienced birth trauma and maybe had some of these risk factors, do not feel like you could have done differently. You did the best you could with the knowledge that you had.
In January 2019, I had a traumatic birth. My story is unique to me, though probably seems common enough to others. I wanted a natural delivery what I got was a Bandl’s ring, fetal distress, emergency cesarean. That’s the quick cliff notes version anyway.
I remember the first time I came across these tips and practices to reduce risk of birth trauma. I was conflicted to say the least and I started to question myself. If I had known better, if I had prepared more, maybe it would have been different. Why didn’t I think of these things? It drove me mad until I took a step back and asked myself and I mean really asked myself why I didn’t know. I didn’t know because this information isn’t out there. When preparing for birth, you’re asked for birth preferences and what you don’t want is left out of the conversation completely leaving a vulnerable gap in your plan. There is a deep divide between the magical births and the traumatic ones with this information falling into the darkness between. So here I am, presenting what I wish I had known to you!
Before diving into what we can do to reduce risk factors, let’s take a quick moment to look at what some of the risk factors are:
-Long labour -Lack of communication or consent
-Short, painful labour -Previous traumas
-Emergency cesarean -Poor treatment or care by staff
-Instrumental deliveries -Stripped of dignity or lack of privacy
-Feeling a loss of control -Poor pain relief
-High medical interventions
These are simply risk factors, they do not indicate whether or not you will experience a traumatic birth. My first 2 births both had items off this list, but I never processed them as traumatic. One was actually beautiful and magical. It’s important to note that trauma is in the eye of the beholder. What is traumatic for one, may not be for another. Trauma is deeply personal.
Here are 5 things that can help reduce the risk of experiencing your birth as traumatic:
- Informed Consent. Know what it sounds like, what it looks like and what your rights are as a patient. Remember your right to ask questions. B.R.A.I.N – benefits, risks, alternatives, intuition, and nothing. Ask about the benefits, the risks, any alternatives to what is being presented to you. How do you feel about what is being presented? And a moment of quiet to decide.
- Get educated on common practices, processes, and procedures. This can help make informed decisions and remain involved in your care. If you choose to take a prenatal class, try to choose one that discusses all potential outcomes, including cesarean and instrumental deliveries. While I do believe a positive mindset is important during labour and delivery, knowledge is power. Knowledge is going to help maintain a sense of control and involvement.
- Have a birth plan and then explore plan B, C, and D. Sometimes birth goes as you imagine and sometimes it doesn’t. Looking at how you will cope with these changes and who you can lean on for support can be helpful. Find ways that help you remain connected to yourself, your baby, and your supports in the event of an undesired or unavoidable change of plans.
- Affirmations that do not tie your worth to the outcome. For example, “my body is made for birth” or “My body knows how to birth” can link a person’s worth to the way they give birth, which can leaving a person feeling personally flawed or damaged breeding shame and guilt. Try replacing this type of affirmation with non-outcome focused ones instead, such as “I am strong and capable”, “Whatever happens, I will manage”, “I am doing the best I can in this moment”.
- Determine what is in and what is out of your control. Your care provider, where you give birth, who is there for personal support, what kind of prenatal classes you attend, these are examples of what is in your control. When labour will start, how it will progress, and ultimately how you give birth are examples of what is out of your control.
And of course, you can do all of these things and practice them regularly and the unknowns of birth can still take hold. I don’t write this to make you fear birth, it’s to nudge you towards education because knowledge is power. To have knowledge is to push back at fear and say “not today”. If you’re not entirely sure how to go about planning a non-outcome focused birth plan and preparation, consider hiring a birth trauma informed doula to aid in planning.
If you do experience a traumatic birth, please know that you’re not alone. There are professionals who specialize in postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and trauma. Healing is possible. Healing is beautiful.