All birth experiences are deeply personal and at the same time a shared experience – how often do we hear conversations about or perhaps like to read in a magazine about other people’s births in the post-
The NSPCC state that, “Nearly a quarter of young adults experienced sexual abuse during childhood” – almost 1 in 4 of us. That’s a lot of women at your local toddler group or coffee morning, so if you are one of them, you certainly aren’t the only one. I’m certainly not the only one.
It can be difficult to find the support and understanding you need, even if you realise you need it – which I didn’t the first time I had a baby. I was surprised to find out that midwives are not routinely trained to deal with women who have been sexually traumatised – either by abuse or by assault in adulthood – as if sex and birth are somehow not linked and as if it were very rare to have women who have these issues.
I had an induced labour with my daughter. My obstetrician knew that I had a history of abuse, as I had a previous baby and had experienced a full-
I would love to write that it helped, that staff understood, but it didn’t.
Despite my birth plan and explanations that certain things would be very difficult for me, my labour had to be monitored continually because the baby showed distress with every contraction – it later transpired that she had the cord around her neck. It was like being tied, immobilised, unable to escape. I was told that I must labour on the bed lying down – it was “best for baby”. I felt I had no choice (not for the first time in my life). I had to lay down in pain. I can do pain, or at least I can cope with it standing up. I had a previous baby (also an induction) standing with nothing but gas and air. But lying down, I had flashbacks, one after another. I didn’t know I was an adult in hospital because I was re-
Whilst my labour with my previous baby didn’t trigger flashbacks, it definitely left me with difficulties in the postnatal period. I experienced high levels of depersonalisation and derealisation – where I felt unreal and disconnected from everything and experienced high levels of anxiety that greatly disturbed my experience with my new baby.
So, what would make it better for women in the 21st century to give birth after trauma?
Well, I would advocate that if you possibly can, you should tell your caregivers – your main midwife and GP. This can feel impossibly difficult, but our silence hides the problem. It also may lead to you being able to access help, enabling you to begin to come to terms with your experiences.
In addition, wouldn’t it be good to lobby for better training for all medical staff, so that there is a higher level of understanding of the issues? For example a woman needs to be in control of physical examinations – if she says “stop” it means STOP NOW! All women need to feel safe emotionally and physically – but even more so those who have experiences of this nature.
Above all I want to say, if you have had difficult experiences in pregnancy, labour and in parenting as a result of sexual abuse in your past – it is not your fault and you are not alone. And I hope this article begins to help you know that.