by Deborah Schiefer
Activation Warning: Part of a birth story is shared in this blog. While it was a healing experience for me and is being used to demonstrate what trauma-informed care can look like, it may resurface painful or traumatic memories for some readers.
“Do you want to feel him crowning? You can just reach down.”
That’s what my midwife said as I began to deliver my third child. A few months earlier, I had realized there wasn’t a single OB in the practice that I felt safe with now that the doctor who delivered my second baby had moved. I fired my OB practice and moved to a highly recommended midwife.
“You can do this, Debbie. I know you’re tired but you’re strong enough.”
I had labored at home for almost 4 excruciating days of the slowest progressing labor ever. Then, my body sped through transition.
“When you feel safe and comfortable, why not try pushing?”
And a few minutes later, “I think you could deliver him. What do you think? If you want to try, give me your hands. I’ll help you catch him.”
And I did. My body. My strong, powerful body brought my son into the world, passing from my womb directly into my arms.
“I did it, Kelly. I did it!”
“You did, mama. It was all you and your strength. Look what you did! He’s so perfect and all I had to do was watch.”
Over and over throughout the last few hours of labor that I spent in the hospital, my midwife reiterated how strong I was and that I was powerful enough. Then, when it came time to usher my son into the world, she handed the reigns to me, entirely.
I’m tearing up remembering it. As a sexual assault survivor and a child abuse survivor, there aren’t many memories I hold in which I didn’t feel like my body, itself, is a weakness and betrayal. But birth? This birth? It was the most healing experience. It may have taken until my third baby to fully experience the empowerment of creating life, but nothing accelerated my healing like the birth of my son.
In a simple Google search of sexual assault and childbirth, link after link after link on page after page will appear detailing how re-traumatizing childbirth can be for a survivor; studies on how to provide trauma-informed care; advice for doctors and healthcare providers; experiences of survivors who needed to heal again, after childbirth. It’s a necessary conversation. Childbirth can feel entirely out of control, much like sexual assault. Rather than someone forcing their will on your body, nature takes its course and your body moves, ready or not. The doctors, midwives, and birth team can inadvertently say things that activate trauma memories, especially for survivors of childhood sexual assault where comments like, “you’re doing such a good job. Keep breathing,” during an internal exam may bring back a flood of memories. Just the experience of an internal examination can reignite the memories our bodies hold.
Emotional birth trauma is real. Emotional birth trauma is so painful. Emotional birth trauma should never be dismissed by any person in any field. I know. I experienced it when my then-undiagnosed PTSD reared its ugly head after my first child was born.
However, birth healing is real. Your body is capable of so many beautiful things. Creating life is one of them. You, survivor, are so strong and so is your body. I know most conversations around pregnancy and labor for sexual assault survivors center on the trauma and re-experiencing that can so easily occur. As a survivor, trying to mentally prepare for that can be terrifying. Sometimes, these conversations can be eye-opening, too, as we realize in retrospect what we’ve felt before had reason. But there’s also hope.
Bringing new life into the world can be the most healing experience in the life of a survivor.
As traumatic as it can be for many survivors, it doesn’t need to be that. We don’t need to be afraid, we need to be empowered, we need to be honored, and we need our autonomy, no matter what labor and delivery look like.
Survivor, if you are pregnant and you feel any sort of disconnect from your maternal health provider, do not second guess yourself. Your instincts are there for a reason. That gut feeling that personalities just aren’t matching or that the practice just doesn’t fit your needs, as a survivor – it’s valid. You can listen. Let me empower you to make the choice to find a new provider. One who is trauma-informed. One who will support you. One that will help your pregnancy and childbirth be the most empowering and liberating experience, regardless of how it plays out. Because it should be beautiful. You, survivor, created life and you are worthy and deserving of feeling the strength of that feat. You, survivor, are going to do the difficult work of bringing that new life earth-side. It’s your body, your strength, your power. You deserve a care team who will honor your resilience and grit.
Survivor, please don’t feel afraid of what you may experience. Talking about how difficult pregnancy and childbirth can be for survivors is necessary. But so is the discussion of how healing it can be. It’s possible that it may be both, simultaneously, and that’s okay.
Survivor, if you’ve experienced this activation throughout the course of pregnancy and bringing a child into the world, know there are safe places for you to process this experience and to heal. You are not broken. You are not bad. Your healing should have been supported through trauma-informed care and our culture failed you. But there is space for you to work through this re-traumatization and find empowerment in your own body – your strong, warrior body.
Find your fight – D.S.