Why do birth stories matter?

Making birth make sense

The phrase “but at least you have a healthy baby” neatly captures the damaging way birth trauma can be dismissed by well meaning relatives, friends and even birth professionals, who are trying their best to help by focusing on positives. Everyone wants a healthy baby, but the systematic dismissal of a difficult or traumatic birth can compound it’s effects on mothers and their families.

There’s a great quote from Debbie Gould at Birth Talk that illustrates the problem perfectly:

“Imagine it’s your dream to go to Paris – you go! And you love it! However your plane was hijacked en route – you were terrified and it was the worst twenty hours of your life! Would the fact that you landed safely in Paris cancel the trauma of the flight? Would people say, ‘Well you got to go to Paris that’s the important thing?’ I think not”.

Of course, a healthy baby is a given and no one cares more about the safety and health of their baby than their mother. But that is not all that matters.

How women give birth is important and relevant. It affects identity, how we feel about ourselves and has an impact on our ability as mothers, how we bond with our babies and on our relationships with our partners. Clearly, looking back at the birth of our babies should not become characterised as “the worst day of our life”.

Unfortunately, that is the reality for almost half of the childbearing population. Up to 45% of women experience trauma in varying degrees.

Every individual affected by birth related trauma has their unique story, but they almost always hold recurring themes, frequently associated with a sense of dissatisfaction, sadness, disempowerment and self doubt.

These can include:                                                

  • Feeling powerless
  • Unnecessary interventions
  • Emergency caesarean section or instrumental birth
  • Coercive language
  • Not being listened to
  • Not understanding the reason for the intervention
  • A long and difficult labour

These feelings may improve spontaneously after a few weeks or months but they can also remain unresolved for many years. Commonly, difficult births are associated with a sense of failure, feelings of guilt and being let down by our bodies. These are completely normal responses and are not a sign of weakness. But if these fears and emotions about the birth are not heard, and we are told to move on or let it go, it's hardly surprising that they can become deeply buried increasing a sense of isolation and disconnection.

Simply having these experiences and feelings acknowledged can be enough to help you come to terms with the events that caused the distress. It can also be useful to understand the issues surrounding the birth. It’s almost impossible to make sense of events we don’t understand and our human reaction is to blame ourselves, “if only I’d been stronger...if only I’d asked more questions...if only…”

Accepting you are not guilty, that it wasn’t your fault is often the first step to recovery.

Useful links and websites:

Parenthood in Mind

The Mumologist


Birth Trauma Association

Pandas Foundation

Unfold your Wings

Important medical information

Hypervigilance, intrusive memories, flashbacks, severe emotional distress, irritability, trouble sleeping and nightmares maybe symptoms of PTSD. Anyone experiencing some or all of them for more than a month following a birth should seek medical help. Talk to a GP or make an appointment with a trained trauma specialist. Know that you're not alone, help is available.