Birth can be so many different things. It can be empowering, chaotic, emotional, confusing, supported, or lonely. There is something in our birth culture that needs to be recognized: there is a difference between a dramatic birth and a traumatic birth.
A dramatic birth may be a lot to take in, where things might happen fast or unexpectedly. A dramatic birth can be many different things, but ultimately the birthing person did not come away from it feeling like they had any emotional, physical or mental trauma.
A traumatic birth leaves a mark, usually something that doesn’t sit well with you afterwards. Typically, we need time and support to heal from a traumatic birth experience, and this can include emotional, physical or mental trauma.
While a lot can happen or things might be out of your control during your birth experience, I believe there are things we can do to prevent a dramatic birth from becoming a traumatic birth.
Three ways to prevent birth trauma:
1. Informed consent
This means that the communication between you and your provider results in your understanding of all your options, along with benefits and risks.
Ultimately, informed consent results in your freedom to choose what happens to you in relation to the care you are given, where you either give permission or refuse something. This is your body and you have full ownership of it.
You deserve and have a right to:
- Thorough, evidence-based explanations
- An individualized care approach
- Privacy and space to process and decide
- Narration of care
- Decide to say yes
- Decide to say no
Even when it feels like you don’t have a choice because of an emergent situation, informed consent is important for you to feel informed of exactly what’s going on around you. This can help avoid you feeling in the dark or powerless, which is what many people who experience birth trauma report.
2. Emotional support
Unconditional emotional support from your birth team can make all the difference. So many people who feel their birth was traumatic felt either disconnected from those around them or didn’t feel heard. Emotional support, even in the middle of what feels like chaos or a lot to take in, can make a world of difference.
Emotional support, no matter what your decisions may be or what events unfold, is critical. This kind of support looks like:
- Affirmations– words of affirmation provide encouragement and comfort.
- Nonjudgmental listening– sharing your feelings and opinions about how you feel or what’s happening around you should be normalized.
- Validation– you are “allowed” to feel the things you are feeling.
These important actions can increase feelings of empowerment and lower anxiety. If you are not receiving these rights by default, you have a right to ask for these things.
3. A dynamic birth team
The support you receive can be limited or infinite depending on who is on your birth team. Your birth team goes beyond your partner and provider, and the more dynamic and holistic the better. Of course, you may not need a whole list of people. Ask yourself what well-rounded support means to you and go from there.
A dynamic birth team may include:
- Your partner (if you have one)– Your partner can focus on the role that comes naturally to them, as they know you better than anyone and they deserve to feel the support of your birth team too.
- A doula– Evidence shows that the continuous labor support of a doula can decrease the likelihood of a cesarean, decrease dissatisfaction with one’s birth experience, and much more. Both birth and postpartum doulas are valuable members of your team.
- A midwife or OB/other provider– Having an overall positive relationship with your prenatal care office and feeling connected to your providers and feeling like you work together as a team is important.
You may also add a chiropractor, physical therapist, mental health therapist, lactation specialist, massage therapist, reiki practitioner and more. You deserve a dynamic birth team.
We can do “all the things” and our birth story still may not end up the way we want it to. Even the people who do “all the things” can experience a difficult birth. Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. By being aware of some of the ways to prevent birth trauma, you can feel better supported while you navigate the things that unfold.
Allison Morgan is a postpartum doula on our Major Care team and is the owner of Holistic Birth & Beyond. She is a certified birth and postpartum doula, certified childbirth and lactation educator, reiki practitioner and trained Birth Story Mentor. Allison lives in New Hampshire with her husband.