Because Sometimes, Those Storks Make Crash Landings

9 years ago

This just in: childbirth can be traumatic.

I know. I was shocked too. I thought that I was the only mother out there who was traumatized by the birth of one of her children, and who isn't joking about it (because, yes, the impulse to joke about the minor trauma that childbirth can be is strong, strong my friends). Turns out, I'm not alone in believing that I was traumatized by my birth experience. According to a report cited in the Wall Street Journal this week, mothers who experience very painful or difficult births - especially those in which the mother feels that her life or the life of her child might be in danger - are vulnerable to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:

"Amid the debate over how to effectively manage maternal mental-health disorders, a new type of postpartum illness is gaining attention: post-traumatic-stress disorder due to childbirth.

PTSD is most commonly associated with combat veterans
and victims of violent crime, but medical experts say it also can be
brought on by a very painful or complicated labor and delivery in which a woman believes she or her baby might die. Symptoms can include anxiety, flashbacks and a numbness to daily life. Even as medical advances have resulted in many more lives saved during high-risk births, extreme medical interventions can leave a mother severely stressed -- especially if she feels powerless or mistreated by health providers."

PTSD is somewhat different from post-partum depression, which isn't necessarily as powerfully llinked to the experience of the birth, and can be more intense than PPD (the least intense variants of PPD, at any rate). The story at WSJ has a good summary of the differences and good resources for looking into PTSD as a post-partum condition further.

Here's what's bugging me about the story: the concern - which appears in some secondhand accounts of the report, and is apparent even in the reporting of the original story - that acknowledging PTSD in new mothers is perpetuating a trend of unnecessarily pathologizing the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. I first came across this story at, and their take on the report was that it was probably just one more way in which a natural event is being denatured by modern science:

Of course, women should feel comfortable speaking up and getting help about whatever issues they have in those difficult post-birth months, but something still irks me about this classification of childbirth as "trauma"... Have we become so precious and hyper-conscious that something women have been doing for time immemorial is now ranked alongside war as a painful event?

Someone here has never given birth.

(Someone here has also forgotten that women have, in vast numbers, died - and continue to die, in less fortunate communities - in childbirth. It may be natural, but it ain't no walk in the park.)

The report cited isn't suggesting that women might suffer from PTSD after just any birth (although many women might contend that even the easiest natural childbirth ranks up there on the pain scale with the worst POW tortures), it's saying that unusually traumatic births (like, say, the kind that occur super-fast and result in hemorraghing and blown sphincter holes) might result in PTSD. Which is something that I can totally attest to: I was MESSED UP in the days following the birth of my son, such that I could not even tolerate the drive home from hospital, taking the same route that I very nearly gave birth en route on. Not without screaming, anyway. I have had and do still struggle with PPD - the post-traumatic stress that I experienced post-birth was something entirely different. So I, for one, am gratified to have that experience recognized.

So far, there's no recommended treatment for post-partum PTSD that goes much beyond what is ordinarily recommended for PPD - talk therapy and medication, mostly - and some commentators are concerned that PTSD might just become another excuse for medicating new moms. Whatever. If a new mom really is suffering from PTSD, she needs to have that recognized. How it gets treated is secondary in importance to it being treated. There's nothing worse than being left alone with your terror when you're a brand new (or second time brand new) mom.


In other news... don't forget that it's World Breastfeeding Week!!! Bare your boobies for the cause!


The year of eco-challenges have drawn to a close at BlogHers Act Canada, and Amy's got the recap! And? It's time to brainstorm the gameplan for this year:

Naturally, the next steps will be to solicit YOUR ideas about how the next year should play out. Although there are exciting things afoot for this site, we’ll still be focusing on environmental issues. What issues would you like to see us feature here at BlogHers Act Canadathat we haven’t already confronted? Are there any challenges we’ve already addressed that you think we should revisit in more depth?


Help us spread the word! Write a blog post detailing your ideas and concerns, and provide a link to your site in the comment section to this post. This is a community effort, after all, and we love to find that the site is getting other people writing about the things they are passionate about.


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