When her son got “stuck” during a home birth, freelance writer Priscilla Blossom was rushed to the hospital across the street to birth her newborn, who weighed about 9.5 pounds. Although she felt disconnected from what was happening with her body, she successfully pushed her son out, but suffered a fourth-degree laceration, a type of vaginal tear.
“It took months before I could actually sit ‘normal’ and had to carry around one of those doughnut seats everywhere,” Blossom explains. “My doctor told me that if I ever want to have another baby, I should opt for a C-section because another vaginal birth could result in more tearing and I might not recover and have terrible incontinence for life. Part of me would like to have another baby, but considering how awful all my experiences have been, including the injury, I don’t know that I’ll ever try again.”
Blossom’s story isn’t uncommon in the United States. According to The New York Times, there were 28 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in 2013, which increased from 23 in 2005.
“In birth, people can get injuries from improper pushing (pushing in the face rather than in the vagina, for example), falling or slipping down, moving around when an epidural or other medical intervention is inserted, doing something frantic when they can’t deal with the pain of labor or many other things,” says Darby Morris, owner of Sweetbay Doula.
Morris added that many injuries occur due to hospital error. However, doulas like herself can help focus on assisting the person giving birth in a way a medical provider won’t, such as by providing emotional support and translating complicated medical jargon to their clients.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists even stressed that those who provide one-on-one emotional support, such as a doula, improve outcomes for those giving birth. Social inequalities exacerbate mortality rates for those who face intersecting marginalized identities as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says black parents are three times as likely to die from childbirth compared to white parents and black children.
Additionally, the child may also be injured during childbirth. According to Stanford Children’s Health, injuries include caput succedaneum, cephalohematoma, bruising or forceps marks, subconjunctival hemorrhage, facial paralysis, brachial palsy and fractures.
Childbirth-related traumas and injuries are still a public health issue and, unfortunately, are increasing. However, the role of a third-party professional, such as doula, can help minimize harm moving forward.