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What to Say to a Woman with Birth Trauma

by meggf (follow)
Birth Trauma (44)     
Imagine a woman pours her heart out to you over a cup of tea. She tells you the story of her birth, the day she met her baby, and how it wasn’t what she imagined it would be. She met her baby in an operating theatre, or on her back surrounded by masked strangers who were pointing a spotlight on her vagina. Maybe she didn’t meet her baby for many hours after it was extracted from her body.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Don’t Say “At Least You Got a Healthy Baby”: You may feel the need to comfort her as most people do when others reach out to them. So you might say “at least you got a healthy baby], focus on that instead”. That’s not comforting, it’s a distraction, but you can not distract a woman from her birth grief. The woman in question isn’t a fool, she knows her baby is healthy. Women are forever grateful for healthy children, but how a woman feels about her birth is ENTIRELY UNRELATED to how she feels about her baby.

What To Say Instead: I’m sorry you didn’t get the birth you wanted, how are you feeling physically

Don’t Say Doctors Wouldn’t Do it if it Wasn’t Necessary: Statistically AND anecdotally we know this isn’t the truth. Unless you would defend every doctor who ever made an error or behaved poorly in every single hospital ward across the world, don’t defend the obstetric branch either. They have insurance companies, lobby groups, legal teams, and unions to defend them. Doctors are no more honourable than any other member of society. Some are marvellous, and some are like used car salesmen.

What To Say Instead: I’m sorry you didn’t get the birth you wanted, how are you feeling physically

Don’t Say But My Caesarean Was Great: Well it’s great that YOU had a good experience in the operating theatre! Not all women do. When a woman says her caesarean was hard she isn’t saying “mine stank so yours did too”, she’s saying that HER CAESAREAN WAS HARD. She will let you tell your birth story in time, let her tell hers too.

What To Say Instead: I’m sorry you didn’t get the birth you wanted, how are you feeling physically

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Don’t Say I Wish I’d Had a Caesarean or You’re Lucky You had One: Unless you’ve had a caesarean how do you know? Our society has glorified the caesarean to the point that we often believe it’s easier and safer for women and babies but in truth it’s neither. A caesarean is major surgery. Unless you’d tell someone who had a triple bypass that they’re lucky don’t say it to a mother who is telling you that her caesarean stank.

What To Say Instead: I’m sorry you didn’t get the birth you wanted, how are you feeling physically

Don’t Say Women In Africa Die All the Time: Africa is a really huge place and some African countries have brilliant maternity care! It highlights your ignorance about Africa AND about birth! According to Amnesty International

“It's more dangerous to give birth in the United States than in 49 other countries. African-American women are at almost four times greater risk than Caucasian women”

Although since that was written in 2011 the US ranking has fallen further, to 60th. One of only eight industrialised countries where rates of maternal death are rising.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


So yes, women DO die in Africa, but given that Africa is a continent made up of forty-seven countries, a continent that comprises almost a quarter of all the countries in the world, there are bound to be some deaths there. Obviously some are a result of poverty and an inability to access necessary medical care during pregnancy, but the overuse of obstetrics in wealthy countries isn’t working any better. Women die in every country worldwide, that’s the nature of birth. Being alive at the end of birth is the default setting ….. even “In Africa”.

What To Say Instead: I’m sorry you didn’t get the birth you wanted, how are you feeling physically

When a woman trusts you enough to tell you about her pain don’t silence her, don’t dismiss her, just listen with empathy. You can not fix birth trauma but if you aren’t careful you could make it worse. Suicide is the leading cause of maternal deaths although it’s a little known fact. We need to protect new mothers because they are vulnerable. So if a woman reaches out to you and shares her grief or trauma and you’re unsure what to say, remember these words:

I’m sorry you didn’t get the birth you wanted, how are you feeling physically

It’s that simple!

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Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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