Childbirth. An unexpected emotional trauma.

Childbirth is supposed to be a beautiful experience. I read books on how empowering it could be to give birth. I read every sort of book you could possibly read so that I would know what exactly to expect during the entire birthing process. I never read a book on how sexual abuse can impact the birth of your child. I wish I had. I didn’t know it was something that I needed to do. I don’t want another woman to feel the way that I did. And if it is something that you’ve already experienced I want you to know you are not the only one. I delivered a perfect baby girl. But the birth process was as far away from perfect as it could be and I never imagined for a moment that I would feel the negative emotions that I did.

I knew what I wanted my birth plan to be. I did not want a man delivering my baby or being my obstetrician. I did not want to be in the hospital. I chose a midwife and a birth center. I wanted this experience to be something that only my husband, me, and the midwife shared. I intuitively thought it could be a vulnerable experience. Vulnerable experiences trigger childhood abuse feelings. I had had so many moments in my life ruined by outsiders, I wanted this to be a sacred experience with absolutely no opportunity for anyone to ruin. Most mothers have an idea of what they want childbirth to be. Most women are then scared when something happens that alters that plan. An unplanned emergency c-section or a labor that went shorter or longer than planned can cause a great amount of fear. Even women who have not been sexually abused find childbirth to evoke extreme emotions. Women are pushed to and past their physical and mental brink during birth. I’m going to share my entire experience.

I knew that I did not want an epidural. I wanted a nice dark room with soft music. Nothing prepared me for preterm labor. That wasn’t in my plan! I had planned the labor part…not the preterm part. I had contractions a month early 6 minutes apart. When we called the midwife we were told to go to the hospital. When we arrived I had no idea what to expect. There was a lot of rushing around and people hurrying in. A male obstetrician came in and did an ultrasound right away, and they monitored the baby’s heart rate. My husband left to do paperwork as he was instructed to do to admit me. He shouldn’t have left me. I was scared. Petrified. I wanted to ask him to stay but at that point in my life I had not found my voice. I felt scared for the baby and scared of the unknown. When my husband left, shortly after I was given an injection to stop the labor. Then the Doctor did an internal vaginal exam. It all happened very fast to check and make sure I was not dilating. NOWHERE in my birth plan was there a man putting his hand into my body. It was extremely traumatizing because I was just not prepared. I wished my husband were there so I did not feel so alone. I feel alone just writing about it. I hated that feeling. Throughout the week I spent in the hospital that is what I thought about, the fact that a man put his hand on my body when I could do absolutely nothing about it. It left me feeling sick. My labor had been stopped and now I had to be on bedrest until it was time to do this again. I was sent home.

I prepared again. I felt even stronger about being in complete control of the labor and birthing. I did not want to feel out of control or have someone controlling the birth. I wanted my baby and me to do this together. I wanted it to be beautiful. I wanted the sweet midwife. She knew about my sexual abuse. She knew how to make me feel like I was in control of everything. She asked permission before she did anything. It was going to be perfect.

My water broke 2 weeks after my preterm labor(the baby was still 2 weeks early). I went to the birth center and labored there for 24 hours. Even when I was told I would have to go to the hospital I felt emotionally okay because the midwife was going to be with me on one side and my husband on the other. The Doctor that did the exam during preterm labor was the Doctor on call to deliver my baby. I was told this ahead of time though so I mentally prepared for this and had some time to digest the fact that my whole plan was out the window now. I had already been awake for 30 hours and I was nowhere near the end.

During hard contractions it is hard to think about anything but the pain. UNLESS you’ve been sexually abused. I was acutely aware of everything going on around me. The Doctor told me that he would give me 30 minutes or I would need a C-section because my water was broken for more than 30 hours at that point. I remember thinking, “Please, don’t even think I cannot push this baby out in 30 minutes!” It actually took an hour and a half with the midwife helping until the last five minutes. In the end, the Doctor was only there in the last five minutes of the birthing process. But that was the worst 5 minutes of my life.

I was ready to push. The midwife was on one side. My husband was on the other. The Doctor came in and got ready to just deliver the baby. But then five nurses came in. There I was with my naked body facing the door and in comes five nurses. One of them was my mother-in-law who was a neonatal nurse. You’d think I would be thrilled that my own mother-in-law, who was a nurse, would be there. I wasn’t. I felt completely violated. I wanted to cover up. I wanted to close my legs and put a sheet over me. But I couldn’t. There I was with two people holding my legs in the air, and a man staring at my vagina with 5 nurses staring at it too. This is not what I wanted. I felt sick. I felt like I had no control because I didn’t. I felt like someone was just watching me being raped. I hated my mother-in-law for that. I hated watching her and the other nurses staring at me. I could hear them excited to be there for the birth of one of their own’s granddaughter. It was supposed to be all about me and my baby. I was very unprepared for this scenario. I felt on display. My body was not my own and I had no control over who was touching it or looking at it.

I had one brief moment of beauty and joy when my daughter was born.When I looked down and saw her face. She was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. She was just perfect. My mother in law took her to the…I don’t know what you call it..baby checking table…I wanted my husband to stay with my baby. I wish I had known it was protocol to have nurses in the room with a 2 week premature baby. I layed there being stitched up. I have no words for how I felt. Having a baby inside me that was now out and on a table away from me left me feeling vulnerable and alone. Having my legs spread apart as a male doctor stitched my vagina was mortifying. I kept feeling sicker and sicker. I finally threw up. It became a bit of a joke later because it looked like I threw up a baseball. My mother in law talked about it like she had a right to. She wasn’t supposed to be there. She didn’t get to talk about my labor experience. She had no idea what I went through or why I threw up. No one did. Hearing people talk about it later was made me feel like a victim all over again. I cannot describe why I can just say that it did.

This was not about the male doctor. This was not about my mother in law. They were all just doing their jobs. This is about how giving birth made me feel. I had absolutely no idea I would feel raped and violated and alone and helpless. I had no idea that the experience would make me hurt so deeply inside, a pain that I didn’t even know was there. No one told me that sexual abuse and childbirth could cause a pain that I had never felt before.

I don’t think that childbirth has to be this way. I had not yet come to terms with the magnitude of the abuse I endured. I had no way of knowing the impact childbirth would have on me. Childbirth may not be this way for another woman who has been abused. It cannot be assumed that just because you were abused that childbirth will be a nightmare. Your plan needs to be MUCH larger and more encompassing than mine was. Your plan needs to address all the components that having a baby brings, the emotional, physical, and mental.

I encourage women who are pregnant and who have been abused to make a plan. I encourage them to tell their Doctor about previous abuse and make sure this is the right Doctor for you. I told my midwife but the Doctor delivering my baby did not know. I should have had a plan for that. Regardless of all the planning, there may be something that will happen that is completely out of your control. If that happens you need someone with you that will keep you feeling safe and grounded. Come up with a list of what that person can tell you to comfort you. You may not be able to positively visualize or have positive self talk or you may. For me the trigger was so powerful I had no control over my mind or thoughts. I needed someone to do that for me. I only planned for MY way. It was not thorough planning to include unwanted situations and different outcomes. Child birth is a powerful experience that CAN be and SHOULD be the most joyous day of your life.

I’ve never spoken to anyone about this experience. It’s not something I ever thought I would share. But, I want my experience to help another woman take steps to prevent the emotions that I felt. No pregnant woman should ever feel that giving birth is a helpless and traumatic experience and it doesn’t have to be. You can have the completely successful beautiful birth you always wanted. You can feel joy and empowerment.

If this is something that you have been through and want to share your experience, I will listen. You can send me a personal message at kaysb2@cox.net or reply on my blog. Either way, I never want a woman to feel that they have gone through this alone. You may have been alone then but you aren’t now. I understand. No woman should ever feel alone in anything that happens after they have survived sexual abuse. Know that you are not alone.

12 thoughts on “Childbirth. An unexpected emotional trauma.

  1. It took me a very long time to recover from the mishandling of male doctors and their insensitivity.
    You did everything you could to make your birth experience go smoothly. Sometimes things just happen.
    It angers me that Mom-in-Law was a part of it if you didn’t want her to be. It is hard in newly formed relationships such as a Mom-in-Law, to tell her beforehand that you do not want her involved, especially if she’s on duty and required to be there. That is a touchy situation.
    And since I was taught not to voice my anger I would have been unable to tell her what I would like, “Please do NOT share intimate details of my birth experience. It is private, it is my business, and it is also against hospital protocol to discuss patients and their medical details. Very unprofessional. Your actions put your license at risk along with your relationship with me.”

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  2. Oh oh oh my goodness. I also had birth experiences where things didn’t go as plan, where no one even gave a shit about my plan, where I had zero control. I was tremendously sad afterwards, because like you, I really wanted giving birth to be beautiful and empowering. When I even tried to articulate that a little bit, I was always cut off with, “oh well, it’s all over now.”

    At the time I had no real self-awareness about the impact of earlier trauma on my life but I can see now how giving birth triggered some of the same feelings and that helps explain some of what I felt at the time.

    It would be helpful if obstetricians would pay more attention to the vulnerability of women when they give birth, and particularly to how that vulnerability might trigger feelings or memories of abuse. In fact, it’s surprising to me that it’s not common to do this. It just seems like it would be good professional practice.

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    • I didn’t have self awareness back then either which is why I am just processing this 19 years later. You are right though I wish it were more common practice with obstetricians.

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  3. Great words of advice! My birth of my daughter when I was molested was surreal. I gave birth in a teaching hospital so groups of interns would come into the room during labor and ask to check my cervix- all of them! I said yes because I had less than no personal boundaries at that point. And I had no adult or parent with me (I was barely 15). I had no one with me during labor (25 hours of it) and didn’t know the doctor or nurses. I had been living in a home for unwed mothers, and when my labor was far enough along, they put me in a taxi to the hospital. I think one or both of my parents finally came about the time my daughter was pulled out of me with forceps. I honestly don’t remember. After delivery I was put into a room with 3 other new mothers who were all taking their babies home. I wasn’t. At one point I was talking with another girl from the home who delivered the day after I did, and I started crying and couldn’t stop. A nurse came in and they moved me to a private room. I did get to bottle feed my daughter a few times before I was discharged without her.

    Twenty three years later, I gave birth to my son. He was born unexpectedly 7 weeks early via emergency c-section. I had been seeing a midwife and had planned a hypnobirth. Fortunately, my midwife was fantastic, keeping me informed. My emergency training for fighting fires and handling emergencies on ship when I was a merchant mariner kicked in, keeping me calm. I didn’t know the OB who was called in, and at one point while trying to get my son moving, she basically punched me in the crotch, which was excruciatingly painful. After my son was delivered, he was intubated and flown to a bigger hospital where they could take care of him- 2 hrs. drive from home. Leaving my hospital without my son didn’t feel weird because I’d done it before. I didn’t get to see him until he was a few days old and I was finally able to make the drive to see him in an isolette, covered with tubes and wires. And it took several more days until I could spend time holding him and beginning to bond with him. Things have been bumpy ever since with my hormones and adrenals having taken a beating and with my son having a bunch of “invisible disabilities.”

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    • I have read what you have written many times. My heart just feels so immensely for what you went through at 15. I so wish I could just pop myself back in time and be there to talk with you and hold your hand through the whole experience. Then with the birth of your son…I just have no words! Not the right ones. Talk about the unexpected! I just try to imagine how you felt to finally hold him in your arms. It must have been a lifetime of love just overflowing for your baby boy. My daughter and I both have some noticeable illnesses and some not. You can’t see someone’s paralyzingly anxiety..totally invisible, or the OCD thoughts or the Lyme disease that is causing pain and confusion. My muscle disease is a little easier with using the scooter but a neighbor just asked today after living a few houses down for 11 years what was my diagnosis. All I know is our children are our hearts and we love them and want to do anything possible to make life easier and sometimes there is nothing we can do. I thank you for sharing this part of your life here and I pray for you and your child.

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