When did birth become so traumatic?

The U.K. reports a rise in "birth trauma" and women requesting C-sections out of a fear of natural labor

Topics: Pregnancy, Medicine, Motherhood, Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

When did birth become so traumatic?

Most everything about pushing a writhing, screaming human being out of your most intimate parts seems harrowing — but increasing attention is being paid to labor experiences that so exceed even that base level of intensity as to be classified as trauma. Recent reports have found that 30 percent of births classify as traumatic and 9 percent of new moms in the U.S. show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. There’s also been a fringe push to recognize some of these experiences as “birth rape.” And now there come reports that birth trauma — defined as a frightening labor experience that leaves a woman with PTSD-like symptoms — is on the rise in the U.K., and that women are increasingly opting for C-sections out of a fear of natural labor.

Forget too posh to push, says the Guardian, try “too scared to push.” The British daily reports that hospitals and midwives have seen a notable increase in birth trauma and subsequent tocophobia (a fancy way of saying “fear of childbirth”), and the Birth Trauma Association has seen a boost in public interest. Note, though, that there are no official numbers to go by here — so, a grain of salt would be wise. The obvious question is why something as common as childbirth — which is supposedly safer than ever — has become such a topic of terror.



There isn’t any one answer. Part of it can certainly be explained by the growing home birth movement, which has been propelled by a handful of documentaries that depict hellish hospital births that are painful, frightening and disempowering, and the comparative heaven of midwife-guided labor. It’s also true that hospitals have lowered the bar for Caesarean sections — out of a fear of being sued and attempts at cost-cutting. For-pay hospitals have also upped the C-section rate, perhaps because they bring in much more money. As I noted before, it’s also true that more women are having twins, thanks to IVF treatments, and giving birth at older ages, both of which can lead to complications that prompt surgical intervention.

I’m left wondering to what degree the recent talk about traumatic childbirth accurately reflects reality, and to what degree it perpetuates women’s fears.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    "Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>