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Giving birth is a life-altering event for all mothers. Pregnant women need proper medical care and support while carrying their baby, and even more so during labour and delivery. However, not all births happen the same way. Every woman has a different body and thus a different birth experience. Sometimes, an experience in the delivery room can leave such a deep imprint in the heart and mind of the mother that it affects her for long after!
Going into labour and delivering a baby is a challenging experience for every woman. It requires tremendous patience, strength, and the ability to bear pain. This is true for every woman – whether she has a normal delivery or a C-section birth, with the difference only lying in when the pain sets in. However, for some women, the birth experience can be so difficult that it leaves a permanent mark in their soul. And the reason behind this is really sad: apathetic, dismissive and disrespectful medical care!
In recent times, more and more cases have been coming up where the mom-to-be has been subjected to rough and ill-treatment during her delivery. Sample some:
“Don’t do drama!”
“Women need to bear much more pain than this. Shut up!”
“You’re not in that much pain.”
“Do you want a tight slap?”
In India, cases of harsh words by nurses and, at times, even physical force like slapping and pinching is not uncommon. Sometimes, especially in public hospitals and in tribal areas, the behaviour has been so bad that many women are opting for unsafe home births. Many of us regard treatment like this as “normal” – something that nurses and doctors do to make delivery possible for women. We even laugh it over, and ask new moms to forget about it. But it really is not normal. And the reason is more than just emotional turmoil:
lll-treatment by primary healthcare givers has been shown to lead to terrible consequences in some women, with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) topping the list. Not all of us are programmed to handle such rough treatment in the same manner, and this is why PTSD has become a modern reality. What’s worse: we often perceive this as imaginary, or something that will pass. This lack of awareness and acceptance means the condition is under-diagnosed. In severe cases, PTSD has even led to permanent mental health problems.
How PTSD affects new moms and their babies
PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop in a person who has faced a terrifying or traumatic event. According to Postpartum Support International (PSI), nearly 9% of women experience postpartum PTSD, and more often than not, it is caused by a real or perceived trauma during delivery! The symptoms for PTSD include:
- Severe anxiety
- Uncontrollable thoughts about the event
- Behavioral, emotional and psychological changes
Something very similar happened to a woman called Claire, who was told that she would “damage her baby if she pushed”. She was left in a vulnerable state, and it was only when her baby’s heartrate dropped was she rushed for an emergency C-section. Even today, years later, she has flashbacks:
“I’ll be lying in bed, and suddenly I’m back there. How vulnerable and violated I felt, and how, if only I’d been more assertive, things could have been so different. For months after he was born I was convinced that I wasn’t enough for him. I couldn’t even give birth to him properly.”
Claire’s condition is as real as daylight – and could happen to any of us. It affects the person in way that debilitates them mentally from living a purposeful life. It also adversely affects the functioning of a new mom and takes away the optimum care that only she can provide for the baby in the crucial time of the first few months after birth. Since PTSD is emotionally debilitating, mothers lose out on caring completely for their newborn and the baby thus misses out on important emotional bonding and development. Moreover, if it persists for longer, as it sometimes does, it can affect baby care and development for an even longer period!
What’s the solution?
There is only one fix: an improvement in our medical system both during and after delivery. Our healthcare professionals need to make an effort to extend more sympathy and concern and not belittle what a woman is going through at this difficult time. If you are a mom-to-be or know someone who is, please keep these in mind to help them have a positive birth experience:
- Ensure that the hospital and caregivers you choose are adept not only at medical assistance, but also emotional care
- Make sure the nurses and doctors are able to put a mother’s needs before anything else
- Check that the hospital is equipped and accepting to taking comforting measures like inducing labor or giving an epidural (here are a few things you can do to manage labour pain better)
A little more sympathy and care, some words of understanding, and a more concerned medical system can go a long way in making a woman comfortable as she goes through this life-altering event.