language, it's implications and effectI've been reading with mixed feelings this thread and some other recent threads on 'trauma' and 'post-traumatic stress' associated with normal births.
To put in a disclaimer/buffer first: I realize that birth can be truly traumatic for some who suffer loss of dignity, respect for wishes, loss of control over events, decision-making, and possibly including physically traumatic acts done to their bodies (whether deemed 'necessary for safety' or not; whether experienced in the present, or not until later, as traumatic/harmful). I also know that the best thing we can do for ourselves or anyone in helping to process difficult things is affirm our own/another's actual feelings and experiences from the individual's point of view--what I find painful or insulting might be a cake walk for another, and so forth, and neither is more 'right'. So in the following comments I do not intend to minimize anyone's feelings about, or perceptions of, their own experiences. I do, however, intend to issue what I hope is a thought-provoking and potentially life-altering (for the better) challenge to the use of words we apply to our experiences.
For clarity's sake, I also reiterate that here I am referring to 'normal birth'--where choices were basically mama's own, where no emergencies occurred and no artificial meds/procedures were employed, where the natural birth process worked just fine and mother and baby came through in health.
To finally jump right in: I submit that it is very important to choose words carefully when describing our experiences. Words do not just represent simple concrete things--objects, feelings, people; words represent ideas, values and beliefs on a personal *and* cultural/mass basis--therefore, words have an enormous amount of power, potentially, in our lives and ongoing experiences. This is because we humans are so fully 'intellectual'--which here means, as best I can say it, that we think about stuff, we choose beliefs and values, we have numerous options of how to feel about events--we are not JUST instinct driven. In fact, how we 'feel' about something has EVERYTHING to do with what we believe about it. And what we believe about something is very much impacted by the words we use to describe it...and the words others use, and the variety of meanings attached to particular words. We can and do shape our own/others' perceptions and feelings about something...we shape our own and help shape others' realities...through our word-choices.
So, I submit to you that in a very real way, to say you feel 'traumatized' about your birth is a way to avoid talking straightforwardly about how you felt, and instead to define the experience with a word that is going to lead to beliefs and feelings. It is also a way to most definitely focus on what was 'wrong' and leave out what was 'right'--if you say it was traumatic, how can you or anyone believe there coulda been any good in it at all? Instead of the beliefs and feelings being stated more simply and down to earth, a potent and highly negative word is used that actually helps to shape the word-user's beliefs and feelings. To me, traumatized is not a feeling word...it is a word that might sum up a group of feelings and mental/physical processes; a word that can act as a single-word descriptor for a constellation of emotions/mind-and-body reactions that are shattering and injurious to one's sense of reality/identity/ and even to one's physical health. And I'm not saying this *couldn't* occur for a woman who'd had a horribly painful normal birth...what I'm saying is, from all else said, I'm not hearing what sounds to me like 'trauma' in the truest sense of what that word means. Sure, you can say that you're using the word trauma according to another connotation (because we do that quite legitimately with words all the time) BUT--I submit that in using a word, we might think we mean 'one thing' yet we are subliminally dragging in all the meanings and especially the original meaning of that word, with it's whole history, cultural context, and weight. Trauma is a very heavy word! And with it's use we are actually impacting our perceptions of our own experiences.
I am indeed hearing that these birth experiences were more intense than you imagined possible, that they blew away your expectations of how birth would be, and your previous understanding of birth and yourself, and that the experience was highly unwelcome and hard to integrate emotionally and intellectually! I am hearing that the pain--and in some cases, the rapidness of events/changes--- interfered with your sense of the birth occurring perfectly--that the pain and/or speed of things was a 'bad part' of your birth for sure. A very bad part of things, even.
To those who say their birthing pain was traumatic, I say, what *were* the actual feelings--and what *are* they now? Ok, I know, it hurt, it hurt a LOT, way too much. What were your emotions about that? Were you afraid that you couldn't take it, or afraid you might lose all control or even die? Did this make you angry, to be forced to feel so much pain? Were you sad to lose your hoped-for painless birth? Frustrated at how little you were able to reduce your experience of pain through learned birthing techniques? Did you feel resentment that your efforts to prepare had failed? I offer up these feeling words and possible explanations...believing that they are all quite valid and normal emotional responses by the way...not saying I know, just trying to imagine. And just trying to show what I mean by talking about the actual feelings involved instead of making use of a blanket term like 'traumatic'. I really am wondering what you felt about it, what was going on for you. And in asking this, I am also saying that you might help yourself process the experience, work through the negative emotions and lay firmer claim to the power and positive emotions of the experience, by acknowledging what you felt for what it really is.
Well, this is long and I'll try not to go on all day. It gets down to this: you get to define your experience, and how to feel about it. I submit that if you talk a lot about trauma, you will focus more on what was 'wrong' and less on what was 'right', and essentially deprive yourself of the true power and victory and bliss of your birth. You can say--the pain was traumatic, I feel traumatized, I am having post traumatic stress now...and using those words, and subjecting yourself to their meanings over and over, you can talk yourself right out of victory and health and right into ppd or other unpleasant experiences.
You can also say, DAMN!!! That hurt!!! OMYFREAKINGGAWD I cannot BELIEVE how much that hurt!!! I was scared I woudn't make it through! I thought I was being torn apart!!!! You just don't KNOW how close I came to going for an epidural or whatever else the hospital wanted to do to me. Hell with those 'painless birth' LIARS, as IF! But I DID IT!!! I got through, I am AN AMAZON!!!! Who knew birth could hurt so much but I did it and I am a GODDESS! I am SO glad that is over now, I think I'll go get a heating pad and breathe through these afterpains cuz they hurt like a B**** too and you'd think I'd get a break by now but DAMN I'M GOOD! And wouldja LOOK at this gorgeous perfect baby and my breasts and all this MILK! I can do ANYTHING now...JEEEZO, I never even had a moment to think about it, did you SEE how fast that hellish labor became pushing and then the BABY was there!!!! WHeeeoooo! THought I was gonna lose it for SURE, but I DIDN'T! Oh my, give me a warm cuppa tea, more ibuprofin, another blanket --and go away now, I need some time to deal with this and besides there's this cute baby to love on right now....wow...
And so forth.
Sometimes when I see these discussions, I think that maybe we have developed way too much expectation of control over life and everything in it. And then, when life turns out to be life, and we find out that life is far bigger and a far more determining factor in the course of our lives than any of our plans and preparations--we just freak out and start to think there is something wrong with that. We start to think we've been deprived or victimized or were stupid or something...when it was just life at work, as ever. Sometimes our preparations for birth do us in good stead, but we never know when. Birth is ALWAYS in charge, and we ALWAYS have to just keep up as best we can. Nothing 'wrong' with that, really...if life, and birth, being bigger than we are can be ok with us, then our definition of events can be softer and more positive.
We can't change events. We sure can choose how to deal with em, though. Part of that choice is made through our words.
ramble, ramble, ramble...