#METOO IN THE BIRTH ROOM AND WHY IT MATTERS
By: Martha Neovard
This is probably the hardest blog I’ve ever had to write. As a woman, I’ve watched the #MeToo movement carefully, cheering the brave survivors, carefully prodding my own experiences, holding them up to the light. This is about #MeToo, but in a different light. This is about how those of us who can say #MeToo can experience pregnancy, birth and postpartum. It’s a time where so much of that careful control we’ve gathered as a way to feel safe can be shaken out of our grip. It’s a time where our bodies are doing things we may not have given permission for them to do. It’s a time where wounds can reopen, and old shadows come into the light. It can be a time of fear and anxiety and worry, but with care and preparation and trust, it can sometimes be a time of healing too. This is a blog about all of the information I needed from the beginning. This is part of my healing too, and this is something I want to gift other survivors. This is my story.
I’ve had three beautiful babies. I’ve experienced postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression after the birth of two of my daughters. After the birth of my first daughter, my anxiety was awful. I could hardly function, and every first experience with my baby was through the lense of that dark cloud of anxiety and depression. My husband knew something was wrong, but we knew very little about postpartum depression and mood disorders. It wasn’t much talked about, even eight years ago. So I didn’t realize what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. I figured everyone struggled, to some degree.
Eventually, I figured out that what was happening to me was not normal and I thought about seeking help. I was afraid to reach out for too much help, though. I know that sounds really unusual. Wouldn’t I want help? But I’d been experiencing these terrible episodes. Flashbacks. Confusing, powerful, all-consuming and bleak flashbacks that would leave me wrecked for days, barely able to care for myself and my baby. Eventually they stopped coming, instead hibernating back to wherever they came from, but I lived the first year and a half after my oldest daughter’s birth on edge, fearful that the smallest thing might trigger them to come back. But I didn’t know the word “trigger” then. I didn’t understand what I was experiencing. I thought it was part and parcel of the PPMDs I was dealing with. So I let it rest and didn’t deal with it. I just crossed my fingers it was gone for good.
When I got pregnant with my second daughter, I was aware that I didn’t want to experience the same postpartum issues again, but I didn’t know how to prevent it. I started to research, but I didn’t come across the word “PTSD”. The flashbacks and panic attacks started to come again when I reached 7 months pregnant. I spoke to a friend who was also a doula, and to my midwife, and both of them talked about trauma in birth, and the impact of pregnancy and birth on trauma survivors. It was then that I found Penny Simkin’s book, “When Survivors Give Birth” and it was eye opening for me. It was the first time I’d used the word “Survivor” for myself and my own experiences. It was a powerful feeling, to change my own internal describor from the word victim to the word survivor. It finally unlocked my voice to advocate for myself and the things I needed as a survivor in my birth and postpartum to feel safe.
When the flashbacks started again in the weeks following my second daughter’s birth, I didn’t hide and stay quiet. I struggled through my fear and shame and sought the help of my doctor, who sent me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist spoke softly and reassured me. Her words were healing, soothing balm to old wounds that had reopened each time I experienced pregnancy, labour and birth. And she finally gave a name to all of the things I was experiencing. PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, caused not by my children’s births, but old wounds I was still carrying so cautiously, afraid to jostle them and reopen them. We worked on tools and strategies to deal with flashbacks and panic attacks when they came. We made a plan, and I slowly healed.
When I became pregnant with my third daughter, I was ready. I hired two wonderful, incredible doulas who knew my history and helped me to find my voice to ask for the things that helped me feel safe during labour and birth. When I started to feel unsure, or scared, they gently helped guide me back to my inner place of strength and safety. I could not have done any of it without their care and support, and the support of my husband. If you are a survivor, having a doula can make a massive difference. A doula doesn’t act as a shield, but a doula feels like a shield. They help you build your own shield. They help you prepare yourself and your body to find safety and avoid triggers. Although my last daughter’s labour, birth, and postpartum were the hardest, most strenuous experience I’d ever gone through, I thrived. I had no postpartum anxiety, no flashbacks, no depression. I had battled the PTSD monster, advocated for myself to feel safe during labour and birth, and developed a postpartum plan that included peer support and mental health help. I was on top of the world and got to really enjoy my last baby. I saw her clearly, without the dark clouds of PPMD.
These personal experiences are the biggest reason I have so much passion for the work we do at Family First. We talk so much about postpartum mood disorders, and we talk about healing. We talk about causes and coping mechanisms. One thing we haven’t talked a lot about is a particular underlying cause that affects 1 in 4 women in Canada…
When Sara told me she was meeting with the Regina Sexual Assault Centre to talk about compiling a resource sheet for survivors in their childbearing time, I was so excited and happy. I had never had a complete resource list to guide me through my pregnancies and births. I had to pull information from different places, and I had to research through tons of information. The research itself would sometimes act as a trigger, and it was emotionally exhausting.
Sara and I want to spare moms that emotional work and stress and provide a free, simple straight talk resource for survivors of sexual assault, abuse, domestic violence, and trauma who are pregnant. Something you can bring to your care providers and hand them. Something to help facilitate a discussion about safety and trauma, in a way that feels clear and safe. These conversations are so important, and there are many things to consider if you are a survivor. This #straighttalk tool is the most important thing we have ever done at Family First, and we are so happy to share it with you so you can speak with your own care providers. One at a time, we can help care providers see the value of trauma informed care, and hopefully bring it in as a standard of care in Saskatchewan, Canada, and across the world.
Below you will find two new tools that you can use for your upcoming birth. We hope you find them helpful.
The first one is to help you better understand your needs during pregnancy and birth, how to build a supportive team and tips on being proactive about your care.
The second is an information sheet you can print off and bring to the hospital as part of your birth plan. Our goal is that it will help you communicate your needs with your nurse and anyone else invovled with your care.
If you need more support in planning for your upcoming birth, please reach out to us and the wonderful team at RSAC.
Free Counselling for Survivors of Sexual and Interpersonal Violence
If you are a survivor of sexual or interpersonal violence, and you would like to access free counselling in Regina, contact the Regina Sexual Assault Centre either by phone, at (306) 522-2777, or by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.