She told me her first birth in a refugee camp was wonderful. She had a midwife who supported her and stayed with her throughout her birth. It only lasted 4-5 hours and was hard work, but wasn’t excruciatingly painful. She felt empowered and supported. But, her second birth, in a US hospital was quite the opposite. She was induced, was left alone most of her labor with only her husband in the room with her, and when the nurses and/or doctor were in the room, they were anything but kind to her. She said, “I know it was hard for my providers to take care of me, but when they were unkind, I felt the labor pains get worse and worse. It was awful. During my current pregnancy, I catch myself feeling shortness of breath and a tight chest. I’m afraid to go to the doctor.”
I told her that no one should be treated the way she was and that she has every right to change providers and that we would be alongside her throughout that process and try to find her a provider who could better care for her.
Why is this situation so alarming? Over 30% of birthing people will have psychological trauma from the experience (Krysta Dancy, birthandtraumasupportcenter.org). Why is this the case? Is it because birth is just hard and painful? Is it because of medical interventions? The reason is more nuanced, but is centered in the fact that birthing people are in an extremely vulnerable place physically, mentally, and emotionally during pregnancy and birth. Birth can be the most empowering, strengthening, enlivening experience of a woman’s life if she has what she needs to reach that potential. However, it can also become a traumatic experience that haunts her for years after. Because of this, the support that a birthing person receives during pregnancy, labor/birth, and postpartum is extremely important. If a birthing person doesn’t feel empowered and supported during this process, they are exponentially more susceptible to experience trauma.
This is why we do what we do at Embrace. The women we work with are often more at risk to experience this type of trauma and harm because of many of the barriers and inequalities they face. But, we at Embrace also know there is a different way for them to go through the beautiful process of birth, a way that is deeper and truer. We know that these women come from many generations of strong women who birthed in spaces surrounded by other women with long traditions and cultures of strength and empowerment, meaning and normalcy around the birthing process. We learn from this history, seek to protect this lineage and not have it destroyed by a medical system that is not set up for these women. And we seek to speak this truth to the system and perhaps little by little, birth by birth, we are showing a broken system that there is a better way. This is our hope.
May this work continue to be done until every birthing person is empowered and supported in their experience.