I gave birth to my daughter a few months ago and was lucky enough to have a beautiful, gentle birth at home. It could have all gone wrong because of one consultant midwife who five days earlier had tried to coerce me into an induction based only on my maternal age.
Research has shown that the risk of stillbirth doubles with a maternal age of 40 years or over, compared with a maternal age under 35 years. However, looking at the figures in more detail, the increase is from 0.1% to 0.2% (1). Hearing the word ‘double’ when associated with risk raises anxiety levels and will almost always result in accepting intervention, yet this is how many women are informed of this research. If a full explanation of the numbers was given, would so many women still accept an induction?
The conversation with the consultant midwife left me shaken and enraged. I believe I was ready to go into labour but was unable to do so due to my emotional state. I kept thinking about stillbirth even though I was well informed of the research. Two hours after taking some homeopathic Staphysagria, my rage and anxiety had disappeared, and my waters broke. My daughter was born three hours later on her ‘due date’.
Most women aren’t aware of the benefit of homeopathy especially in highly emotive states such as this. I firmly believe you need to be emotionally ready to give birth. The ticking clock that begins at 40 weeks, not only disregards that every human is individual, but also increases anxiety unnecessarily. Even women who understand that the 40-week time limit is imposed by the medical system, not nature, begin to feel anxious due to the constant negative messaging from health care professionals (HCP’s) about being ‘overdue’. Many forums about pregnancy and birth are full of questions about ‘bringing on labour’ naturally to avoid induction. It is often not even understood that induction is a choice, not an absolute.
But what has this got to do with birth trauma? I have spoken with many women about their births and while each of these women experience and hold their trauma differently, the common thread that runs through all the birth stories is fear. The Facebook page ‘They Said to Me’ (2) is an amazing platform upon which women can share these experiences. In many cases, it demonstrates how fear is part of the narrative of society and many HCPs in the maternity setting.
When we are fearful, our fight or flight mechanism kicks in. One of the hormones involved in this mechanism is adrenaline. You would think that adrenaline has no place in the intricate endocrine dance of labour and birth, but it plays an important part at the transitional stage. If adrenaline levels are high in early labour, it can prevent the uterus from contracting. This is experienced by birthing women in states of high stress which leads to a stalled labour, or as it is unhelpfully termed by many HCPs, ‘a failure to progress’.
Elevated stress levels can be caused by multiple vaginal examinations, constant CCG monitoring, bright lights, strangers constantly coming in and out of the birthplace, being without a trusted birthing partner, not to mention fear-based communication throughout pregnancy from those that are responsible for your care. These factors contribute to women not feeling safe.
This disrupts the hormonal dance causing birthing women to end up in a viscous cycle where the interventions result in the requirement for more interventions, causing more fear. These interventions are working against what the body is trying to achieve based on external stimulus received. Too often this results in forceps delivery, the use of a ventouse or even an emergency c-section. The fallout can be disastrous for the physical and emotional health of the mother and baby both in both the short and long term.
Giving birth is a powerful part of who we are as women. The need to feel safe is a vital part of the birth setting. When there is trauma involved in this experience, it remains with us forever.
Homeopathy is invaluable for helping women cope with and move on from traumatic birth experiences, but the ideal would be for trauma not to be experienced at all. I have found that the use of remedies in pregnancy, during labour, but also as an ongoing and integral part of your health and wellbeing, can build physical and emotional strength and resilience. This has huge implications for the prevention of birth trauma and the long-term holistic health of mother and baby.