This year in Australia around 300,000 women will give birth (maybe more thanks to the COVID baby boom).
And according to the Australasian Birth Trauma Association, over one third (that’s right - around 100,000 women) will define their birth as traumatic. Between 15,000 to 30,000 women may suffer irreversible physical birth trauma in the form of pelvic floor muscle and/or anal sphincter tears.
What is going so wrong with our health care system that one-third of mothers experiencing a traumatic birth?
And if that is the case, why don’t we hear more about it?
Time to End the Taboo on Birth Trauma
Despite everything I have been through, I still consider myself one of the ‘lucky ones’ because I was able to see a Women’s Health Physio and receive professional support and treatment. I know so many other women are not so lucky.
My physio was Lyz Evans who is one of Australia’s leading pelvic health physios who has spent over 15 years treating new and expecting mothers from her Bondi based practice. She says that the most common sentiment she hears is “why didn’t anyone tell me this could happen?”
Lyz believes that it is a combination of things that keeps women and their partners silent when it comes to birth trauma.
“Firstly women are often embarrassed. Birth is more than simply a way to get the baby out. It is an incredible and often life-changing event. One that we often spend years thinking about and dreaming of. So when your birth doesn't go the way planned, it can leave women feeling let down, ripped-off and in many cases – traumatized” “. Added to that, conditions like third degree anal sphincter tears, pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence are uncomfortable conditions to talk about” Says Evans
“Secondly, women often think that they are alone in this journey. They believe that their body is broken or that their body failed them, and that they are the only one feeling this way”
“And thirdly, following birth trauma many women lose their sense of self, their confidence and their voice. Evans explains, that “birth trauma affects not only a woman’s physical wellbeing, but also her mental and emotional. The impacts run deep, and it can seep into every element of her life. Her ability to connect with her partner, her ability to have sex without pain or fear, her ability to connect with her baby, ability to exercise and her productivity at work. The list is endless. The combination of these things can make a woman feel like she is falling apart, and failing. And this can keep her silent”
Australian mothers deserve better
Australian mothers deserve better. In 2020 Lyz and I launched the Empowered Motherhood Program which supports women through their entire pregnancy and postnatal journey with safe physio-led exercise and expert education. We place huge emphasis on really preparing mothers with the information they really need to know for birth, how to make the right choices for their bodies, and how to rehabilitate their bodies safely after pregnancy and birth.
Birth trauma can often be a result of how a woman was treated during her labour and early postnatal recovery. Women often feel powerless. By empowering women with the information they need, they can make informed and empowered decisions when it comes to their bodies and their births.
This needs to change at an individual level, but there also needs to be systematic change. Research has shown that women who receive continuity of midwifery care (the same midwife through pregnancy, labour, birth and six weeks post-partum) have less medical interventions and were more satisfied with their births.
Another key goal of the Empowered Motherhood Program is to end the taboo when it comes to birth trauma. There are incredible organisations like the Australasian Birth Trauma Association, the Centre of Perinatal Excellence, the Gidget Foundation and PANDA which all have tools, support networks and resources designed to support parents who have experienced a traumatic birth.
We would love women who have experienced a traumatic birth to know that they are not alone. Their body didn’t fail them and that there is support available to them.