As birthworkers, we sure talk a lot about preventing trauma by hiring doulas from your very first birth. Prevention is absolutely key, but we need to acknowledge when trauma is already there, too.
As a fair warning, this article mentions triggering words and scenarios that you may not be able to tolerate in every, or any, setting. Be sure you’re in a space and mindset you’re comfortable and safe in before reading if you know you have triggers!
Whether the existing trauma is from childhood, an abusive relationship, a previous loss, a birth before they had the knowledge they do today, or anything else, it must be acknowledged before a mama can heal and move forward to have her COMPLETE healing birth.
When a person has been through trauma, there is something called an equilibrium, in their brain, that has been shifted. People that have been through trauma, small or large, have a different equilibrium than someone whom has never been through trauma, AND, it should be no surprise that every equilibrium of trauma victims is DIFFERENT and is not dependent or correlated to what type of trauma or how long ago it happened.
I will give you an example to help you understand further. A woman that was raped twelve years ago, may have a shorter equilibrium than a woman that was just beaten by her husband last night, it is simply dependent on how the individual perceived, processed and healed from the traumatic event.
Now what does the length of an equilibrium mean?
If an equilibrium is short, it means that individual is more likely to be triggered and thrown off balance because they have a very small window of stability. If the equilibrium is long, they have a wider window of stability. Regardless of equilibrium length, there may still be specific words, settings or people that disrupt the individuals equilibrium.
Being knowledgeable of this, how can we, as birthworkers, help to heal this trauma and extend an expectant woman’s equilibrium?
Identify triggers and LET HER SPEAK ON THEM. Avoiding them is an option, but it won’t allow her to fully heal. If her trigger is male presence, she should absolutely seek a woman provider, but that does not heal the trauma. She needs to talk about specific traits and actions that led to that male presence being a trigger. If a trigger for her is vaginal stimulation, she should avoid cervical checks, but does eventually need to practice being comfortable with her own touch, and the different sensations regarding her pubic region, to help her be fully in tune with her body during birth and to not withdraw from the pressures and sensations of birth. Let her navigate these, with open communication to you, if she chooses to share these things. Don’t make her feel like she HAS to do anything, by any specific deadline, these are just suggestions.
Now, we need to discuss what happens if a woman is triggered during birth, how do we calm her? She needs to identify her safe space in her mind. There are POSITIVE triggers, as well. What words RELAX her? What will remind her that she is safe and loved? Is this her partner, is this you? What about an inanimate object, a stuffed animal, a necklace her mom gave her when she was a child? She knows these comforts, ask her about them! It’s important to know, so in her most sensitive moments, you know what to do, or have, for her comfort.
What does a triggered person look like? This is delicate subject, because everyone looks a little different, but there are things you can look for. A person seeming very angry, panicked or anxious all of a sudden, spontaneous crying, rejection of everyone around them, shock/withdraw, physically feeling ill for no explainable reason, that should not be hormone related, etc. Use her comforts at this time, as someone that is triggered, is not currently thinking logical and speaking logically to them, will not necessarily work, unless that is their comfort that has been previously identified. CLEAR COMMUNICATION though, is a must, from any provider, you or anyone else around. This keeps the person in control and will help them feel safe.
Next, I’m going to talk about something that may spark some tough feelings in you. You need to identify where your own equilibrium is and what your triggers are. This is not bias, they are two different things and exchanging them is offensive to survivors. What would trigger you in a birth to make you act differently? If you see a mother in a hospital setting having an intervention done to her, what will that do to you? Will you be able to compose yourself or will you be triggered to where you cannot act professionally or calmly to effectively help her?
Many of us birthworkers have our own traumas that led us into birth work, but it is not our job to project our trauma onto others. Just because a cesarean was traumatic to YOU, does not mean it is traumatic to your client, and you should allow her to express her feelings about it and validate, do not traumatize her with your own opinion of her birth unless she specifically asks for it.
If you cannot compose yourself in a specific setting, it is your job to heal it before putting yourself in that setting. If a specific provider will trigger you, do not take clients with that provider. It is a disservice to attempt to serve a woman in a setting that you will not be at your best. You can develop secondary trauma from listening to birth trauma, and you are capable of getting PTSD from a birth you attend!! If you feel you are experiencing this, get help!
EDMR and trauma therapy is very valuable for everyone.
I hope this shed some light on serving trauma victims of any traumatic event, and taking care of yourself as a birthworker. So much love!
To learn more about self care and serving victims, join our birthkeeper course!