An Alarming Number Of Mothers Consider Their Birth Experiences "Traumatic"

New photo series, Exposing the Silence, talks to women across the US about their harrowing experiences in labour and how it's time to stop the abuse

When I was a little girl, I asked my mother if it had hurt her very much when she gave birth to me. When she answered that yes, it had been painful, I asked her why she did it. She told me that it had all been worth it when she saw me and that I was all that mattered.

But is your baby and what’s best for them the only thing we should consider during labour? Don’t mothers matter too?

The loss of autonomy and decision making for many women during birth—whether it be the imposed decision by health workers to administer epidural, induction or perform a c-section—can be potentially scarring and disturbing for mothers. The dehumanizing treatment of women, abuse of medication and pressure to move away from a natural birth can cause deep psychological harm, at a time when mothers should be experiencing the miracle of childbirth and making a bond with their baby for life.

Just enter PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or Obstetric Violence into Google and you’ll find over 300,000 search results. As many as one third of American women say the birth of their child was traumatic. So why is no one talking about this?

Women’s childbirth advocate, Cristen Pascucci and Lindsay Askins, a doula and photographer, travelled in a car with their children from San Francisco to New York across May and June. Along the way they stopped to photograph mothers and speak to them about their traumatic birth experiences. 

Their photo series, Exposing the Silence, aims to expose the hush-hush attitude that surrounds childbirth, bringing awareness to a common but often misunderstood issue and allowing women to share their experiences and show their strength.

One woman described how she tried in vain to alert the nurse that she could feel the incision they made across her stomach, calling the pain "unbearable". Sarah, from Harrisburg, PA said: "I could feel the scalpel as it cut through me. Starting from my right hip bone, going all the way across to my left. The pain was enormous. I could feel my insides being brought outside of my body. It was horrifying."

Zuzana, from Yuma, who also took part in the project said: "I thought they knew what was best for me... but they didn’t. Babies matter, but so do mothers; and so does the ‘birth’ of the mother."  

Another woman, Renee, from New York City said: "At that moment, it was the first in a series of steps where I felt like my choices were taken from me. I felt so vulnerable at that time. It's the most important thing you're going to do... I created this life and then I'm putting it in the hands of other people."

Perhaps mothers feel such pressure to be perfect that it extends beyond good parenting and promoting healthy lifestyles for our children. Maybe in a world that judges even the most mundane choices of women harshly—wearing make up to the gym, not dressing ‘properly’ for our size—maybe we feel pressure to hide all the parts that aren’t perfect, even when they are out of our control.

Whatever the reason, the project makes clear that the time has come for the silence to be broken.

"This photo project is part of a national effort to address obstetric violence, with the support of Improving Birth, Human Rights in childbirth, and Birth Monopoly" says Cristen.

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