I wrote my birth story up for another website last week, and when I posted a link to it on Facebook, it prompted a very interesting discussion in the comments.
It seems I’m not the only person who has been told not to ‘complain’ about a difficult birth experience, because I ‘ended up with a healthy baby and that’s all that matters’.
An old university friend, Marina, wrote an absolutely brilliant analogy about how it feels, and why we need to take birth trauma seriously, and she has given me permission to post it here.
You’re driving to a florist to get a pot plant.
It’s an exotic pot plant that you had to order. You expect it will live the rest of your life, and be a very important part of your future. You’ve waited for it to arrive for nearly a year. You and all your friends and family are deeply excited about this pot plant.
Your plans include parking the car, walking into the florist, buying the plant and tenderly driving it home.
What happens instead is that on your way there you’re hit by a truck, in a gruesome accident that mangles your groin, bruises and maybe punctures your abdomen, and leaves you shaken and faint and weak from lost blood. It takes hours for you to be cut from the wreckage. Pain relief is not necessarily available to you, intermittently effective, and utterly unable to stave off both your fear that you just won’t make it out of this wrecked car AND your crushing disappointment that this day – this exciting day when you were going to get your exotic pot plant! – is suddenly horribly, horribly off-script.
As you lie in hospital recovering – a process that seems to take forever but you are expected to do invisibly and overnight – people tell you stories of the day they went to get THEIR pot plant, and how it was for them. This doesn’t help.
You are brought your pot plant. You look at it. You wonder how on earth you are supposed to enjoy it now that it’s associated with all that pain and fear and helplessness. You hope it’s just the loss of blood and lack of sleep and general pain influencing your thoughts. You hope you’re not a monstrously uncaring pot-plant hater, deep down.
Later, when you recount the accident, and the pain, and your incredible fear and vulnerability, and try to articulate how you worry it’s made you an unfit person to even care for this pot plant, people try to help by pointing out how nice your pot plant is. How healthy it is. They say: Look, you’ve got your lovely pot plant. That’s what you wanted isn’t it? You were driving to get it, and now here it is.
What they don’t see is that while initially the drive was to pick up the pot plant, the accident has left you profoundly different. No, they insist. It was just about getting the pot plant, which you’ve done! See! It’s right there!
They are spectacularly missing the point.