WHEN SURVIVORS OF ABUSE GIVE BIRTH
Sexual Abuse, PTSD and the Emotions of Pregnancy & Birth
There are many experiences on both the body and emotional level in the childbearing year that can potentially trigger abuse memories for the abuse survivor. Some triggers might be a gentle gynecological exam even from an understanding provider, the wonderful normal feeling of your baby moving in utero, and the medical interventions of birth, even if not extraordinary, might be triggers for post-traumatic symptoms to re-occur.
Indeed, studies show that medical interventions, even if necessary and performed sensitively, can result in feelings of being violated and traumatized. In addition, it is important to recognize that her relationship with her medical provider may re-enact a power dynamic whereby the patient is re-traumatized by feeling powerless. The womanly act of breastfeeding may trigger some survivors so badly that this feeding method becomes impossible, and these feelings can be compounded by feelings of failure.
The survivor may react to these stresses with increased hypervigilance (a symptom of PTSD), anxiety, depression, crying spells and fear. She may worry excessively about every body change, trying to control the pregnancy by not eating, and opting for a scheduled cesarean section out of fear.
Rituals, expressive art and writing, psychoeducation about body changes, discussion about birth practices, having her educate her birth practitioners can help contain the aroused feelings and help the woman feel she can openly include her ob/gyn or midwife in communication about her unique situation.