Comforting a Woman Traumatized by her Birth Experience

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Women from the Solace for Mothers message boards collaborated to create this list of common things said to women in the postpartum period and how they might be interpreted by women who feel traumatized by their birth and/or have postpartum depression or PTSD.


*If you say…


She hears…

“You should be grateful”


“You’re selfish and ungrateful. How could you be such a terrible person and not just accept the hell you’ve been experiencing with joy and gratitude. You have a bad attitude and that’s the real reason you feel so awful all time.”


“All that matters is a healthy baby.”



“You don’t matter. What you feel isn’t important. You’re pain isn’t real or significant. Don’t you care about your baby at all? You’re so selfish.”


“Why can’t you just move on and get over it?”



“Your pain isn’t a big deal. You’re just too weak to work through it like a strong person would. Can’t you do anything right?”


“The doctor/nurse/midwife was just trying to do what’s best.”



“It doesn’t matter if they verbally or physically abused you, or if they lied to you or withheld critical information. It’s not a big deal that they made important decisions without consulting you, or ignored your wishes when they did bother to ask you. None of that matters because they probably, somewhere deep down, had your best interest at heart.”


“They’ve been through medical school, they would know best.”



“You’re not qualified to make decisions on behalf of your family. You’re too stupid and would probably base your decisions entirely on some random blog post rather than legitimate scientific studies. And if you did actually stumble across a real study, you’d probably misinterpret it, because you’ve never been to medical school, so there’s no way you might know how to recognize a good study from a bad one. Doctors never make mistakes and never do things because it’s easier or their administrators ask them to, or they get paid more for it. They’re perfect. You’re not. You’re not qualified to be a mother.”

“When are you going to have another one?”



“When are you going to sacrifice all the dignity and happiness you’ve worked for months/years to restore and subject yourself to abuse and humiliation again?… Aren’t you willing to risk your identity, sanity, family, and marriage yet?”


“There’s always the next baby!”


“A good birth experience will somehow magically erase your bad one, because you’re probably exaggerating how bad you feel anyway.  You must be desperate for attention. ”


“You can always try for a VBAC next time!”


“Start planning the next birth now so that your care provider can completely ignore your wishes and leave you devastated again.”


“But person X, Y, and Z had a birth experience like yours or worse!  They’re fine!”



“You’re fine too and I think you just like to complain for attention.”


“You just expected too much from your birth.”



“All births are traumatizing and you’re stupid and believe in fairy tales for ever thinking otherwise.”


“You are small, so it’s always going to be like that for you.”



“Your body isn’t built to have children like other women.  There’s something wrong with you.”


“I just don’t understand how all those things could happen to you”



“You must be lying about what happened, or at least exaggerating.  What is wrong with you that you couldn’t do it as well as the rest of us?”

“You should have thought about that before you got pregnant!”



“You deserve this and asked for it because you shouldn’t have been having children at this stage in your life.”


“Don’t worry, the pubic hair will hide the scar.”



“Your pain is only there if you can see the physical evidence of it.  Everything else you’re feeling isn’t real.”

“Did you take [insert popular childbirth class here]?”



“You did something wrong.  If only you weren’t so stupid and ill-informed about birth.”


“Did you have a birth plan?”



“Clearly, you didn’t plan your birth well enough, so the pain you’re feeling is your own fault.”


“I think you just planned it out too much, you just have to go with what happens”



“It doesn’t matter what happened or what you did, it’s still your fault.”


“Smile for the camera.  Look happier!  Maybe show some teeth?”



“Oh, it’s okay that you’ve been ignored, lied to, confined, coerced, and abused for 15+ hours, you must be happy.”


“That’s never happened in my career before, and I’ve been doing this for ‘X’ years!”



“You must have done something wrong.  Either that or your body doesn’t work right.”

“I thought it was hilarious when I heard you got an epidural (after planning a natural birth).  I laughed out loud”



“After all your talk about natural birth, you failed and that amuses me.”


“Ha, and you said nothing could go wrong!”



“You weren’t listening when I told you all the horror stories I knew about labor.  It’s your fault your home birth failed because you shouldn’t have planned it in the first place.”


“I’m relieved you had her in a hospital!”



“I’m glad you didn’t get what you wanted because you clearly aren’t intelligent enough to make medical decisions for yourself.”


“I guess you’ll know better than to try a home birth next time.”



“You shouldn’t have tried to plan your birth or attempted to trust your body.  Obviously you didn’t do any real research about birth options, and you made your choice out of ignorance.  It’s your fault you had to suffer.”


“Are you going to have the next one in a hospital like you should have planned the first time?”



“You shouldn’t plan a home birth or trust your body.  Instead you should give up your personal autonomy to a staff of people who have to worry about legal liability and so can’t let you go through with your choices because it’s risky for them, even if it’s better for you.”


“Well, I just would have (fill in the blank) instead.”



“You didn’t do what you should have.  Your pain is your own fault.”


“I would have just told the doctor not to do (insert intervention here).”



“Your experience was completely in your control the entire time, you just made the wrong choices because you weren’t educated enough and now you regret it.”

“Really?  You think your birth was traumatic?”



“It wasn’t.  You are remembering it wrong or you experienced it wrong.”


“Well, I don’t know if the epidural was necessary.  Are they ever really necessary?”



“You think you did what you could to get by in the worst situation you could imagine, but you’re wrong.  You’re just weak.  Just like other women.”


“They should have done a c-section, they waited too long.”



“You may think escaping labor without unnecessary surgery is the only positive in your birth, but you’re wrong.  I know far more about birth than you do, and you probably just did something wrong.”


“Well you don’t seem to have PPD.”



“As the care provider that attended your birth, I don’t want to admit I had a hand in your trauma, so I’m not going to diagnose you with PTSD, even though you’ve clearly described experiencing its symptoms.  Then I can go on convincing you that you’re making your feelings up, until it’s too late for you to sue me.”


**But if you say…


Then she hears…

“I’m so sorry you had such a bad experience.”



“It’s okay to feel bad.  The pain you’re feeling is legitimate.”


“I’m here if you want to talk about it.”



“You’re not alone.”  (Note: she may not be ready to talk about it for a very long time, but expressing the sentiment often is important for when she finally is ready.)


“I’ll watch your kids at my house tomorrow.” (Don’t just offer, insist.)



“Here’s a lifeline so you can have some time to process your experience.”


“I’m sorry I don’t completely understand what you’re going through, but I can see that you’re in pain.”



“I can’t personally relate, but I recognize you’re going through an ordeal, so the pain must be real.”


“Come over with your family and we’ll play games together.”



“It’s okay that you’re not feeling well, I’ll still be your friend.”


What would you add to this list?