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Trauma Starts at Birth and What to Do About It

Rates of anxiety and depression are increasing and moreso in younger populations. Some social scientists, like Jonathan Haidt, astutely speculate that social media is partially to blame for these trends. Other people note poor lifestyle habits like poor sleep or diet. All of these are contributors, but arguably the worst problem facing people in the […]

Rates of anxiety and depression are increasing and moreso in younger populations. Some social scientists, like Jonathan Haidt, astutely speculate that social media is partially to blame for these trends. Other people note poor lifestyle habits like poor sleep or diet.

All of these are contributors, but arguably the worst problem facing people in the western world is our inability to process trauma.

Dr. Gabor Mate is a Hungarian-born doctor with a novel approach to addiction. According to him, and plenty of research, addiction covers up something inherent to all human beings: childhood trauma.

Trauma doesn’t equate to a dangerous environment. Circumstances arise, perhaps a mother has to leave a child with grandparents for some time in order to survive, and a child can perceive this as abandonment. Nobody is at “fault” here, but yet the child now has a wound that struggles with abandonment.

A society that cannot discuss these things intelligibly will never be able to solve them.

One of the rarely acknowledged facts is that this early trauma starts at childbirth.

The Trauma of Childbirth

My girlfriend is a doula in Austin, Texas, which means I hear lots of stories and receive a truer perspective. Each time she has a doula client, the scenario is different. Sometimes it makes sense to have a child at the hospital with all the equipment to make sure things go smoothly. Sometimes the mother is able to deliver her baby at home surrounded by loved ones in a comfortable place.

For the most part, experiences today look a lot different than they used to. It is true that increased sanitation and protocols have helped to reduce infant and maternal mortality (in some demographics, at least). But we have created unintended consequences; namely, children are born in a chaotic, sterile, and uncomfortable environment.

The stress of childbirth is hard enough. The fetus has spent the past 9 months safe in a dark environment, nurtured in the womb. All of a sudden, it’s time to exit and the mother stresses to get the job done. After screaming, bright lights, and unfamiliar voices, the whole experience is the first impression of the world.

In contrast, our ancestors made sure nature and community was a large part of each birth. Their rites and rituals emphasized being with other people who meant a lot to them. The Lipans of west Texas had women friends and midwives come into their home, massage, and support the mother as she needed it.

The Coahuiltecan tribe emphasized support. Friends would accompany the mother to an isolated place in nature, allow her to get comfortable, and then birthed in a squatting position.

There are numerous women who are turning back to this type of childbirth not only to make the experience better for the mother, but also for the child.

Support Comes in Many Ways

Obviously the easiest way to reduce the stress and anxiety of a mother is to support them during the process.

There are many different types of support during pregnancy and childbirth:

  • A doula (birthing coach)
  • A midwife
  • A nurse
  • A family member

The first three can be cost prohibitive for some people. A doula is often affordable (and many work to make it more affordable depending upon your financial situation). Midwives and nurses can be more expensive to invite into your home, but at a hospital are usually included in the cost.

The mental and physical state of the mother and baby during childbirth makes a big difference in the wellbeing of the child. These early moments are pivotal for creating a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted child.

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