Birth Trauma or just a complicated delivery?

Birth Trauma or just a complicated delivery?

The Australian Birth Trauma Association  defines birth trauma as “Psychological problems arising from the circumstances of the delivery ……...or the process” of childbirth. 

There is no question about it, childbirth can be a very traumatic experience for both the mother and the people around her. Physical complications still occur despite the significant advances in obstetrics that have led to declining maternal mortality and morbidity rates. Circumstances in which childbirth occurs may not be the ideal imagined by the mother during her pregnancy, in part due to the unpredictable nature of childbirth. Social pressures may lead women to feel like they have failed if they have not accomplished a drug-free “natural” birth or managed to successfully breast feed.

But where does normal experience start, and trauma begin?

Concept Creep

The notion of “concept creep” may have some relevance here.

In 2016 Australian psychologist Professor Nicholas Haslam from the University of Melbourne wrote a paper that introduced the concept in the context of mental health.

Haslam notes that concepts have a tendency to expand both horizontally, incorporating new situations, and vertically, to include less severe problems. He applies that to abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction and prejudice.

Why do we do it?

I guess there are all sorts of reasons why concepts might expand ranging from the comfort provided by having a “label” for your experience to financial rewards derived from a particular diagnosis that might attract some kind of funding. But it’s also possible that we may not realise we are doing it.

There’s an interesting article in the July 2018 issue of Scientific American reporting on a study published in  Science magazine that goes some way to explaining why we as humans do this. It seems that we need a balance between the bad and the good and if things are better overall in our lives we have a tendency to put more things in the “not so good” category that may have otherwise been in the acceptable category.

Is the increasing prevalence of birth trauma another example of concept creep?

Dr Jan Orman author image
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.