I’ve been so overwhelmed lately. Yes, the job and the family keep me overwhelmingly busy. But more specifically, I’m thinking of the recent STL Today article about birth trauma and the stories shared on Improving Birth’s web site. Maybe it would be more accurate to say I’ve been haunted by these stories. It pains me to think that at a time when a woman is going through the amazing birth process and supposed to be having a profound experience, that her caregivers would betray her trust. As you'll see from the testimonials on Improving Birth's site, this betrayal can be as seemingly simple as not getting evidence based care or consent before administering a procedure to verbal and physical assault. This is so important to both mothers and babies. Some moms develop post traumatic stress disorder from their experience. Even when they don't, the anger and sadness from a traumatic birth profoundly impact the early days and years of their babies' perinatal life. When mothers aren't fully available to bond with their children because they are dealing with a trauma, a whole host of emotional and physical challenges arise. We are built to bond with our babies because it is important to all aspects of life. Every effort should be made to facilitate the bond between parents and their children.
How can we provide healing to these families? If you didn’t know, music therapy started in the medical hospitals of WWI and WWII. Musicians would come and provide entertainment and the staff started noticing a difference in the soldiers after the music activities. So it’s not a far stretch to use music therapy in healing after a traumatic labor. In this context, music therapy can provide, among other things, an emotional outlet. The music is a safe medium for expressing deep hurt and anger. It touches our brain and our experiences in a way that surpasses words. Where our language fails us, music can support us. Music plays profound role in healing us.
But remember the old adage that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' Let's start preventing birth trauma. We need a shift in the attitudes of some care providers-to remember that while the procedures you're taking care of may be routine for you, there is nothing routine about this experience for this couple. This is the birth of their child! Parents need to become informed of their rights and their choices. They need to have sometimes difficult conversations with their care providers long before the due date. And we need more access to labor support. Doulas and music therapists provide an invaluable service. We inform our clients of their choices and their rights. We provide an extra familiar person who can hold the space or stay with the mother in the case the partner or other personnel need to leave. We support mother and partner with labor positions and pain management. Research shows doula care increases the birth outcomes for both mothers and their infants-even better birth weights for babies of at-risk mothers. Additionally, music therapy during labor decreases the post-partum pain, increased satisfaction rates, and lowers the risk for post-partum depression. When music therapy is combined with doula care (as it is in the services a St. Louis Birth Rhythms), mothers have an added layer of support and personalization of their birth.
I’m encouraged by the opening of birth centers in O’Fallon and at Mercy hospital. These and the home birthing movement is forcing us to take a hard look at the way we treat birthing mothers and the event of birth. Obstetricians and nurses in labor and delivery units are opening up to the idea that birth doesn’t have to be a medicalized event. Some insurance companies are providing coverage for doula services and with recent research showing the cost benefits of doula services, I believe more will be joining this list. Birth trauma is a serious challenge facing American families, but we we have the tools to make it a thing of the past.