When we think about the long-term effects that birth injuries have on babies and mothers, we typically think about the physical or tangible effects. Very rarely, however, do we consider the intangible or emotional impact that birth injuries cause for babies and mothers, especially in terms of relationship development.
The MASIC Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting women who have suffered serious injuries during childbirth, recently spoke to 325 women who have endured severe perineal trauma during childbirth. The findings from this study revealed just how much birth injuries can affect the relationship that a mother has with her child.
Researchers discovered that 85 percent of mothers who suffered a severe birth injury stated that it had damaged their initial relationship with their child. Additionally, 34 percent of women confessed that they viewed their child as the cause of their injuries, and 14 percent of women believed that the birth injury harmed the relationship with their child permanently. Even worse, 31 percent of parents expressed that they felt their children would be better off without them. As heartbreaking as these statistics are, they serve as evidence of the mental and emotional toll that a birth injury can cause for parents and babies.
How do birth injuries affect mothers?
Birth injuries are physical injuries that are sustained by both mother and baby. Birth injuries can range from injuries that cause small discomfort to injuries that can last a lifetime. While there are some childbirth injuries that cannot be avoided, there are some caused by the negligent actions of physicians. Medical negligence can result in birth injuries that will have a long-lasting impact on an entire family.
Physical trauma can be ongoing
Giving birth is physically hard on the mother and it takes time to recover. However, maternal birth injuries cause additional trauma to the body. Two of the main birth injuries that mothers experience involve trauma to the perineal area and trauma to the pelvic area.
Perineal trauma is any damage to the area between the vagina and the anus during childbirth. Tears occur in about 90% of women who are giving birth to their first child, and they take time to heal. Some women may be given episiotomies without their knowledge or consent to prevent perineal tearing, but the procedure can be traumatic in and of itself, or even result in increased risk of traumatic tears.
Injuries to the pelvic area include muscle damage and pelvic organ prolapse (POP). The Columbia University Department of Urology reports that “up to 40 percent of women have some form of prolapse, and about 11 percent undergo surgery for prolapse or incontinence (loss of urine) at some point in their lifetime.” Further reporting on pelvic muscle trauma by Mother Jones found:
Depending on the study, 50 to 80 percent of women who give birth experience tearing of the pelvic skin and muscles. For more than 1 in 10, the tearing is severe enough to damage the anal sphincter muscle, which often leads to the loss of bowel and bladder control. In a 2015 Canadian study, a whopping half of all new mothers were still reporting urinary incontinence a year after the birth, and more than three-quarters had residual back pain.
Mental and emotional issues can affect long-term relationships
The mental and emotional scars that birth injuries can cause are equally, if not more, as damaging as the physical ones. These issues may last a long time, as many women experience a form of distress known as “birth trauma” shortly after giving birth. Birth trauma is not just centered around what a mother experienced during labor; it also involves how the mother is left feeling afterwards. The effects of birth trauma are felt long after the mother has given birth. For example, the mothers who participated in the MASIC study who expressed alarming thoughts, such as feeling that their children would be better without them, were most likely enduring some form of birth trauma.
The experience of giving birth can be emotionally draining for many women. Some mothers may experience a form of post-traumatic stress disorder after giving birth. Feelings of shock, guilt, or numbness are quite common for mothers to experience. Having to care for a baby who has special needs due to a birth injury may add excessive stress. Mothers who suffer from PTSD may display depressive behaviors that can affect how she cares for her baby.
Can birth injuries and birth trauma affect fathers?
Birth injuries do not just affect mothers and babies. Fathers can also experience mental trauma associated with a challenging childbirth. Per a 2017 study done by the British Medical Journal regarding men’s responses to traumatic childbirths:
Men described fears of death, mirroring their partner’s distress; trying ‘to keep it together’ and helplessly watching a catastrophe unfold. Fathers felt themselves abandoned by staff with a lack of information. Men were subsequently distressed and preoccupied with the birth events but tended to feel that their responses were unjustified and tried to cope through avoidance. Men described the need for support but reluctance to receive it.
While the effects on the mother and child should be the first priority, the overall healthiness and wellness of the family unit is important, too.
Did you suffer an injury during childbirth? It’s time to seek legal representation to protect your rights. Call the office of Merkel & Cocke, P.A. at 662-627-9641, or complete a contact form to schedule a consultation. Our main office is in Clarksdale, but we operate offices in Jackson, Greenville, and Oxford. We also handle cases in Tennessee and Arkansas.
After graduating from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975, Mr. Cocke and Mr. Merkel established Merkel & Cocke, P.A. in 1982. Since that time the emphasis of Mr. Cocke’s practice has progressed toward medical malpractice. At the present time his practice is exclusively devoted to handling medical negligence cases for the plaintiff, either as a result of direct contact by the client or on referral from other attorneys who are not familiar with the handling of medical negligence cases. Mr. Cocke was selected Best Lawyer of the year for 2012 and 2014 in The Memphis area in the field of Medical Malpractice and has been selected a Best Lawyer and Super Lawyer every year since 2006. Learn more about John Hartwell Cocke here.