Monday, October 25, 2010

Gendered trauma?

According to some recent research, what is often thought to be postnatal depression is actually post-traumatic stress disorder.

Without going into the merits of the argument (I don't have the necessary medical understanding), beyond an emphatic agreement that birth is traumatic, I can't help but wonder about the implications of the theory. Put this down to my recent reading of Superfreakonomics, but I do suspect that there is more funding out there for research on PTSD, given its associations with war, violence and other more 'manly' pursuits, than on PND, which is clearly a more feminine affliction and still relatively widely thought to be just part of a natural process. Could the traumatic experiences of parturient mothers be taken more seriously or have more support services directed towards them if they were framed in the same terms as those of soldiers?


  1. I think you might be on to something here - I think there is a bit of a perception that PND is not just a feminine affliction but also lifestyle-related, an almost inevitable response to loss of freedom, sleep, time to oneself etc. I would love for this study to lead to a reconsideration of the "all that matters is a healthy mother and healthy baby" mentality when it comes to birth. Or rather, a redefinition of what a "healthy mother" constitutes, and what role our maternity services might have to play in postpartum experiences. Of course, it would also be great if women's experiences could be taken more seriously without having to re-frame them in a 'masculine' or even 'heroic' discourse. (Although what is birth anyway if not heroic?)

  2. "Although what is birth anyway if not heroic?"

    I can think of a few choice words... :-)

    "a redefinition of what a "healthy mother" constitutes"

    Amen, sister. I think there does need to be much wider acknowledgement of how hard it can be to come to terms with life after birth, and certainly debriefs should be part of everyone's postnatal experience. Birth is such a phenomenally violent process, even the fairly 'uncomplicated' ones, that I can't imagine anyone just snapping straight into happy, wholesome motherhood without needing some time to process what happened, to talk through it over and over. I don't know if the PTSD framework will change anything, but certainly seeing birth trauma as something that arises out of the birth process rather than the naivety or character of the mother would be useful.

    On that point, I can't imagine soldiers with flashbacks being told it was because they were 'unprepared' for the realities of war. Of course they were. That's the point. It's not a personal failing to not know what you're up against.

  3. MEDEA: Men tell us we live safe and secure at home,
    while they must go to battle with their spears.
    How stupid they are! I'd rather stand there
    three times in battle holding up my shield
    than give birth once.

    Euripides, "Medea" 431 BC

    (transl. Ian Johnston)