10 years after I was raped I fell pregnant with Aria. She was a surprise. We had planned on being in the house we were buying and being married before even falling pregnant but sometimes life laughs at your plans and muddles them up,
At no point did I ever imagine rape trauma would effect how I felt about the pregnancy. I never planned for coping with rape trauma throughout a pregnancy. It never occured to me that I could be so detached from my pregnancy because of something that happened so long ago.
Now rape trauma itself is different for the individual but you will find common ground in everyone’s story. Everyone gets flashback.
What triggers those flashbacks and how you deal with them are just as individual as the experience that causes them.
For some, those flashbacks come during pregnancy. They can be like reliving the trauma. On top of that some start to loathe themselves for allowing those flashbacks to corrupt a wanted pregnancy.
I deliberately state wanted pregnancy here because unwanted pregnancies, or pregnancy as a result of rape, have a whole host of complicated emotions along with them and having no experience in either one I have no place to talk about it. So as this post goes forward please remember this is from my experiences only.
Flashbacks aren’t as prevalent at the beginning of the pregnancy as they are towards to end. When the sickness subsides and pain takes over. As the pains become more frequent towards the end, ans especially during labour, you have mlre flashbacks. These aren’t always mental flashbacks either, sometimes it’s like pain memory… phantoms pains in a way. Something twinges and then you remember the pain from the trauma and that floods your memory instead.
Not to mention the invasive examinations.
Being examined and poke and prodded by medical professionals isn’t fun for anyone, but it’s especially not fun for someone who flinches and tenses when anyone goes in ‘that area’ and even more so when something catches their cervix (that shit hurts).
The NHS sadly doesn’t train on dealing with rape trauma in pregnancy and how that impacts these women. For the most part there is no understanding of our struggle. The matter of fact attitudes can often make us feel like our feelings aren’t valid.
This can be worse when you’re in labour. The midwives during labour, although very lovely, took supportive too far. Insisting I was fine and I could do it instead of listening to me and my requests for pain relief.
Sadly during labour, despite how far along the contractions were saying I was, my cervix just would not open. A therapist I saw after that suggested that things like this happen when people have lived through something like that, that I could have blocked myself from having an intervention free labour because I was subconsciously focused on the pain and what that pain brought up for me.
Did flashbacks caused by pain cause my cervix not to open? Was it psychosomatic?
Labour dragged on for over 25hours with Aria. I couldn’t focus on the “wonder of childbirth” or any of the lovely things the midwives were trying to tell me to focus on, all I could think of was the pain.
I remember asking repeatedly for an epidural to make the pain stop; to give my brain a rest too. The memories associated with the pains were too much and I wanted it all to stop but I kept being told “you’re going to give birth any moment, there’s no point”. 3 hours later and still nothing was happening so eventually I got my epidural.
The whole experience just compounded the trauma of actually giving birth and I couldn’t actually distinguish the rape trauma from the birth trauma at one point. It took time, understanding and most importantly therapy to realise what had been going on and what my mind was processing.
The experiences of the first pregnancy made me want a C section when I was pregnant with Roman. I did not want to relive either traumas again. I wanted Roman to be easier for me. However, despite my asking, and giving my reasons why, I was told it wouldn’t be an option for me because they’d already seen I could deliver naturally. That hurt, my wishes were being ignored and my mental health while pregnant suffered again.
As the pregnancy progressed I started having severe pains again. I was in and out of hospital every week in pain. Repeat internal exams, being told I was exaggerating the pain of being examined and having multiple stretch and sweeps to encourgae early labour. Not once taking on board the fact my mental health was suffering because of all of this and being denied a C section.
When you’re “fit, healthy, under 30 with one successful natural delivery already” you’re “considered an ideal candidate for natural delivery”. If I’m honest that Registra actually got in my nerves and if I wasn’t exhausted and feeling defeated I’d have shouted at her.
As it turns out having a C section still involves vaginal exams and internal cleaning. Although the women probably won’t see or feel this happen it’s still something that they should be made aware of.
I wasn’t in labour as long with Roman as I was with Aria but it was still terrible. I had the same issues, I had the same “the baby will be here before a epidural” lecture and I had the same pains.
Sorting the memories in to birth vs rape trauma can take a long time and sometimes I think I’m still figuring it all out.
I personlly feel that it’s important that rape (no matter how long ago) is disclosed in maternity notes and to all staff involved in the Mother’s care. It’s important to recognise that even if it was 10 years ago, even if the woman has dealt with her experience, she can still suffer flashbacks and the trauma can resurface.
I feel that it’s important for OBS and Gynae staff to be aware of the long lasting impast rape can have on a woman and that they are trained more on how to help these women, on how to be responsive to the needs and requests of these women.
Only when the support network is available in all aspects of women’s health can we really heal. Our mental health will be better from having that care there, and who knows, rates of maternal PTSD could drop if we are only listened to.
Written by the amazing: Sophie Ratchford.