Surviving the Worst; Giving Birth After Trauma | Erie PA Doulas & Meadville PA Doulas

*Trigger Warning; Sexual Assault, Child Abuse*

There’s something inherently weird and marginally uncomfortable about lying on a table, spreading your legs for a relative stranger, and placing your feet up in stirrups. It’s also a position that female bodies are pretty used to being in, from a medical standpoint (as long as we’re going to our yearly appointments).

But, if you’ve experienced trauma at any point in your life - sexual or otherwise - this position, and giving birth in general, can be extremely triggering.

I know of women who specifically chose to have C-sections because the concept of delivering vaginally was simply too much for them (and this is a completely valid choice, regardless of the ‘why’). Other women had gone through the entire early labor process and been fine - and then the moment they were told to push and felt that pressure and pain, their mind was suddenly flooded with horrible flashbacks and feelings that they’d believed they had buried long ago. This is understandable, because so often the abuse occurred in the same areas of the body that are involved in childbearing. Sometimes there’s this sense of not being in control of one’s own body, or of not being certain of the intentions of the people in the room with you (because trust me, there is a massive difference between knowing and believing). Any and all of this can be terrifying, and many women have felt guilty for how they’re reacting, and robbed of the joy of that moment.

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Giving birth is a big deal. But so is what happened to you. One does not negate the other.

Along with my work as a doula, I also cover shifts at the local domestic and sexual violence shelter. Using my resources here and my own personal experiences as a survivor, I’ve learned quite a bit, and I’m learning more every day.

Some things to remember:

Sadly, sexual assault is extremely common. 1 in 4 women are victimized at some point in their lives, and many experience it more than once. This means that 25% of the people in Labor & Delivery will have been victims at least once in their lifetimes. Childhood sexual abuse is a documented risk factor for postpartum depression, which impacts 11-20% of women and their families every year. And for some reason - we don’t talk about this.

Yes, the topic of sexual assault and its effect on laboring parents falls solidly in the “Ugly” category of birth discussions. It’s difficult, and it’s painful, and it’s confusing. But it is so important. Too many people don’t even consider it a factor until they are in the midst of it all - and by then, there’s obviously no turning back.

The absolute most important thing to remember is that it’s not your fault.

What happened to you was not your fault, how you’re feeling is not something deserving of self-blame, and you are not less of a parent because of it.

In fact, maybe - just maybe - this experience of giving birth can actually be a tool for healing from past traumas. A way for you to reclaim your body and its amazing power, as well as your ability to say exactly what you want and need, without being questioned or demanded for an explanation. Consent is key, y’all.

Is birthing on your back completely unacceptable? Totally fine, let’s get that in your birth plan. Perhaps some of the most common language used in the birthing room - such as “relax”, or “lay still”, or “turn over” - would be absolutely the wrong thing to say. That’s okay. We’ll make that clear to all involved early on and we will find other language to use.

As awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault spreads, more and more hospitals and workers within are being trained in trauma-informed care. This is great! We can do the research and find a place that has done this, whether it’s a hospital or a birth center - or, if none of that works for you, we can work on a plan for a home birth. As your doula, I can help you discuss your potential triggers and what steps can be taken to negate those in the delivery room - wherever that may be. Of course, a doula is not the end-all-be-all solution. It’s also a good idea to reach out to a mental health professional so that you can receive counseling specific to your situation and emotions, someone who can help you find coping mechanisms that work for you. If you haven’t already, tracking down a care provider - a doctor, a midwife, whoever - who has some understanding of what you’ve been through can help to reassure you in the moment.

As nice as it would be, there is no quick fix to healing. No magic wand to wave that will block all those memories and feelings, no fairy godmother who can make it all better for you. But believe me when I say, you don’t need that. You’ve got what you need already, resting in your own heart and your own brain, including the ability to ask for help when you need it. And that’s what I’m here for.

Listen, I can’t promise you that those memories and feelings won’t come back. But no matter what, as a doula, as a shelter worker, as a survivor, I can promise that I will be there with you every step of the way, reminding you of your incredible strength and the beautiful little future that you are bringing into this world.


You can do this. You are in control. Your body is your own. And you are never, ever alone.


As of May 2017, our entire team here at Northwest PA Doulas is proud to be trained in Adverse Childhood Experiences and trauma-informed care. 

P.S. If you would like to specifically choose me, Alicia, as your doula because of my experience, please know that at no point are you required or expected to disclose anything to anyone - not even me. No questions asked.

There’s also a great book by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus called When Survivors Give Birth. I’ve got it in my arsenal and have no problem discussing it with you or letting you borrow it.


7 Ways Sexual Trauma Can Affect Someone During Pregnancy,

A Sexual Assault Survivor’s Reflections on Birth, Huffington Post

How Sexual Abuse can Affect Pregnancy and Birth,

Sexual Abuse and Birth,

Sexual Trauma and Labor: When Survivors Give Birth,

When Sexual Violence Survivors Give Birth, Here's What You Should Know,