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A hero’s tale of childbirth

An interpretive phenomenological study of traumatic and positive childbirth

Objective. To explore the lived experience of, and personal meanings attributed to, a traumatic birth.

Study design. An interpretive phenomenological approach was adopted for this study based on Heideggerian and Gadamerian hermeneutics. The participants were fourteen women who had experienced a self-defined traumatic birth. Data collection was undertaken through in-depth interviews. An interpretive analytical approach was utilized to uncover resonant meanings across the participant’s birth narratives.

Results. Trauma was not related to mode of birth, but to fractured interpersonal relationships with caregivers. Three interpretive themes emerged from the analysis: ‘being disconnected’, ‘being helpless’ and ‘being isolated’. Synthesis across these themes revealed that, for women in this study, their self-defined traumatic birth was experienced as violent and abusive. Some described their experience as torture, resulting in a profound sense of being disassociated from the childbirth experience, and annihilated from societal regard.

Conclusions. Taking a strictly hermeneutic perspective, the findings expose commonalities between some descriptions of traumatic birth, and victim accounts of violent or abusive criminal offences, even in the case of clinically normal birth. The results could provide a powerful influence for reform in maternity care provision.

Public Output

Paper accepted for publication for Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology.