For Cereal, Jessica at Jezebel? PTSD after obstetric assault is “hysterical”?

[WARNING: descriptions of obstetric rape and PTSD]

At Jezebel, Jessica writes: Is Having A Baby A Traumatic Event?

A new survey says that 9% of postpartum women suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. You know, the same disorder that Iraq vets and plane crash survivors get. Something does not compute here,[…]

Have we become so precious and hyper-conscious that something women have been doing for time immemorial is now ranked alongside war as a painful event?[…]

Certainly, having a bowling ball of a baby shooting out your vag isn’t a picnic for anyone, but the hysteria surrounding something so matter-of-fact is troubling.

“Hysteria”. Yes, “hysteria”. She went there. She used the prime misogynist slam against women, blaming wandering uteruses. Unbefuckingllievable.

I’m only surprised there wasn’t a “princess” or a “delicate flower” thrown in there too. Or maybe a few accusations of insurance fraud, hm? That would just put the icing on the hateful cake.

Get back to me when you’ve been stripped, dehumanised, isolated, forcibly starved, and strapped to a table for 12 or more hours during the hardest work of your life. Get back to me when you’ve been subjected to a series of non-emergency procedures on your body with neither consent nor medical justification. Get back to me when you’ve been imprisoned in hospital.

Get back to me when you’ve been held down by two or three people while someone – or more than one someone – pushes their fingers into your vagina while you say “No”. Get back to me when you’ve been screaming “NOOOO! STOP!!!” and been ignored while someone cuts your body open and shoves metal forceps into you. Get back to me when you’ve been strapped to a table and operated on and had your protestations about the anaesthetic not working being ignored. Get back to me when you’re left bleeding and vomiting on a table, without access to help, wondering if you’re bleeding to death, and you’ve had your newborn baby taken away from you without explanation or good reason except an over-the-shoulder “we don’t have enough staff right now”.

Get back to me when you’ve spent months of your life – the months you thought would be a joyful, perhaps sleep-deprived, milky daze – having violent flashbacks and nightmares. Shambling through the day barely able to function, unable to bond with your newborn. Bursting into tears and panic attacks many times a day. Avoiding public places lest you suddenly start sobbing and need to run. Not able to have anyone touch you.

Get back to me when you’re hunched in a corner, unable to work, unable to care for yourself, unable to speak, and all anyone can say to you is “All that matters is a live baby”.

I hope you never experience these things. Because they can be horrifying, life-changing, deeply traumatic events. The only promise I can make you is that I won’t call you “precious” or “hysterical” if you’re ever in this terrible position.

Medical assault is assault. Obstetric rape is rape. Trauma is trauma. Some people who have experienced these things get PTSD.

And it’s not up to you, or anyone else, to instruct them that they haven’t – especially in explicitly woman-hating terms.

You don’t get to judge.

No, no, no, no, no.

31 thoughts on “For Cereal, Jessica at Jezebel? PTSD after obstetric assault is “hysterical”?

  1. I went and commented on this at Jezebel, not realizing it was over a year old. Oh well. That post made me angry.

  2. Also a “for cereal” to commenters for the whole “if you haven’t been to the Sudan (or fought in a war or any other flavor of such silliness) you can’t have PTSD” crap.

    Apparently there is only a specified list of ways in which one can get PTSD? I apparently missed the memo and the dissemination of said list?

  3. Oh, hell yes to all of this. I still have nightmares about my daughter’s birth, seven years later.

    It wasn’t until I had my second that I realized the anaesthetic was as lacking as it was, the first time. And don’t get me started on the closet, or the babynapping, or the part where they threatened to call child protective services on us because we asked for a second opinion…I could go on for quite a while, but I think in the interest of my own mental health, I’m going to hit post and go finish my beer now.

  4. What a shame–my comment is in “moderation,” and since it’s the following, it’ll likely never get published:

    “You need to learn a lot about childbirth, PTSD, the history of women and mental illness (“hysteria”? Really? Really, you third-wave pseudofeminist? Really?!), and, while you’re at it, empathy before you ever open your mouth about any of these subjects ever again.”

    Because the only kind of PTSD that’s “real” is what happens to men, and in combat, amirite? I’m just glad nobody told her about abuse survivors and what’s now dubbed “complex PTSD,” because she’d probably have stuff to say about that that’s so ignorant, I’d expire of rage on the spot.

  5. Just to add, this thing that “women have been doing for time immemorial” is giving birth to other people. Women have not been giving birth in hospitals for “time immemorial.”

    And this is why I don’t subscribe to Jezebel. Yuck.

  6. While the Jezebel post may be old, the Salon article where I first heard about it, How Childbirth Caused by PTSD, is only a few days old. The comments there are better than I expected but there are still some truly terrible, dismissive ones.

    It always makes me so angry to read about medical assault/ obstetric rape. I feel like these things could never happen in a society that respected women’s autonomy and listened to women’s voices. Certainly, they never should happen. And lifelong trauma is heartbreaking enough, how can it be that such preventable trauma is allowed to happen? And, even worse, how can anyone pretend that it’s not trauma, or not “enough” trauma? To resort to “them hysterical wimmens” is just– UGH.

  7. Yes, this. I was going to comment on the Jezebel post when I linked through it from the aforementioned article on Salon this morning, but refrained when I, too, realized its age. Still, the article absolutely horrified me, and this post is precisely why. And it would be a prime example of why I do not, as a rule, read Jezebel. Thank you for this.

  8. There was a similar Jezebel post which asked if a forced C section was rape, unfortunately I read through it recently and don’t have the link anymore. (It was probably from November.)

    A number of people responded with some horrific stories of giving birth- C section, Vaginally, or VBAC – and PTSD doesn’t sound unlikely. Some people said that it was akin to rape, others did not.

    This pisses me off. PMS is used a joke (as is PMDD), “oh, she’s mad because she’s on the rag” (no, she’s mad because you’re being jerks) and women with post-partum depression suffer even more stigma than those of us with “normal” depression – “You have a baby, why aren’t you happy?” “Oh, you’re not really depressed, you’re just tired.” My mom suffered from something akin to PPD after giving birth to my sister, I forget the details, but something about the balcony and thinking of dropping her. She had no support from my bigoted sexist dad.

    We do not understand everything about our bodies, especially female bodies, because most of the pioneers have been men (plus I think it was obscene to dissect a woman’s body for a while?), and that old line about how if men could get pregnant, it would be much different (abortions – no questions!) is probably true. There’s a post today about the hassles of UTIs and YIs on Jezebel that addresses the fact that we have to get a vaginal exam (which can hurt) even when we walk in saying, I had a YI before, I have all the symptoms. (It’s probably not the same author.)

    Some women have easy childbirths and easy to raise children, some don’t. Those who have difficult ones are “hysterical”? Classy.

    Pelvic exams don’t hurt, I was just “hysterical”. (The physical pain wasn’t as bad as the second aborted attempt – I freaked out and backed into a corner, terrified. They hurt less than the first time (something pinching maybe) but they still hurt. But I’m a hysterical silly woman.

  9. I’m glad Jessica’s gone. (Along with Moe – I hated her post on Fibro so much.)

    What I think is a little funny is that Jezebel’s image has changed – or some poster’s image of it has changed – so that calling birth “matter-of-fact” in a post sounds weird, when commenters constantly say that Jezebel (and modern feminism) is anti motherhood and birth.

    I have no defense, and because the commenting design has changed at least twice since this went up, the thread is impossible to read. But I went through and saw a number of commenters saying, hey, my kid’s birth was hard and I still have problems.

  10. abuse and self-harm

    I have recently been diagnosed with PTSD. And Major Depressive Disorder which I personally see as a symptom, a tentacle cast off by the core disorder of trauma. It sends cold fingers to curl through the folds of my brain, to fondle my viscera. Another tendril emerges from the core, gains strength, and becomes anxiety which splays a thousand branches each with a thousand flowers and a tiny mouth with teeth on the end and it shoves that up through my diaphragm into my heart and my lungs and it worries at me.

    This is by way of being metaphorical when it’s late and I’ve taken a lot of the meds it takes to get me to fall asleep at night. I do like the new functionalities the monitor gets; the depth is nifty but I don’t always understand the mechanism that decides which words go where. (In sane-people talk: I’m enjoying the mild sensory distortions (hallucinations, if you like) that come strongest when I’m very tired.)

    Anyway. I’ve never served in the military, never been in a plane crash. I do have a couple of single-event traumas that give me some trouble. I was raped. I shot myself. They factor into my disorder but they aren’t the cause of it. Shooting myself was likely a symptom of the underlying disorder in the first place, so if anything it just feeds on itself. I was abused. I was physically abused by my parents until they divorced, by my mother after that and by my stepfather after she married again. I left my mother’s home when I was thirteen. I have paid for that with emotional abuse from my grandmother. It continues now. My trauma is real. I won’t get into how, but I am no more than reporting the truth when I tell you that because of it there are parts of me that hate me and want me dead.

    These women’s traumas are absolutely real — they have had very basic needs taken from them: food, water, clothes, sanitation, freedom, bodily integrity, self-determination. Are subjected to rape and torture and unnecessary surgeries. All in the name of Authority Knows Best.

    If you can get by with PTSD on just antidepressants you are tough. Fortunate. I am on my second primary antidepressant since having been hospitalized. I take a secondary antidepressant. I take a mood stabilizer. I take anxiety meds to deal with the claws scraping the inside of my skull and my ribs. I take meds to help me focus because I have not been able to focus worth shit for months now. I take drugs to help me sleep. I see a therapist weekly. Normal is not even a maybe someday goal. Right now I’m working on getting to where I can believe “I’m a deeply shitty person and I deserve bad things to happen to me and everyone would hate me if they knew who I really was” isn’t actually true. I’m still stuck there.

  11. Kaninchenzero, there’s not much else but to say I’m sorry that’s happening.

    I find it interesting that I try to justify my depression – I have to be depressed because of something, it can’t just be something in my brain! (Of course, it’s probably both. Am I more predisposed to depression when I’m stressed or in pain?)

    But PTSD seems to multiply the depression guilt a thousand fold. (Why are you depressed? You have everything!) Now you’re looking for a real cause, because one thing caused it and you can find it and fix it and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you?

  12. *fumes*

    I have heard so many horror stories about childbirth from women, it’s not funny. The number of mothers I know that are satisfied with their delivery is far in the minority, and many of them have shared experiences that make me sick to my stomach, that anyone could be treated so cruelly and inhumanely by a member of the medical profession.

    PTSD from obstetric assault? I don’t doubt it.

    But, while I am nulliparous and thus not had that experience, I’ve been ridiculed and humiliated by doctors and nurses for pain associated with pap smears, colposcopies, and cervical biopsies. While I haven’t thought of it in terms of post-trauma, I suppose one could describe it such. I have terrible anxiety related to gynecologists, and even thinking about the pap I have scheduled with my awfully sweet primary doctor makes me break out in a cold sweat.

    I can only freaking imagine the reaction from someone who’s gone through an experience far more traumatic. And for people to belittle this as nothing? WTF?

  13. Thank you for your comment on this subject at my site, Lauredhel. Jill’s guest post on the Salon article was spot on, as far as I’m concerned. I find it very sad that Jezebel and other ‘feminist’ blogs are so insensitive and dismissive of many issues relating to childbearing and childrearing and, to echo what others have said above, is why I don’t read them. The very sites so concerned about other intersections with feminism seem quite happy to completely ignore mothering. Talk about privilege. It seems that if they haven’t lived it, or don’t plan to, it doesn’t exist. Nice.

    Maybe they should try listening to mothers instead of trotting out tired stereotypes and hurling insults at us. It’s really getting fucking old.

  14. Surviving PTSD without drugs doesn’t make you tough any more than surviving involuntary surgery without anesthesia and/or pain meds makes you tough. It just happens to you and you often have no choice but to go along with it.

    I have had PTSD since I was school age, and it got worse after horrific treatment in mental institutions. This left me no choice but to survive without drugs or therapy. I can’t handle seeing a psychiatrist or therapist because not only do they set me off, but there is a very large possibility they would retraumatize me. I couldn’t kill myself even during the period where I frequently wanted to, because I had already tried that and it had landed me in mental institutions, which I was trying at all costs to avoid (the one time I got closer to trying it was after seeing a mandatory psychiatrist for an SSI reassessment, even though the assessment went perfectly well in objective terms).

    Which basically meant going years in which it was hard to say I had flashbacks because there was so little time spent outside of them. But the idea of getting near a psych professional was so awful that I couldn’t have done it (or engaged in actions that would get me back there) if I’d tried. The reason I have coped without drugs or therapy is because not only do drugs not work on me, but because past a point all that coping means is happening to survive something, it doesn’t mean being functional or happy. The same way I went the first 20ish years of my life in severe pain, because nobody knew it so there were no meds — I spent some of that time curled up in a ball or screaming but I survived, the same way some of my friends survived surgeries back when they thought kids felt no pain.

    I don’t think I am any tougher than average, just dealing with a form of PTSD where seeing a shrink even occasionally would be like going back into combat or back into a relationship with one’s rapist.

  15. I’m sorry. I want to contribute meaningfully to the conversation in some way, I really do, but after reading that (“Hysteria.” Really?!), all I can say is what the fucking fuck-my-eye fuckhell?!

    I’ve never had kids, but I’ve had shit done to me without my permission in hospital (I was “too young” to refuse consent, despite being old enough to HAVE SEX in my state) and it still makes me want to puke thinking about it. I still can’t talk about it, half my life later, and it’s given me a lifelong terror of medical professionals that has taken until very recently to abate to the point that I can go to a GP without getting the shakes or taking someone with me to surreptitiously hold my wrists during an exam so I don’t lash out. And I had just the *barest brush* with this crap. The things that happen to women who are abused while giving birth are way worse. I can’t even imagine how awful that must be, and how traumatizing. It makes me sick that people experience it, and it makes me sicker that other people brush it aside as though it were nothing at all. Just routine.


  16. Two statements: First, to a woman who has experienced obstetric rape/assault: “Hey, it’s in the past, and you have a healthy baby, you have everything, why are you upset? You should be happy.”

    Second, to a person who has experienced rape/assault in some other context: “Hey, it’s in the past, you weren’t permanently injured and you have everything, why are you upset? You should be happy.”

    In what universe do these statements differ AT ALL? That whole “you have a healthy baby” thing tees me off beyond belief…

  17. @Amanda: You are entirely right and I wasn’t considering people who had been traumatized by psychiatry. I am very sorry about that.

    Still angry that so many people think we make this shit up though. (Because being seen as crazy is so awesome!) Or we just need to decide to be not-traumatized any more. It’s all in our heads right? I know it’s in my head I know it’s not rational it is still there and still fucking up everything.

  18. Yeah, we are either making it up, or misinterpreting events that were either intended to help us, or at least not intending to harm us. I have seen people describe one thing I went through as “misinterpreting bad reactions to drugs as intentional”, when the reality was that my reaction wasn’t anyone’s fault, but the part where they saw my throat closing and let me know I was a useless waste of space and decided to let the reaction kill me? That part was someone’s fault. So was knowingly inducing the same reaction the next day as a torture method which they would only let up if I agreed to do what they wanted. But what would I know, I was only the patient.

  19. It’s good to see this issue being discussed on womens blogs. When I was traumatised by my first experience of childbirth 11 years ago, I didn’t have the words to describe what had happened. The attitude from other people was, ‘O.k. so you didn’t get the birth you wanted but you have a healthy baby and that’s all that matters’. Like it was somehow spoilt of me to have been upset. Like my feelings would never matter anymore because now there was a baby.

    I was not assaulted, but I was deeply affected by what, to many, had been a run of the mill, straightforward hospital birth. My ability to bond with my new child was also affected.

    I have written a post about this same subject recently: (

  20. The ‘expert opinions’ people had to share on the Jezebel post were disturbing (aka, ‘I’ve lived this life and thus I know…’). I had no fantasy-land expectations, but I DID expect that when I asked ‘is this safe?’ and the answer was ‘yes, it’s pefectly safe’ that my PERSONAL OB had my best interests in mind. To go from trusting someone to being paralyzed, strapped down and cut open by their hands is traumatic. Add to that that you are begging all along that they stop, that they never do these things in the first place- when there are fifteen people surrounding you, talking to you like you’re a child, patting your hand as they walk by and saying ‘It’s ok, Echo’ (which they know is your name because someone quickly scribbled it on the big board)… .

    Having a baby wasn’t the trauma. Why can’t people understand that?

    I have friends getting ready to have their first children, friends TTC their first children and I feel so helpless. SOME of them will go through similar experiences. And you know… there’s nothing I can do. At the end of the day all they want is that I should shut up and be thankful. There is no way they can prepare for their births if they can’t accept that sometimes it is an awful, awful experience.

  21. Ms. Grose has since moved on from Jezebel to head up Double X over at Slate.

    Also, @Laughingrat: Gawker employs something akin to “peer moderation”: until you are a starred commenter, your comments don’t appear right away. FWIW, I bumped your comment until it was visible.

  22. PTSD has taken on a public face that is very limited, thanks to the new research being done in military polpulations (my field), but it is also being limited to just that in the public mind because of the way the media reports it. The word is “trauma”, not “military action-induced trauma”, and people who dismiss PTSD in civilians need to stop policing who is “allowed” to have PTSD or not.

    Okay, area of expertise-‘splaining over. It just frosts my cupcakes that PTSD is being policed, since it’s a deeply life-changing event, and everyone reacts differently, and of course, all reactions are valid. If it’s any help for the women getting “it’s just in your head!” nastiness, new brain research is clearly showing how we are all one entity, not separated into brain and body. After all, the brain is an organ too, amirite? It seems perfectly intuitive to me that it’s all part and parcel, but I’m constantly boggled by people who try to dismiss mental issues as some kind of imaginary thing that can be got over by some kind of positive thinking nonsense.

    The Jezebel attitude is a nasty mix of “it didn’t happen to me so it can’t be real” finger-crossing and a deep lack of empathy for emotional pain. It’s like having some freakin’ empathy is too much to ask of people.

    Respectful well-wishes to everyone here, and thank you for your stories, as much as I wish you had not had to experience them. The more these stories are told (yay intarwebs!), the more people have to listen.

  23. It makes me angry when people make judgements when they know absolutely nothing about what you are going through.

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