The team at Catherine Henry Lawyers have donned their walking shoes to step up and raise awareness about birth trauma, as well as funds to support women and families who experience birth trauma.
On 19 July, staff walked from the firm’s King Street Newcastle office to Nobbys Beach and back as part of the Australasian Birth Trauma Association’s (ABTA) Big Step Challenge.
The team’s goal was to collectively walk 110,000 steps, which is the estimated number of women who experience birth-related trauma in Australia every year.
The walk and fundraising coincided with National Birth Trauma Awareness Week (July 16-23).
Principal, Catherine Henry said the walk was an opportunity for staff at the health and medical law firm to reflect on the subject and the experiences of clients and other women who experience birth trauma.
“Having awareness of the impacts of the medical issues our clients face is one important way our team can offer the best support and advice,” Catherine said.
She said one in three women experience maternal birth trauma – physical injuries, psychological trauma or both – either during or because of childbirth.
The impacts can be long-lasting and may extend to partners, loved ones and even others involved in the birthing process.
The theme of this year’s awareness week is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the childbirth experience which Catherine said can be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
“When it came to my own birth experience, despite being a medical lawyer I went into my birth without a true understanding of what might happen.”
“I wasn’t alerted to the risks, despite having risk factors for a higher chance of birth complications. The birth was traumatic and still has an impact today.
“Trauma from the birthing process is often unexpected and therefore confronting. That is because society associates birthing to always be a happy event.”
Catherine interviewed Co-Founder and CEO of ABTA, Amy Dawes for her firm’s podcast on this topic.
“Amy pointed out that women experience a cascade of vulnerabilities. They can experience health issues during pregnancy and then a traumatic birth itself,” Catherine said.
“Women often report feeling like a spectator in their own birthing experience. Unhelpfully, people say to those women ‘at least you have a healthy baby.’
“This extends to some clinicians and other health professionals. Such comments make it more difficult to access support. Yet research shows that the sooner people seek support for trauma the better the outcome will be.”
Catherine said the advice and care women receive is one important factor that influences their birthing experience and their risk of birth trauma.
“Interestingly, birth as a possible traumatic event was only recognised medically in 2014,” Catherine said.
“The medical community and the rest of society need to continue to change their attitudes and language surrounding birth.
“It is good to see NSW Health has changed its official policy and guidelines moving from ‘towards normal birth’ to one of ‘connecting listening and responding’.
“From the many medical negligence cases we run for clients in this area, it is clear many women get little information on maternal birth trauma and managing its impacts.
“Knowledge is power. If we don’t empower women and their partners with knowledge around birth, especially first-time parents, we’re setting them up for failure when complications arise.”
She also welcomed the NSW Parliament’s establishment of a Select Committee on Birth Trauma last month.
“While the conversations can be difficult, it is important that women and their families share their stories with these government processes so that our law makers properly understand the issues and impacts on people,” Catherine said.
“You can make a written submission to the inquiry online. If you need support in making a submission, please do not hesitate to contact our health law team.
“If you’re thinking back to the unspoken trauma of your own birth experience, there is support available. ABTA has great resources. Your GP can be another trusted starting point to help your healing and treat ongoing symptoms or injuries from birth trauma.
“My experience has motivated me to help the women who’ve been let down by the health system during their birthing experience by using complaints mechanisms and medical negligence claims.
“But if we empower and support women better before birth, we can lessen the number of women who need support and help, including legal help, because of birth trauma.”