Child and perinatal psychiatrist Ibone Olza (Louvain, 1970) tells us that in our culture a good mother is not like a wolf or a wild lioness, but rather like a domestic animal who knows where the limits of the system are and rarely dares to cross them.. ” Not being able to express yourself, what happens to such aggressive behavior? Where to direct all this anger? Olza believes that this aggressiveness of mammals “sometimes we direct against ourselves, turning it into a feeling of guilt.”
The author of Parir (Vergara, 2017) talks in her new book Mother’s Word (Vergara, 2022) about how her experience as a mother, three caesarean sections and a professional career as a doctor, she shaped her feelings revengeful. Ibone Olza is one of the women who make up El Parto es Nuestro and has been fighting for more than twenty years to improve women’s reproductive rights and to uphold the rights of boys and girls. It opens up a good debate and points to a lot of interesting reflections.
Sick leave before childbirth is her frequent complaint. She says that during her second pregnancy, she was 37 weeks pregnant and continued to be under 24-hour security in the psychiatric emergency room, and the patient set the bed on fire.
I make a very strong statement. This is urgent. It is still believed that working until the end of pregnancy is a sign of health, and I believe in this, and I say this based on my experience and what I have seen in all the mothers I have cared for and in children born prematurely. .. It is very important to take care of the end of pregnancy. Sick leave must be paid for all pregnant women, whether they are employed or not. I also think that socially it would be a lifesaver because the mother is healthy, rested and that she reaches term at the end of the pregnancy prevents a number of problems. Conception is a very important physical and psychological task, and the possibility of devoting the end of pregnancy to this task alone should be undeniable. Half of preterm births are believed to be due to maternal stress, and there is scientific evidence that stress affects infant neurodevelopment.
“I spent the last two months on vacation, this time I was able to stop. I was surprised by the fatigue associated with pregnancy.” This is your third pregnancy. Did we hear each other badly?
We are used to pretending, stepping over our fatigue, even to hide the pain from the rule. We’ve internalized the superwoman model, thinking we can handle anything. And if we are young and healthy, we consider it normal to continue production and work. I read in a book by Diana Oliver that on top of that, when we are offered help, the first thing we do is refuse it. We find it difficult to listen to the body and ask for help. We are used to moving forward in everything, and in the end, the body hits in many places: whoever does not have physical problems has mental health problems. We are engrossed in capitalist logic and we are unaware of the effort we are putting in or the bills we are being billed.
You gave birth to three children by emergency caesarean section. Why do some women in the same situation feel like their birth has been stolen from them?
The fact is that in many cases they literally deprive us of childbirth. Many of us have the feeling that our body wanted to give birth and we just needed to finish the job at our own pace, but we weren’t allowed to. The feeling that we were attacked, our uterus was opened and our child was taken away. And in our body there was a feeling of desire to end the birth. You only need to see the number of caesarean sections reported by the WHO to see if it’s true that many births have been stolen. In many cases, with a different kind of attention and care, many of us would be able to give birth perfectly. And then, on an intellectual level, we realize that some things in our birth were done wrong, and it’s very painful.
Why is it so psychologically important to give birth the way we want?
There is a whole neurohormonal process going on. Childbirth in the human race is ready to have a very powerful psychological impact on ourselves. From a medical point of view, this has always been seen as a mechanical and physical problem, but in recent decades we have seen that it is also a psychological process. And if the birth goes well, not only is it easier to meet the baby, but everything goes more smoothly: the postpartum period, and breastfeeding, and raising children. Childbirth is an altered state of consciousness and there is a very specific neurochemical scenario and everything we experience during childbirth affects us much more than when we are not in labor. For example, a disparaging phrase or a bad look. Without childbirth, it may not affect us, but in the state of vulnerability of childbirth, it is deeply imprinted and, moreover, constantly returns to us. The environment often tells us not to dwell on it and focus on the child, but even if you want to, you can’t. The head continues to repeat the film.
When you were dealing with the birth of your third child, already with your mind on the “planet of birth”, you say that at such an intensity you had to close some “postponed duels”, as if it were “the last fireworks of mental work.” pregnancy.”
The mental process of pregnancy is priceless: just as the body does the physical work of carrying a child, the mind is preparing to raise that child. It consists of “washing dirty linen”. A clear mind is what is called “psychic transparency,” so during pregnancy, upcoming injuries or duels come to mind. That is why this is a very good time for psychotherapy. This is why many women experience discomfort or psychological symptoms during the process, which are often related to their childhood. In childbirth, it sometimes happens that he stops, and if the midwife accompanies him well, then just before the attempts, you just have to break into a cry and let the stories come up. If the midwife knows how to listen and the woman cries and lets go, that’s all, then the birth is normal. This is a very special and healing moment. It happened to me: during my third birth, I felt great sadness because I could not hug my newborn children.
This created a space where women talked about their C-sections with pain or anger. Gradually, the project grew and became the association El Parto es Nuestro. It is no longer just a caesarean section, but all kinds of births, and the activity goes far beyond the requirement of good treatment in maternity hospitals.
We started with El Parto es Nuestro twenty years ago, supporting women who had caesarean sections, but mothers began to come in, explaining their terrible births, for example, with forceps. We realized that the WHO did not approve of many methods. This rage pushed us to activism. The first years were very difficult because it was like seeing a reality that no one else had seen. That’s why I’m so glad that the media is talking about obstetric violence, because for many years we were branded crazy. I think we are going through a very difficult moment. All associations and support groups are experiencing something similar. Now there is a strong movement of influencers and women who work very individually. This is the move of capitalism. Now the calling to help others is turning into a commodity. There are Instagrammers and parenting consultants who are looking for professionalism, and I believe that altruistic work and mutual support is very, very important. So the professionalization of these functions is a trap. Where there used to be a breastfeeding group and it was a group of mates who got together and chatted and ate…now there are four lactation consultants who charge a fee for a consultation.
How do you prioritize mothers’ needs? What can politics do to make it so?
You must ask and listen to all mothers. And especially mothers with disabled babies or older children with disabilities. Also excluded mothers, refugees and people with mental health problems. So, the most vulnerable women first. They have a lot of ideas, and sometimes they need more flexibility and ease in simple things, such as being able to take a bus with a sidecar on a transferable maternity and paternity leave. And I ask myself: why don’t we make it easier for us to use public places like schools, social centers or town halls for mothers to gather or children to play? Why does everything have to go through privacy or money? There is also a need to improve home care: why is it not a priority for a midwife or nurse to come to your home in the postpartum period? Why is there no public psychological help? All of this involves thinking about what we spend money on and rethinking social priorities. There’s a place in New Zealand where if you’re postpartum you go there and some nurses look after the baby for a few hours so you can sleep or do whatever you need to do. And this can save a woman from reaching the brink of a nervous breakdown.
One of his battles was that mothers and fathers could be in the neonatal intensive care unit for 24 hours. Why?
This is absolute urgency. It is believed that babies do not remember anything and do not know. But this is not so: babies perceive and feel. What we experienced in infancy in the first two years of life is deeply imprinted and influenced all our lives. The UCI issue is a human rights issue. Babies need human contact as much as they need food. If they are not with loved ones, they may experience abandonment, and if it lasts for a long time, it can affect and leave consequences. Premature babies separated from their mothers die more often than those in the care of kangaroos. Psychologists and psychiatrists are also needed in intensive care units. We must take care of everyone’s mental health: the health of the child born and the health of the families they raise. Our system is dehumanized and absolutely patriarchal for me. This is what patriarchy is: breaking ties and creating hierarchy and inequality.
When do children begin to remember pain, grief, and trauma?
We carry the memory, we carry it in the body. This is bodily memory. Babies take up to two years of age to learn a language. The first memories, images are about three or four years old. But what was before, although we do not have a word and cannot say, but our body remembers it, and it is like a pattern, like a plaster cast. Sometimes, for example, in an adult, how he reacts to various situations is associated with this pattern, with this recorded memory of the first two years of life.
How do we, mothers and fathers, violate the rights of minors?
Oops, there are people who continue to defend themselves up to their cheeks even today. This is violence and an absolute violation. If I spank an adult, I could be prosecuted, why can’t I hit you and your five year old son? It turns out that being a mother or a father gives us the right to inflict bodily harm on a child? We violate rights when we think in terms of adults, believing that because they are minors, they have fewer rights. The right to physical and mental integrity and the right to be treated well are universal. Sometimes we violate their rights without realizing it, because we assume that they do not know about it or that, as adults, we should exercise power over them. And this is not power, this is care and responsibility.
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