The Pot Plant Analogy

I wrote my birth story up for another website last week, and when I posted a link to it on Facebook, it prompted a very interesting discussion in the comments.

It seems I’m not the only person who has been told not to ‘complain’ about a difficult birth experience, because I ‘ended up with a healthy baby and that’s all that matters’.

An old university friend, Marina, wrote an absolutely brilliant analogy about how it feels, and why we need to take birth trauma seriously, and she has given me permission to post it here.

 ***

You’re driving to a florist to get a pot plant.

It’s an exotic pot plant that you had to order. You expect it will live the rest of your life, and be a very important part of your future. You’ve waited for it to arrive for nearly a year. You and all your friends and family are deeply excited about this pot plant.

Your plans include parking the car, walking into the florist, buying the plant and tenderly driving it home.

What happens instead is that on your way there you’re hit by a truck, in a gruesome accident that mangles your groin, bruises and maybe punctures your abdomen, and leaves you shaken and faint and weak from lost blood. It takes hours for you to be cut from the wreckage. Pain relief is not necessarily available to you, intermittently effective, and utterly unable to stave off both your fear that you just won’t make it out of this wrecked car AND your crushing disappointment that this day – this exciting day when you were going to get your exotic pot plant! – is suddenly horribly, horribly off-script.

As you lie in hospital recovering – a process that seems to take forever but you are expected to do invisibly and overnight – people tell you stories of the day they went to get THEIR pot plant, and how it was for them. This doesn’t help.

You are brought your pot plant. You look at it. You wonder how on earth you are supposed to enjoy it now that it’s associated with all that pain and fear and helplessness. You hope it’s just the loss of blood and lack of sleep and general pain influencing your thoughts. You hope you’re not a monstrously uncaring pot-plant hater, deep down.

Later, when you recount the accident, and the pain, and your incredible fear and vulnerability, and try to articulate how you worry it’s made you an unfit person to even care for this pot plant, people try to help by pointing out how nice your pot plant is. How healthy it is. They say: Look, you’ve got your lovely pot plant. That’s what you wanted isn’t it? You were driving to get it, and now here it is.

What they don’t see is that while initially the drive was to pick up the pot plant, the accident has left you profoundly different. No, they insist. It was just about getting the pot plant, which you’ve done! See! It’s right there!

They are spectacularly missing the point.

59 responses

  1. I wish I’d had this post when people questioned me in the past, this says perfectly how I’ve felt about my birth trauma for the past 4 and a bit years but have been unable to articulate. Even now, I get looks of derision or disbelief when I talk about having PTSD from people who think I’m just some sort of whinger or drama queen.

    Brilliant.

    Also, thanks for linking to MM🙂

    • Me too – as soon as I read it I wished I’d read it years ago. It just sums it up perfectly for people who don’t ‘get it’.

      Thanks for having me over on MM! Xx

  2. I wouldn’t say the birth I had was too bad – the after care was awful and i wish I’d had the confidence to discharge myself but hey I was feeling vulnerable (and guess what it made me feel worse). Reading this post was big OMG! moment. That crap does matter.
    thank you.

    • The after care is so important too isn’t it Gemma? Perhaps these things are easier 2nd or 3rd time round when you are more confident, but as a first time mother you assume that people will do what’s best for you and that’s not always the case. Glad you liked the post x

  3. Great post. It’s awful because, post baby, you don’t know what you should be feeling and you don’t want to make a fuss so you say nothing, or you say “everything’s fine!” when questioned with a mild fear that they may deem you unfit to look after your own baby. Very spot on analogy.

  4. That is just about the best thing I have read about birth trauma. It took me a long time (several years and, in large part, two much more straightforward births) to come to terms with the birth of my first child.

    Can I add to the (brilliant) analogy? The other thing which I really struggled with were comments or insinuations that I’d caused the “accident” by reading the map wrongly or not followed the directions properly. Sometimes, the truck is there, no matter how carefully you drive.

  5. I’ve been really lucky to have had two fairly straight forward births although my first pregnancy had it’s problems. This post is great! I completely understand how it must feel and if I’m, honest, if it really were a pot plant, I’d have not bothered getting it in the end after all that trauma except, you can’t do that with a baby.

  6. Birth trauma is a massive issue, in my experience, for almost every woman I know that has birthed in hospital. It is continually ignored as an issue and as a factor in women’s subsequent ability to bond and cope after the birth. I believe the way birth is managed in the West is disempowering and often borders on abusive. Strong sentiments I know, but feels true for so many.

    I think you’re absolutely right that a healthy baby should not necessarily be the only measure of a successful birth.

    The analogy is an interesting one but I feel it’s unnecessary – simply talking about this pain in real terms is powerful enough I think.

    • Lots of interesting points, thank you so much. I actually read an article yesterday based on something that Michael Odent said, that suggests we are actually losing our ability to give birth in the West. I’ll see if I can find the link.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful analogy. My birth experience was horrific, although my son is amazing. He’s nearly 2 & I still tear up when I think about what WE (husband & baby included) went through. Most of my friends had beautiful experiences. Home births, water births etc. I take comfort in that I have many wonderful years of mothering that will cancel out that horrific week (yes WEEK) of birthing my boy!

    • I am so sorry to hear that you had such a dreadful time – and I completely agree with your inclusion of your husband and baby in that – I felt the same way.

  8. Brilliant analogy. Unfortunately only those who have been though PTSD understand. It wouldn’t be a surprise if in twenty years time or so these stories increase. I was in labour for 21 hours. My baby was stuck and OP. The labour was extremely intrusive and I had loads of internals, baby had monitors on her head and I was told I wasn’t allowed to move whilst in labour. After 20 hours a doctor said that there was heavy blood loss and if we didn’t have an emergency c-section we would both die. The c-section was done and luckily my baby was extremely healthy. The stitches were taken out early and my scar burst open several days later. I was in intermittent pain (where the scar had burst) for about two years feeling like a corpse. I now have medication to take for if my scar tissue gets inflamed which I can generally control though diet and exercise. I was told by a doctor that I was one of the unlucky ones who have problems with scar tissue. I bet I’m not. My personal analogy is that you are like a soldier at war who has taken lots of internal injuries has had no sleep and has a new born baby to look after! Anyway I’m lucky that I have a husband and family. As a midwife pointed out to me there were others with no one to help. Im also lucky that my baby was not in SCBU and I know other whose stories are truly horrific. That do a poppy day for soldiers. How about a day for birth trauma and support fund for those without help?

  9. What a brilliant analogy. It’s 7 and a half years since I had by daughter and I still can’t drive past the hospital without feeling physically sick. It’s the first time I’ve read something that encompasses my PTSD so well

  10. Thank you so so sooo much for this, now I might finally be able to get people to understand. I love my pot plant🙂 But it wasn’t easy, I certainly didn’t get that instant loving bond that we are all promised. And the idea of going through it again is terrifying, so much so that if I ever manage to convince myself to get another pot plant I will be having it delivered straight to my home and avoiding any trips to the florists. And what is up with the shop staff??? You get better customer service in Tesco and that really is saying something!

      • I tried to avoid going to the florist but it didn’t work out. Seems that if you can have that pot plant delivered at home it’s often a much better experience for everyone.

  11. Thankyou for raising this isue. After the ‘traumatic’ birth of my first child, I remember saying to my GP that I felt that I had survived a car crash. After going through a car accident when I was younger, I knew what I was experiencing post delivery was very simillar to that but the GP didn’t understand what i was saying. She just stared back at me and said nothing. She like lots of other people did not understand how emotionally and physically bashed I felt. It was a miserable and isolating experience but gradually I recovered and went on to have two other children. Unfortunately my second child was another traumatic delivery and I ended up having a blood transfusion again but unlike the first time round I had prepared myself for this to happen so the shock was less. But it shouldn’t be like this; I would have loved some proper care and attention post delivery. Instead I was made to feel like an inconvenience.

    • Oh Deb, I’m so sorry. Sounds like you had a really difficult time. All these comments are making me furious about the number of women who feel they weren’t properly supported after birth. What has gone so wrong?

  12. So, so very true. My birth was traumatic and left me with post natal illness and a very changed woman on the other side of birth, although I’m now recovering flashes of the old me! They are now saying that most women experience some form of mild PTSD/depression after a traumatic birth. I really liked the words …. ‘horribly, horribly of script.’ – and that’s so much a part of the trauma – when your brain is stunned, confused by the fact that what’s happening isn’t supposed to happen, it just isn’t able to process the new events properly – and then the mother is left with all the symptoms of trauma. X. A really great post.

  13. It’s now over 5 years since I drove to collect my first pot plant. I wish people were more honest about the drive. It’s the conspiracy of silence that makes the drive such an almighty shock. Having said that, when I was pregnant I’m not sure I’d have listened.

    • It’s a hard balance isn’t it – you don’t want to scare the bejesus out of pregnant women because if they are scared and nervous it’s not going to help anything. But I do agree that it’s really important for women to feel they can be honest after the birth & not have their feelings dismissed. The number of comments on here is quite shocking, but if it helps people feel less alone that’s got to be a good thing.

  14. My birth was awful, ended up in an emergency c-section after 2 days of labour and 2 hours of pushing. I’ve written it up somewhere so won’t repeat it again here. Everybody forgets you have just given birth, had major abdominal surgery and it’s all about the cutesy baby. I felt bad for complaining, so I didn’t. Just got on with it. I recently had a different experience, which I also found traumatising, but where yet again people completely missed the point. I was expected to be ‘ok’, people consoled me in a way that made me feel like I’d just told them I had failed my driving test!

  15. Couldn’t agree more. One of my friends was so traumatised by her child’s birth that she is afraid to get pregnant again despite wanting a large family. Midwife questionnaires ask about pnd but not about general fear from an experience that wasn’t what you expected.

  16. I have been thinking about this post since I read it on my phone. It is a powerful analogy. My births were relatively straightforward, but I still found them completely traumatising and was left exhausted, unable to feel what I gathered was expected. Thank you for helping allay the guilt.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Anya. I think that’s the powerful thing about this – it’s applicable even if your birth was a straightforward one. That tiredness is overwhelming at first even if you haven’t had major physical difficulties xx

  17. I too sincerely wish I had seen this post when I was struggling with negative comments after my son’s birth. To hear a family member (ex midwife) that she had had a c-section and SHE didn’t find it traumatic as a reason for me to “pull myself together”… it broke my heart all over again. The fact that people don’t understand- because how can they, when it happened to ME?- and the fact that they say the wrong thing is the very reason why I started blogging. What a great post, thanks for sharing
    xx

    • Oh goodness, I can’t believe that some women are so unsupportive of each other. I had assumed a midwife would be especially so – sorry to hear that’s not the case. Big love to you, thanks for commenting & I’m glad you found it helpful xx

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  19. Great post. I can’t relate to the experience because my birth experience was a good one. But I do remember in the lead up to it being told time and again that all that mattered was that I had a healthy baby at the end of it all. I don’t understand that idea – of course a healthy baby matters. But doesn’t a healthy mother matter too?

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  21. wow- what a great post. Although, alarmingly, it makes me wonder if, in fact, I may actually have birth-related PTSD. I had attributed my feelings just to birth being a less pleasant experience (see Sandy’s comment about a conspiracy of silence) than people tell you, but I’ve read the post several times now, along with all the comments, and I recognise so many of the feelings there. Perhaps I need to seek support??

    And should you seek support even if you know there will be no more children in your future??

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