Thursday, March 7, 2013

Birth Trauma and Productivity

Looking back at the year that I was back at work between maternity leaves - I hate to admit that I was not as productive as I could have been. Beyond juggling a child and work - I was also juggling a considerable psychological burden - as much as I may have wanted to focus on work, I found myself distracted. I was distracted by what had happened. I was distracted by my subsequent pregnancy and what was going to happen. I also found myself trying to deal with a degree of cognitive dissonance between what I do, and what I had experienced. I was able to get what needed to be done, done and managed to accommodate the travel back and forth to Vancouver to access care - but there was a considerable hidden cost to my birth trauma. My productivity was damaged.

The loss of productivity as a result of birth trauma is a cost that is largely hidden and difficult to quantify. Some women forego the paid labour force entirely as the demands that result from the birth trauma are too great to accommodate paid work. Other women, like myself, manage to accommodate their birth traumas and their careers, but are less productive than they would be otherwise. In both cases, there are no statistics that even attempt to get at the presence of this phenomenon or the degree of impact it has. Perhaps some of the differences that persist between men and women in the paid labour force can be attributed to the impact birth trauma has on women. After all if your coping but not thriving, you will not be promoted.

Still I must consider myself lucky. The work I do could accommodate the psychological burden I was carrying. I had four-walls and a door. I did not need to interact with the public or others on a daily basis. I could do what I needed to do (usually write a blog post on what I was thinking) to allow myself to focus enough on the work at hand. I could work longer days to accommodate days off for travel. I had an understanding supervisor. Indeed, I was lucky - and under different circumstances - arguably under most other circumstances, it probably would have been likely that my career could have been collateral damage to what had happened.

I am thankful that my son's birth went well - and I am hopeful that by the time I return to work from this maternity leave, I will not be carrying the same psychological burden and that my ability to work to capacity will be restored. Still, I can't help but wonder - in the absence of what happened, would I have been a better economist and mother?


  1. This is an interesting thing to think about. I did not have birth trauma, but I did a slow downward slide into depression. It probably wouldn't be considered PPD, since my sons were 18mos when I finally decided I needed help. I was functional...I went to work everyday,and got the important things done, but the year/year and a half after my babies were born was my least productive.

    I think maternal mental health is finally getting some light shone on it, maybe thanks to Brooke Shields, but there is a ways to go until all new mothers are set up with the support they need to avoid PPD, including that which is triggered by birth trauma.

    Thankfully, I was able to get the help I needed and I enjoy my children a lot more, have mended the rift in my marriage that the depression caused, and I became more productive at work, earning a promotion last year. I hope that all expectant mothers are made aware of PPD, and that those who experience birth trauma are set up with therapist asap. Depression, PTSD and other mental illnesses are real and harmful and should always be taken seriously.

  2. Mrs. W- I found that when I tried to go back to work, it was pure torture....still, I hung in there for almost a year and a half. It is truly hard to quantify the loss, your mind is so consumed with the wrongs that you've experienced and the anxiety resulting from the experiences. I wonder about, on almost a daily basis, the question you posed at the end and I have come to the conclusion that I did the best I could, and emerged stronger,thus making me a better mother. As for one who is better in my job? I have come to the realization that staying with my job during that time of extreme emotional and physical stress was doing nothing for me, except making me worse. When I do re-enter the workforce, I hope to do it with a clear mind and soul, thus making my recovery meaningful and productive. -Lauren