On Labor Day 2019, we held our first annual awareness week for Obstetric Anal Sphincter Injury, or 3rd and 4th degree tears in childbirth. Affecting up to 11% if all vaginal births, these are some of the most severe maternal injuries from vaginal childbirth. The women who experience these birth injuries usually suffer in silence due to the embarrassing complications, such as gas incontinence, fecal incontinence, painful intercourse, pain with daily activities, and obstetric fistulas (a tunnel connecting the vaginal canal and the rectum).
The biggest obstacle of spreading awareness is that many women who experience these birth injuries and complications are too embarrassed to talk about it. For 5 years I have run an online support group for women who have suffered 4th degree tears. When joining the group, the overwhelming majority of our 2,500 members express a huge sense of relief to have finally found others who are going through the same things they are. They say they have felt alone, like no one understands, like they are too ashamed to talk to anyone about it, even their closest loved ones and medical providers.
That common theme of feeling alone and not feeling comfortable talking about it is what inspired this awareness week. If no one is talking about it, then of course women will feel alone! We have found this to be true in other areas of maternal health – maternal mental health, birth trauma, NICU, cesarean births – and now that all of those topics have established awareness weeks and campaigns to raise awareness, they are not taboo topics anymore. Women are feeling more and more comfortable talking about those topics. That is my hope for this awareness week. First and foremost, I want women to know they are not alone. Second, I hope that by speaking out we will see an improvement in the medical care and emotional support we receive.
#WOW2019 was a big success! We had eight organizations and countless individuals who helped spread the word by sharing posts on social media. The total reach was over 100,000!
The agenda for #WOW2019 was: