Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Maternity in the Wake of Terrorism: Rebirth or Retraumatization?

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Maternity in the Wake of Terrorism: Rebirth or Retraumatization?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This phenomenological study aims to portray the nature of the shared experiences of Israeli women who became pregnant and gave birth after surviving the trauma of terrorism in order to learn how maternity experiences can either augment the process of posttraumatic healing or exacerbate the wound inflicted by the trauma. Data was collected via open-ended interviews with eight women who shared the stories of their experiences. Data analysis revealed findings in four categories: losses, maternity through the prism of otherness, maternity as empowerment and transformational processes. Retraumatization can be avoided and healing promoted by ensuring sensitive and individualized perinatal care.

KEY WORDS: trauma, terrorism, posttraumatic maternity, empowerment, Israel, maternity experiences, posttraumatic healing, perinatal care.


Israeli women live in the shadow of the threat of terrorism. Caution is a way of life, terrorism is a daily reality and worry is a chronic state of mind. Terrorist attacks can occur anywhere, at any time, to anyone. Most Israelis know someone who has been involved in a terror attack. Few Israeli women feel safe; they lack a basic sense of security in their lives and are concerned about their own safety and the safety of their families and friends. Repeated terrorism in Israel causes a general feeling of uncertainty, vulnerability, a weak local economy and the curtailed freedom of movement and privacy. All leisure activities, including shopping in malls and eating in restaurants, entail repeated security checks (Gidron, 2002). When a terror attack occurs, an immeasurable number of people are caught up in traumatic ripple effects. Eyewitnesses, families, friends and peers are all victimized, as are doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers and psychologists who are exposed vicariously to the trauma (Ayalon, 2002).

There were a total of 20,058 terrorist attacks in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and on the Israeli home front between September 2000, considered the beginning of the "Al-Aqsa Intifada", and the end of December 2003. A total of 6049 civilians and soldiers were injured; 904 were killed ( Among the injured, 2943 were women, 1956 of them of childbearing age, between the ages of sixteen and forty-five (Israeli Ministry of Health).

Many of these women were traumatized by these experiences. Some remain physically disabled as a result of their bodily injuries. For some of these women, their ability to reproduce is impaired or questioned. Others are emotionally debilitated by the stress they suffer subsequent to the incident, paralyzed by fear, haunted by flashbacks and socially isolated. Some develop unexplained medical symptoms as physiological reactions to psychological stress (Hassett & Sigal, 2002). Others, after surviving the trauma, reconcile their losses and find ways to normalize their altered lives.

Terrorist attacks constitute acute and chronic stressors. They are deliberate, human made, unexpected and cause significant damage. This constellation of characteristics is known to elicit high levels of rage and annoyance. Repeated exposures to uncontrollable stress, together with negative causal attributions are known to bring forth feelings of hopelessness and depression. By combining the results of six studies done in and outside of Israel, Gidron (2002) found that the mean prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after a terrorist attack is estimated at 28.2%.

Israeli women were found to be 5.54 times more likely than Israeli men to have symptom criteria for PTSD, trauma related symptoms and feelings of depression (Bleich et al., 2003). These findings are consistent with other reports in which women have been found to display more symptoms of PTSD than men following involvement in a traumatic event (Voges & Romney, 2003). Constant and chronic exposure to violence and stress, together with their learned powerlessness, shame, fear and vulnerability may explain why Israeli women are at high risk to develop PTSD, especially when exposed to a traumatic and violent event such as a terrorist attack. …

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