‘Birth trauma lies in the eye of the beholder.’
Birth trauma: In the eye of the beholder.
Nothing quite prepares us for the birth of a child, it can be an experience of great joy, love and connection where the mother feels safe and confident to move forward caring for her new baby. Sometimes however our birth experience does not unfold as we expect, there may be complications or we become completely overwhelmed by an experience we are unprepared for.
Birth trauma can include physical threat or injury to Mum and/or baby but it can however also include psychological wounding.
Trauma may arise from the extreme disconnect between what you expected to happen and what actually occurred during the birth. The shock of what did happen can lead to anxiety and depression and this can occur long after the birth experience with symptoms of PPD, PTSD, OCD. Both the mother and the father can be effected. Sometimes the experience of a difficult birth can bring up experiences from the past and trigger earlier life traumas.
Often after an extremely traumatic birth experience women are told ‘ You have a healthy baby, that’s all that matters’. It is important to remember that your experience and recovery matter too. If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or just ‘not right’ after a difficult birth there is support and you are not alone.
A traumatic birth experience can include feeling:
- Physical and/or emotional boundaries are violated
- A lack of consent and bodily integrity.
- A lack of communication and information.
- Isolated and unsupported.
- Alone, fearful and abandoned.
- Intimidated and talked down to.
- Not heard/ not listened to.
- Powerless, a lack of control.
Our birth story matters, particularly if it has been challenging. I have noticed in the company of women that the telling of the story , the airing of the experience can be so healing and so powerful. This simple act allows us to reclaim our birth , to share the feelings and events amongst listening and compassionate others.
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? (PTSD)
Birth trauma can overlap with PPD as they have shared symptoms but they are different and distinct and should be treated individually.
- Re-living the birth experience play by play like a film and/or nightmares and flashbacks leading to panicky, distressed state.
- Avoiding all reminders or memories of the trauma, refusing to meet new mothers and babies or avoiding the hospital where the birth occurred.
- Feeling hypervigilant, ready and jumpy fearing that something may happen to your baby.
- Feeling guilty and to blame for the traumatic birth experience.
- Having difficulty bonding with your baby or feel distant and unattached.
- Feeling angry over the birth experience or with those in the room (birth partner) at the time.
- A need to tell the birth story again and again, obsessing over details.
- Avoiding speaking or thinking about your birth entirely.
- Feeling blank or unable to recall parts of the birth experience.
- Feeling sadness and grief.
- Difficulties in your relationship, maybe your partner doesn’t understand or minimises your experience.
- Difficulty with sexual intimacy.
- Feeling emotionally numb/ unloving towards your partner and baby.
- A need to have another baby to make it better or different or a decision may be made to never give birth again.
What is Postpartum anxiety and depression? (PPD)
Symptoms can vary and may include:
- Panic attacks (shortness of breath, shaking or feeling disconnected from your surroundings)
- Extreme fatigue emotionally and physically and feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.
- Extreme sensitivity to noise or touch.
- A development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours.
- Hypervigilance, persistent worry around the care of the baby.
- Crying often for no reason (after the initial ‘baby blues’ period of 2 weeks)
- Loss of enjoyment or interest in previous enjoyable activities.
- Loss of concentration or ‘brain fog’.
- Loss of confidence and self esteem.
- Fear of being left alone with baby.
- Withdrawal from family and friends.
- Irritability and/or anger.
- Changes in appetite, over eating or under eating.
- Guilt around feeling you are a terrible mother.
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
“There is no right birth, there is no perfect journey”. This is a BBC Lifestyle & Health News video of women speaking out about birth trauma.