Birth Trauma

new-born-baby-tiny-hands

Trauma is in the eye of the beholder. It is painfully clear to me that some women experience events in pregnancy, during childbirth, or immediately after birth that would traumatise any normal person. But sometimes, it is not always the sensational or dramatic events that trigger childbirth trauma but other factors such as loss of control, loss of dignity, the hostile or difficult attitudes of the people around you, feelings of not being heard or the absence of information or informed consent to medical procedures. All this can result in birth trauma.

Birth experience doesn’t always go as planned. Events leading up to your baby’s birth were not what you and your partner were hoping for, or expecting. If you had a difficult or traumatic birth, you’re not alone, and post traumatic stress therapy can help you recover emotionally.

What is Birth Trauma?

Birth trauma is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs after childbirth. PTSD is normal reactions to abnormal (traumatic or scary) experience. Symptoms of PTSD can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events. Military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape are often recognized as traumatic events. However, a traumatic experience can be any experience involving the threat of death or serious injury to an individual or another person close to them (e.g. their baby). So it is obvious, at least to some professionals, that PTSD can be a consequence of a traumatic birth.

It is important to remember that PTSD is a normal response to a abnormal (traumatic) experience. The re-experiencing of the event with flashbacks accompanied by genuine anxiety and fear may be beyond the your control. They are your mind’s way of trying to make sense of an extremely scary experience and are not a sign individual ‘weakness’ or inability to cope.

Birth Trauma Risk Factors

Risk factors for Birth Trauma include a very complicated mix of objective (e.g. the type of delivery) and subjective (e.g. feelings of loss of control) factors. They include:

  • Lengthy labour or short and very painful labour
  • Induction
  • Poor pain relief
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • High levels of medical intervention
  • Traumatic or emergency deliveries, e.g. emergency caesarean section
  • Impersonal treatment or problems with the staff attitudes
  • Not being listened to
  • Lack of information or explanation
  • Lack of privacy and dignity
  • Fear for baby’s safety
  • Stillbirth
  • Birth of a damaged baby (a disability resulting from birth trauma)
  • Baby’s stay in SCBU/NICU
  • Poor postnatal care
  • Previous trauma (for example, in childhood, with a previous birth or domestic violence)

In addition, many women who do not have PTSD, suffer from some of the symptoms of PTSD after undergoing difficult birth experiences and this can cause them genuine and long-lasting distress. These women are also in need of support.
Finally, men who witness their partner’s traumatic childbirth experience may also feel traumatized as a result.

What is different about Postpartum PTSD?

It is, perhaps, difficult to understand how a process as seemingly ‘natural’ as childbirth can be traumatizing but it has been clear for many years that women can suffer extreme psychological distress as a consequence of their childbirth experience for a complex variety of reasons which are frequently related to the nature of delivery. Unfortunately, the difference between the common perception of childbirth and some women’s experience of it means that women who suffer Post Natal PTSD symptoms frequently find themselves very isolated and detached from other mothers. They also find themselves without a voice in a society which fails to understand the psychology of childbirth and which therefore expects mothers to get over their birth experience very quickly.

Consequently, women affected by Postnatal PTSD often find that there is nowhere to turn for support because even other mothers, who have not had traumatizing births, can find it hard to understand how affecting a bad birth can be. This can make sufferers lonely and depressed as they often feel they are somehow ‘weaker’ than other women because they are unable to forget their birth experience, despite being told by others to ‘put it behind them’. They may feel incredibly guilty as a result.

This is a terrible burden for women to shoulder and one which profoundly affects their lives. The nature of PTSD means that constant ruminating on the birth experience is beyond the sufferer’s control but this is constantly misunderstood, even by health care professionals. Unfortunately, for women suffering from Postnatal PTSD, their detachment from others and the lack of support provided to them can mean that relationships with friends and family may deteriorate. For example, many women end up feeling torn between their desire for more children and their determination to avoid another pregnancy. They may also lose interest in sex and these problems can place a great strain on relationships.

Worryingly, it is suggested that women may also try and avoid medical treatments like smear tests. For many women, their greatest concern is the day to day difficulties they encounter bonding with their baby who may be viewed as a constant reminder of the trauma they have experienced.

We can tackle this isolation by offering women much needed support and showing them that they are far from alone. By working together and providing women with a voice, we can help change those practices which contribute to Postpartum PTSD.” – this is from katya as well

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