Birth, its suppose to be a happy, wonderful time. However for many women and their partners, birth can be a traumatic event, that can change them and their lives.
So what is birth trauma?
“Birth trauma is in the eye of the beholder”(Cheryl Beck)
What is traumatic to one woman may not be traumatic to another woman. Each woman’s experience of birth is unique to her. Many things can add to a woman feeling her birth was traumatic. For some it may be that her birth was a scary event, she may have been in an emergency situation where her life and that of her baby was at risk. Maybe her labour was very lengthy and very painful and she found it difficult to cope. It may be that a woman’s birth had high levels of medical intervention, such as induction, caesarean section, episiotomy, or other medical issues. It may be that a woman gives birth early and her pre-term baby requires care in NICU. Sadly some women have a birth that results in damage to herself or injury to her baby. Some sadly lose their babies at birth.
For other women trauma can result from the way she is looked after by the staff responsible for her care, both during the birth of her baby but also postnatal. She may feel a loss of control, dignity and privacy. There may have been a lack of information or a woman may feel she wasn’t listened to and her choices not respected or they were overlooked. She may feel she had medical procedures done without her consent or without proper explanation or that she was left with no choice. Or maybe unkind, cruel words and actions made her feel vulnerable and exposed.
Some women find birth triggers, or adds to, previous trauma such as rape or sexual, domestic, abuse.
Often women who feel traumatised from their birth experience will feel isolated, others may not understand why they feel traumatised. A woman can feel guilty and somehow ‘weaker’ than other women for being unable to ‘cope’ with her feelings about her birth experience . She may feel she should just ‘get over’ the birth and often well meaning friends and family will say things such as “at least you are ok” and “you have a healthy baby”.
Birth Trauma can damage relationships with partners, family members and friends as a woman feels no one understands and so she withdraws deeper into the trauma. Many women who suffer birth trauma may struggle to bond with their baby, others become overly anxious of their babies health and wellbeing and constantly worry about every aspect of caring for their newborn.
Feeling like they have no voice, are misunderstood and weak, many women will seek to hide their true suffering and ‘carry on’, the weight of trauma bearing down on them crushing hope, light and happiness as they try desperately to cling to normality. Everyday tasks become hard and just coping day to day can feel overwhelming. Their physical health too may suffer as the effects of trauma ravage them mentally. Lack of sleep, trouble eating and the constant struggle all takes its toll. Flashbacks may take them back to the event reliving moments, even smells and conversations causing great distress and anxiety.
The result may be Perinatal PTSD.
‘A healthy baby isn’t all that matters.’
I suffered Birth Trauma and PTSD when my first daughter was born. In the years that followed I struggled to get support or a diagnosis. I felt very alone and like no one else understood what I was going through.
My experience and journey to recovery moved me to want to raise awareness of how birth can impact families and its affect on perinatal mental health and wellbeing. I started Unfold your wings to give information and provide support. I am also the co-founder of the Birth Trauma Trust.
I offer my experience and journey to healing and recovery to give HOPE, so that others who too are coping with the pain and scars of birth trauma can find their own path to recovery. It is possible to heal, this doesn’t mean you forget but that you find ways to cope with what has happened and ways to manage how it has changed you.
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