Nobody wants to remember their birth experience as a scary event. But unfortunately for many people that’s exactly what it feels like. Sometimes even births that would be considered by society as a normal birth may have been traumatising.
Traumatic events around birth can leave long-lasting wounds, the effects of which can impact on other facets of their lives, bonding with baby, high levels of anxiety, relationship issues, decisions to have another baby or not.
More common than you might think
Sometimes birth-related PTSD is caused by a birth experience where people felt threatened or feared for their or their baby’s lives, miscarriage, stillbirth or severe complications. However, for many it can be caused by other factors; loss of control, loss of privacy or dignity, attitudes of the people around them, not feeling heard or listened to, lack of information or explanation, or non-consensual medical procedures.
Birth trauma is unique to each person as we all come to birth with our own history and our own perception of the experience itself. It can affect women and men.
Approximately 6% of women are diagnosed with birth related trauma but it is highly possible that many more are undiagnosed and live with the symptoms.
It wasn’t until recently that we recognised that what we originally thought was postnatal depression was actually, in many women, a sub form of post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD and that their labour or birth was the trigger.
It is so important for people to talk through their birth and early parenting experiences, reflecting on the most import time of life, to be heard and validated and make sense of feelings so they can move forward.
Symptoms of Birth Trauma
Post birth the focus of care is often placed firmly on the newborn with little celebration or care afforded to the mother. The baby becomes the focus of attention and there is little or no follow up care in place for the woman.
Postnatal checks in the weeks following the birth include in some cases a screening tool for postnatal depression (PND) and not PTSD and because the symptoms overlap, many women have received a misdiagnosis. Symptoms for both these conditions include:
A loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
Loss of sense of humour
Feelings of anxiety and panic
Low mood, feeling sad, frequently crying
Feelings of self harm or harming baby
Women struggling with PTSD will remain preoccupied and triggered by the birth and in addition, may experience some of the following symptoms:
Intrusive distressing memories of the birth including upsetting images, thoughts and perceptions.
Nightmares about the birth
Flashbacks, reliving the birth as if it were still happening.
Panic and anxiety when remembering the birth.
Avoiding triggers, thoughts, places, people that are a reminder of the birth.
Persistent and increasing arousal, irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, startled.
Feeling a sense of unreality and detachment.
Inappropriate screening and lack of aftercare coupled with the women's feelings of shame and guilt can often lead to the woman hiding her true emotions around the birth and lead to years of trauma and agony.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please remember you are not alone, they are a normal response to experiencing a traumatic event. However if you cannot process these emotions in the weeks following the birth please gen in touch with one of the practitioners here Practitioners
The common causes of PTSD are:
· A situation leading to fear of maternal death.
· Fear of the baby dying.
· A long and difficult labour.
· A short intense labour.
· Loss of volition – an act of making a choice or decision.
· Feelings of having lost control of their birth.
· Feeling humiliated.
· Lack of privacy or dignity.
· Pain being dismissed.
· Lack of information and feelings of not knowing what is happening to you.
· Inadequate labour and delivery care.
· Staff incompetence.
· Staff indifference.
· Inappropriate staff comments.
· Neglect – being left on their own.
· Lack of continuity of care.
· Feeling invisible / unheard.
· When an emergency situation arises suddenly.
· High levels of medical intervention.
· Non-consensual intervention.
· Feeling trapped and unable to escape from the situation.
· Birth of a sick or damaged baby.
· Poor postnatal care.
· Previous trauma (miscarriage, multiple failed IVF treatments, previous sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, previous bad birth experience, previous bad experience in a hospital). A woman is also at risk if she has witnessed the listed traumas happening to family members / friends, or even on television.
Credit To Jenny Mullan for these comprehensive and helpful lists.
Who gets birth related PTSD?
Did you know that 1 in 5 birthing parents experience birth trauma?
But here’s the thing: While difficult, traumatic births are not necessarily indicative of a long-term condition called Birth Trauma / PTSD. In fact, 80% of people who endure a traumatic birth generally process the experience naturally over time.
This means, with the right psychological intervention and support, those struggling with Birth Trauma / PTSD can find relief. So let’s spread awareness - let’s create a supportive birthing community and start talking about this important issue!
What influnces our pontential to suffer from birth related PTSD?
Birth is an incredibly powerful and special moment, but it can also be highly traumatic. We now know that the potential to experience trauma depends on a number of factors, including our intuitive intelligence, coping skills, and...imaginative capability!
Yes, you heard that right — if you have a strong imagination, it's important to be mindful that it can lead to further distress when discussing a traumatic event. So next time you're processing something difficult, take a deep breath and explore the experience from a holistic perspective. Your mental wellbeing could depend on it!
Can normal birth experiences cause trauma?
Trauma is an extremely personal experience, and the impact it can have on someone differs greatly depending on a variety of factors. While some may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a traumatic event, others may be profoundly affected by it in different ways.
So what influences our potential to be traumatised?
Our imagination! Highly imaginative women are more likely to be traumatised by a distressing event as they tend to visualise, imagine and dwell on the experience in vivid detail, often leading them to relive the event over and over again.
Knowing this, it’s important that we look after our highly imaginative women (and men) with extra care during times of trauma.