Chances are you’ve heard these words before, or maybe you’ve even said something like it to a new mom. For a mom dealing with the effects of birth trauma however, these words can do more harm than the reassurance they were intended.
What is birth trauma?
According to the Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth site, or PATTCh, traumatic birth is defined as:
“If a woman experiences or perceives that she and/or her baby were in danger of injury or death to during childbirth, her birth is defined as traumatic–psychologically, physically, or both. Usually, she experiences extreme sense of helplessness, isolation, lack of care, fear, and anxiety (Beck, 2004a). Traumatic childbirth occurs in as many as 25–34 percent of all births. Approximately one-third of those women may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
How can it happen?
– Unexpected interventions (or even expected, but still stressful, interventions)
– Feeling a loss of control, unheard, disrespected or unsupported by hospital staff, or personal support team if there is one.
– Going into labor unprepared with the possible outcomes in labor and delivery, including side effects, risks, interventions and procedures that may come up.
– Delayed emotional reaction. Someone can feel like their experience was ok at the time but realize in doing research or talking to others there were options they weren’t told, weren’t given knowledge to seek out appropriate support.
– How someone is spoken to, or told or not told what is going on can make or break an experience. Others may feel they did not have a voice and worried they would make the staff mad at them if they wanted something different.
– Processing the overall experience. The labor and delivery itself may have been uncomplicated, the staff knowledgeable and supportive, but the general experience was overwhelming to the family.
– For a full list, visit this page.
Birth trauma affects more than moms.
Birth trauma can happen to fathers, other friends or family present, and support people. Oftentimes, the mom and partner were affected very differently by how they processed the experience.
This may not show up right away, but may surface weeks, months, or years later. Sometimes people think unless a near death experience happened they could not have birth trauma and they minimize their feelings as not worthy enough of exploring. How we are made to feel in birth and postpartum really stays with you and informs future experience and perception.
Recognize the signs of post traumatic stress disorder. From The Birth Trauma Association (UK):
– The persistent re-experiencing of the event by way of recurrent intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares. The individual will usually feel distressed, anxious or panicky when exposed to things which remind them of the event.
– Avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma. This can include talking about it, although sometimes women may go through a stage of talking of their traumatic experience a lot so that it obsesses them at times.
– Bad memories and the need to avoid any reminders of the trauma, will often result in difficulties with sleeping and concentrating. Sufferers may also feel angry, irritable and be hyper vigilant (feel jumpy or on their guard all the time).
How to help.
Don’t say, “A healthy baby is all that matters”.
Don’t say, “Well that’s over now, just focus on the baby.”
Do say, “Tell me about your experience.” And listen to the mom and dad recount their feelings.
Do say, “I am so sorry it was an upsetting/disappointing/stressful experience.”
Do say, “How can I help?”
If you or someone you love is having a difficult time processing their experience, don’t hesitate to bring up any concerns or questions to your care provider.
There are also local therapists and other mental health professionals who can help (Chicago area). These include:
New Dawn Wellness Group
Kathryn Gardner, MA, LCPC
Dr. Mona Lal
Begin Within Therapy Services
Kathleen McShane, MA, LCPC
Terra Firma Behavioral Health
Dr. Aarti Mehta
The Haven Group
Jenny Shully, LCSW
Amanda Gordon, LCPC
Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC
Dr. Fatima Ali
Dr. Sarah Allen, Psy.D, LCPC
If anyone has further questions or would like further resources, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Please know there is help available, and you don’t have to go through this alone. Moms and dads matter, how we are treated in birth matters, and how we support each other in the postpartum period matters.