This week has marked birth trauma awareness week, a week organised by the Birth Trauma Association UK, which supports parents with birth trauma. This organisation tirelessly campaigns to improve maternity care. If you've been following the week on social media you will find that this year's theme is focused on the journey from birth trauma.
It has really taken off this year with many women coming forward to share their experiences and what support them heal. This blog post is all about defining birth trauma, how it may affect you and what you can do as an expectant parent to prepare, so that you and your partner have a plan in place should you need it in advance of your birth.
What is birth trauma?
Here, at the dream birth company, we like to describe birth trauma as any type of suffering endured during the labour and birthing process by the mother and/or birth partner. It may be a physical injury or a feeling of trauma, neglect or fear. It can often be a combination of both physical and psychological trauma that you find difficult to let go or heal from in the weeks, months or even years after your birth.
This definition here is quite broad for a reason as birth trauma is rarely black and white. It is often multi-faceted and subjective. Birth can be very unpredictable and even with all the greatest preparation and care given during pregnancy there may be incidents that happen that are beyond your control.
Let’s take a look from a mother's perspective and the importance of recognising and healing from birth trauma.
If a mother says she feels there was trauma endured during her labour or birth...there was. It's so important that if a mother voices her feelings about birth trauma, she is not questioned, made to feel silly or shut down.
New mothers need their feelings validated and to be heard.
By simply offering them space to hold their feelings, listening and we mean really listening it can make the world difference to a vulnerable new mama trying her best to navigate how and why she feels this trauma. If her feelings are dismissed or she's reminded about the positives and the classic line of “all that matters is your baby is healthy” it can have such a negative impact on her. Without the right support this feeling of trauma can last years and often resurfaces.
As an expectant mama have you ever been told by a mother about her horror birth story? A story told with so much detail and urgency? If you are nodding yes (with what we can imagine is a level of regret to have heard the story), instead of wishing that mother should know better it helps to look at her situation with compassion. The mothers who often tell their traumatic experience may very well have been that vulnerable new mother who was never given that time and space to heal from her trauma. A coping mechanism often picked up is to retell their experience to anyone who will listen so that they get that time to be heard. They can feel like their story is preparing you. It makes us so sad that they were not given the support they need. Even if a traumatic birth happened 20 years ago it is never too late to seek support to help mothers.
Support and early intervention.
This is also certainly true for mothers and partners who have had a textbook delivery. Even with a smooth and straightforward birth they may still feel traumatised from their birth experience. And at the other end of the spectrum, parents who “on paper” may sound like they had the most traumatising and difficult birth may come away feeling very positive about their birth.
We believe it is incredibly helpful for mamas who have experienced trauma to read other stories they may resonate with and understand that they are not alone. 1 in 3 women identify their birth as traumatic. According to The Birth Trauma Association around 30,000 women in the UK experience birth trauma each year. As many as 200,000 more women may feel traumatised by childbirth and develop some of the symptoms of PTSD.
What expectant parents need to know.
Personally, we don't feel there is huge value to be gained from reading other mamas traumatic birth experiences as birth is so individual and instead of preparing you it may allow fear to grow instead. What we do feel is extremely important for expectant parents is to understand the causes of birth trauma and what to do if you or your partner feels a sense of trauma after your birth.
Physical birth trauma can be caused by and present as:
Pelvic floor damage
Pelvic organ prolapse
An Emergency cesarean section
A sudden premature birth
Medical interventions such as forceps
A painful long labour
Being mistreated by hospital staff
Psychological birth trauma can present as:
Relieving frightening moments from your birth
Post natal anxiety
Postpartum post traumatic stress disorder
Obessve cumplusive disorder
Early intervention is key.
Birth trauma can be hughley debilitating and can affect the whole family. It can often feel like it hangs over you like a dark cloud preventing you from enjoying motherhood and bonding with your baby. This is why early intervention is key as severe post traumatic stress disorder may develop if birth trauma symptoms are left untreated. When you are a new parent the last thing you need is to turn to google frantically searching for the right support and resources. We cover post natal support in our antenatal coaching course and encourage our Dream Parents to add a contingency plan for birth trauma into their Postpartum Plan.
We also encourage Dream Parents to:
Have a conversation with your partner about birth trauma and make a pact between one another that if one person talks about how they are feeling about birth, the other listens and acts to support as best they can.
Contact your hospital where you gave birth to request a debrief. This is an opportunity for you to sit with a midwife or doctor and go through your notes and closely examine the events of your birth. In this appointment you can ask exactly why things unfolded the way they did and gain some clarification on your situation. These appointments are invaluable to many parents who felt they were not included in the decision making or in a case of an emergency.
Seek help from your Gp and be open and honest with how you are feeling. They will be able to sign post you to resources that are local to your area e.g counselling specific to birth trauma.
There can be a big long waiting list for NHS appointments so if you can afford it you could seek support privately from a respected therapist with experience in birth trauma. Have a name and number ready and add it to your postpartum plan for easy access.
Birth Reflections is something that we offer to all our Dream Parents. As we have already built a trusted relationship and been part of your birth preparation, clients often find speaking to us much more natural and healing. In our birth reflections we hold space for you to tell us how your birth went and how you feel. This one hour session includes guided meditation and other mindful mothering tools.
Talking to your mama tribe whether that's online with mamas you have met through facebook groups or your local group mama friends. Connecting with like minded mamas who you can trust can offer you much needed support. For Dads, the same applies...reach out to your friends who are also fathers and online support groups.
If you would like to learn more and follow some great awareness account on the topic of birth trauma check out these instagram accounts.
Birth Trauma Family Support
If you would like to learn more about our Birth Reflections please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a call to talk in more detail.
Thank you for reading, we hope this information has been helpful.