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  • Writer's pictureBeth


Society often tells us that becoming a parent is ‘the greatest gift’ and it can be very difficult to accept that the delivery of your child was fraught with feelings of pain, fear, anxiety, anger, disappointment; it can prompt a sense of shame and failure and it can impact your relationships. But birth trauma is serious and talking to someone can make all the difference.

Three weeks after the birth of my youngest son, I received a call from a midwife on the postnatal recovery team. “I heard you’d had a traumatic birth and I wondered if you’d like to talk it through with me. It’s a chance for you to process what happened.”

I was quite taken aback. Yes, it had been a very difficult birth, but I was quick to play it down. “Childbirth isn’t supposed to be a walk in the park,” I joked. “And he’s here safely, which is all that matters now, right?”

Wrong. She nudged me a little to explain what happened and so ensued a 90-minute phone call of tears, anger, and distress as I recounted the details. I ended the call feeling an unexpected sense of vindication and appreciation. I didn’t have to pretend that childbirth was natural and beautiful; it was traumatic. It’s ok that I wasn’t brimming with joy. In fact, it was ok to admit that it was the most scared I had been in my life, fearing the loss of my son and experiencing a dread of leaving my other children motherless.

I was hugely grateful for the phone call. For me, it was enough, but I spoke to friends who hadn’t received any aftercare and I have worked with clients who need much more than a telephone conversation.

Birth trauma is not something we discuss enough. I’d fallen victim to the romanticised idea of giving birth before. While I was adamant the doula on YouTube advocating an ‘orgasmic birth’ was going a stretch too far, I did believe I could prepare myself for a calm and positive delivery of my first child.

In reality, the personalised playlist and well-rehearsed hypnobirthing techniques in my birthing plan had gone out of the window within an hour of my first contraction. In my subsequent pregnancies, I accepted childbirth was hard and had moments of fearing labour, but nobody ever talked about the possibility of birth trauma.

1 in 3 women describe their birthing experience as traumatic and there can be many causes: a difficult and prolonged labour; an unplanned caesarean section; emergency intervention and treatment; feeling neglected or mistreated by medical professionals; a postpartum haemorrhage; your baby being ill and needing to spend time in special care. The feelings of fear and anxiety can persist long after you leave the hospital and can even develop into more severe conditions.

It’s only in recent years that researchers and medical professionals have reached the consensus that childbirth should be considered a traumatic event which can seriously affect the mental health of the mother. Research shows that 4 – 5% of mothers and 1% of fathers will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of a difficult birth. An even higher percentage will experience trauma symptoms which don’t meet the threshold for a PTSD diagnosis, but still significantly impact their mental health: reliving the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares; a feeling of hypervigilance and being ‘on edge’; feeing withdrawn and isolated; difficulties sleeping and concentrating; a need to avoid any reminders of the trauma, such as hospitals, pregnant women, babies; a sense of numbness.

It is so important that those individuals affected receive the right support and therapeutic intervention can be hugely beneficial in supporting a parent to process what happened.

For some, couple therapy can also be very helpful tool for recovery. Birth trauma can be difficult for a couple to navigate, especially when it changes the dynamic of their relationship. It can affect intimacy, with many women developing a fear of sex; it can alter a couple’s future plans for a family, with some people not wanting to go through or witness a birth again; there could be some conflict over what happened in the delivery room; sometimes it can impact one parent’s relationship with their child, they may feel a detachment or fear of bonding.

Trying to cope with this alone can be difficult, but finding the right therapist to process the trauma can make all the difference.

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