Birth is something we know happens every day, all around the world. It’s often referred to as an everyday miracle – something that is a simple and ordinary event but, at the same time, a life changing one for those who experience and witness it. Giving birth is literally one of the most physically and emotionally challenging things a woman will do. It’s arguably the most important time of a woman’s life, but it often leaves her feeling physically and emotionally traumatized.
It’s hard to know exactly how many women experience birth trauma, but it’s estimated at least 25% of women feel their birth was traumatic. Many women are made to feel they should simply be grateful for having a healthy baby and surviving birth. All too often, women who have experienced birth trauma report that they were dismissed or shouted down when they tried to talk about how they felt after their baby’s birth. Some women feel ashamed of their negative feelings and just try to ‘get on with it’. These things are not helpful and can lead to more problems.
This article focuses on five positive steps you can take to make recovery a priority for you.
1: Seek Support If you are concerned about how you feel after your baby’s birth, it’s important to speak to your care provider. You can be referred to a counsellor who specialises in PTSD and can help you begin the process of recovery. Many women want to forget the experience and are afraid talking about it will make the problem worse. The opposite is actually more likely, so the sooner you confront PTSD the less challenging it is to overcome it.
2: You Are Not Alone It’s not uncommon to experience birth trauma. It isn’t something you would wish on anyone, but knowing you are not alone and having others to lean on when you are struggling can be a lifeline. Surround yourself with people who genuinely understand you’re experiencing trauma and will support you through it. Many associations around the world can connect you with others who can provide a safe space for you to process your experience without feeling judged or dismissed. At the end of this article, there is a list of birth trauma associations worldwide.
3: Self Care Is Important Like all women who give birth, you need to prioritise your own physical and emotional health. This is often easier said than done, as we live in a society which tends to value ‘soldiering on’ more than it respects the important work mothers do. Post natal care is important. It helps your body recover physically from a traumatic birth, but can also prevent other stress being hidden and causing further health problems. A women’s health physiotherapist or osteopath can help. Gentle, holistic therapies, such as massage can help recovery from trauma. These modalities are supportive of whole body-mind healing. It can be difficult to admit you are having a hard time and to ask for help. Women are conditioned to think they have to cope no matter what. Taking time away from work, hiring a nanny, or asking a relative to care for the baby, are all healthy steps to recovering from trauma.
4: Take Back Your Birth Many women who have birth trauma or PTSD will relive their experience over and over. This can be very frightening and might distract you from everyday living. One way to deal with this is to access your birth notes and go through them; you might not remember certain things, or you might have blocked them out. It is a good idea to do this with the support of a midwife or birth educator who can help you understand the medical language as well help you cope with your feelings.
5: Go Gently It’s important not to judge yourself for what has happened. Feeling upset and distressed after a traumatic experience is natural; it does not mean you aren’t a good person or mother. If you’re feeling detached, or having negative feelings towards your baby, try to see this in the context of what has happened. You are not a failure for having these feelings, and seeking support and help to care for your baby is a very positive move. It can be hard to care for a baby who was indirectly responsible for your trauma, and you might even have negative feelings, or even none at all, towards your baby. Remember, your feelings will change in time and become more positive.
Give yourself time. Feelings of grief, anger and loss are normal reactions to what you might have experienced. It will take time to work through and respond to these feelings. Be proud of yourself for getting through the experience and for seeking help to recover. There is no end date you must meet to ‘get over’ a traumatic experience. –