What is Birth Trauma?
Having a baby should be one of the most incredible, unforgettable experiences a woman can go through. While most people understand the pain and discomfort often associated with it, that’s usually nothing compared to the joy of bringing a new life into the world.
Unfortunately, not every birth story is memorable for the right reasons. Some are frightening, sad, and even traumatic. Those instances can cause something known as birth trauma.
Let’s take a closer look at birth trauma, including some common signs and what you can do if you think you’ve experienced it.
What Causes Birth Trauma?
In a perfect world, every pregnant woman would have an easy birth. But that isn’t always the case. Some women who have planned to have natural births have been forced to have emergency C-sections for the safety of their babies. Others have lost a lot of blood in the birthing process. Some have had to deal with other emergencies that put themselves or their babies in danger throughout the birthing process.
Any situation that causes you to think that you or your baby is going to die can fall under the umbrella of birth trauma. Even if everything turns out fine and you go home with a happy, healthy baby, it doesn’t eliminate the experience.
What Are the Symptoms?
Some of the most common symptoms of birth trauma include flashbacks and intrusive thoughts of what you went through. Those flashbacks and vivid memories can become haunting and paralyze you with fear. It’s very similar to PTSD in that regard. As a result, you might go out of your way to avoid anything that could remind you of the experience. That might mean staying away from hospitals or not visiting other women with babies.
Finally, feelings and behaviors can change—some women who experience birth trauma become hypervigilant. You might constantly worry that something awful is going to happen, so you’re regularly irritable and jumpy. Or, you might feel extremely low. Maybe you feel guilty about what happened during your birth and can’t move past it.
Are You at Risk?
Any woman can experience birth trauma. Even expectant mothers with the best plans in place can end up going through a traumatic experience. No one knows what’s going to happen until the moment you get into the delivery room.
However, some risk factors make it more likely that you’ll experience birth trauma. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a major event. Some women experience it because they feel a loss of control or dignity in the labor and delivery process. Others experience some of the following:
A lengthy labor
Poor pain relief options
Lack of privacy
Poor postnatal care
Lack of information
Not being listened to
POC or other minority
It’s important to understand that when you’re in a hospital setting about to give birth, you’re extremely vulnerable. You’ve gone through nine months of hormonal changes, and you’re continuing to deal with those changes through the birthing process.
It’s normal to ask questions. It’s normal to be nervous. Most importantly, it’s normal (and expected) that your birthing team supports you and makes you feel comfortable and safe. If you don’t, at any point in the process, it could serve as a trigger for birth trauma.
What Can You Do?
If these experiences and/or symptoms sound familiar, you don’t have to live with the effects of birth trauma forever. Left untreated, a traumatic birth can lead to further complications during the postpartum period, including postpartum anxiety, depression and OCD.
One of the best things you can do is reach out to a professional. Talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing, and then consider working with a therapist. You’re not alone, and by facing the fear of what happened and learning effective ways to cope, you can overcome this trauma and begin to enjoy motherhood.
Jennifer Perera is a mom of two boys, a spouse and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is also Certified as a Perinatal Mental Health Professional by Postpartum Support International. She has a private practice in Springfield, New Jersey and also sees clients throughout New Jersey , New York, and Pennsylvania via telehealth. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual and couples counseling. She also runs workshops for new parents, teaching them techniques and strategies to help them have a stronger relationship - built to thrive during the parenthood years. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with grief or loss issues surrounding pregnancy.