Bright lights! People shouting out instructions to move your legs! The sights and smells of the hospital! Your baby cries - and, suddenly, it’s over. The reality of your birth sets in. Within a few hours the beauty of your new baby (if you’ve been able to enjoy it) has wafted away and perhaps you’ve entered the world of cesearean site pain, exhaustion, side effects from medication, or a reality that is entirely uncharted and unexplained.
Birth has become a new phenom of assumption. We assume our wishes will be honored - with the ability to hand your care provider a shiny birth plan, the ability to choose a midwife and choose your place of birth. We can take classes for almost everything child-related, and purchase our care providers in some places. Birth is alike a drive thru menu - give me a vaginal birth with a side of joy, a splash of pain, some great photographs and that happy cuddling triad afterwards please!
Women are well versed in talking about the messy bits of childbirth, but how we interpret and manage our feelings after the baby is unique to each of us. Not only do we have to recover from the experience of birthing our babies, but we also have to take care of our new bundle and entertain the wishes of family and friends and take care of other children. Everyone asks about the story.
The story - is something we live with for the rest of our lives. Birth trauma isn’t exclusive to women who’ve lost their ability to choose their designed birth, or those who’ve experienced much medical intervention. Birth trauma is in the eyes of the beholder (Beck, 2004). Loss of dignity, hostility around the birth experience, poor pain relief, fear, a lengthy labor and birth, and other factors contribute to birth trauma.
What does it look like? To the mother, it is intense fear of threat of death or injury to themselves or their baby, helplessness and horror, avoidance of discussing their experience or anything that could insight more trauma (ie, going to the hospital, even encountering doctors or nurses), discussing their experience or constantly reliving/rehashing or ruminating about their experience, nightmares and difficulty sleeping, and anxiety. Birth trauma is essentially PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) although may not clinically present as PTSD.
It may be assumed that the mother is perhaps suffering from post natal depression - which may be a further consequence, however birth trauma reaches beyond depression and into a further realm. There is, perhaps, a voice for mothers who are suffering with depression. Even PTSD has become a recognized clinical disorder. Birth trauma is still under recognized and under treated - and many mothers turn to other mothers for support following their birth. If sharing their story isn’t recognized as birth trauma to the other mother, that in itself can be ineffective and further the isolation.
What do mothers do about birth trauma?
They need to talk about their experience with someone who can recognize their trauma and help them process their experience. Physicians, midwives, counsellors, nurses, doulas, and even other women who have experienced birth trauma may be good sounding boards for where to go.
It may also be helpful to look back into the birth through their own medical chart to understand better how the birth unfolded. Medical records departments in hospitals can usually release information, at a cost to the client. It is important to look for the complete chart wherever possible as there may have been many consults during the visit with reports completed (ie. the OB, midwife, the anesthesiologist, nursing notes, recovery room, and perhaps even in the post partum unit). It would be helpful to look through the chart with a health care professional to assist in understanding of the language and terminology as well as the reasons and perhaps regulations that health care professionals use in their said profession.
Where issues with professionalism of those who had hands in your birth experience are concerned, please take that experience back to patient advocates, the charge nurse of the units, and even professional organizations if needed. Accountability needs to become important again to health care professionals. How are they to know how their practice has effected their clients if they are not reminded?
Taking care and exploration of ways to deal with the anxiety is a huge asset to recovery. Exploring yoga, meditation, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and exercise and good nutrition are important. Dealing with an experience can take our attention away from our bodies as well as our babies. It is very important for every new mother, however becomes increasingly important when an experience has taken away the mothers ability to care for herself. Good coping mechanisms are important - avoiding caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol or other negative coping mechanisms becomes essential.
Further treatment needs to be obtained through mental health professionals. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the recognized treatment modality for PTSD, and further advancements are being made every day. Your physician or psychiatrist may look into pharmacological treatment, such as SSRI’s or perhaps other medications.
With the ability to recognize the signs, treat the symptoms, and enhance our ability to heal from birth trauma, our society may be able to reduce the incidence and future effects.
Adapted from The Birth Trauma Association (www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk)