Women and birthing people may experience trauma when trying to conceive, during pregnancy, birth, or after birth.
Birth trauma is a term used when someone has experienced the birthing process as traumatic and may have difficulties, which are consistent with a post traumatic response (PTSD):
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive memories. This makes people feel as if they are back in the past and feel as if they are re-living what has happened to them. It can leave people feeling distressed.
- Avoiding anything that reminds people of the trauma. This is because people understandably do not want to feel the distress again or be reminded about what has happened. People may avoid a variety or situations, places or people. For example, people may avoid hospital appointments or avoid meeting other people with babies.
- Feeling alert and on guard and hypervigilant. People may find it hard to relax and be worrying about their baby.
- Feeling low and unhappy. People can describe feeling guilty with self-critical and self-blaming thoughts about the birth.
People often describe feelings of being unsafe or out of control and powerless. For some people, it is not necessarily the physical events around child labour that are distressing, it can be the care or response of others that are distressing.
Trauma like this can be painful, and people may notice this it has an impact on day-to-day life, their relationships with people around them including babies and children and it may impact on their choices around reproduction.
Not everyone who has had a traumatic experience has a post traumatic response, but many do. It’s a completely understandable and normal response when the body and the brain feeling overwhelmed.
It is not a person’s fault. Regardless of how traumatic the event is viewed by others; we know it is the individual’s feelings and personal experience which is most important. These difficulties can impact anyone in our community.
There is hope. People struggling with difficulties associated with trauma, can be helped through evidence based psychological therapies such Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Eye movement Desensitisation Therapy (EMDR).
It is important to recognise that partners and birthing partners can also experience distress as a result of the birthing journey. It is important that this is recognised early, and support can be accessed.
There’s a range of help on offer, from support groups to helpful websites to more specialist support. You can find out more here