When Birth Experiences Overwhelm: Understanding and Treating Birth Trauma

When Birth Experiences Overwhelm: Understanding and Treating Birth Trauma

Even is mom and baby are both "fine" if you felt overwhelmed and fearful at some point during a difficult part of the birthing process your brain may store this memory as a traumatic memory and can cause you to experience symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is often referred to as "Birth Trauma" and it can impact the birthing mother and/or her partner. Birth trauma can occur even when nothing medically traumatic took place. The important factor is how you and/or your partner experienced pregnancy, the birth, and its aftermath, not "how bad" it was from anyone's perspective. The good news is Birth Trauma is treatable and curable. 

At The Catalyst Center we work to support women and their families during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. One of the issues we excel at treating is Birth Trauma. It is reported that between 25% and 35% of mothers report experiencing a traumatic childbirth experience. Only a small percentage of these mothers receive the help they need to recover from the trauma even though Birth Trauma is treatable and curable.

The causes of Birth Trauma include:

-Medical Interventions, especially ones the mother feels were unnecessary
-Lack of control during pregnancy and/or birth
-Lack of support from partner and/or staff
-Injuries experienced by mother or baby during childbirth

Signs and Symptoms

Some women recover more quickly than others, physically and psychologically, while some find themselves struggling to move forward. Typically the mothers who are struggling have symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Signs of Birth Trauma and PTSD include:

Weepiness
Anxiety
Depression
Insomnia
Irritability and angry outbursts
Panic attacks
Nightmares about the birth
A desire to avoid the baby or anything relating to the birth
Feelings of detachment from loved ones
A sense that some other disaster is imminent
Physiological and psychological reactions to reminders of the birth
Flashbacks of birth experience
Lack of memory of birth experience
Fear of having subsequent children

The good news: Birth Trauma is treatable and curable!

Try to not judge yourself. Your feelings and reactions are normal for someone who as encountered trauma. People may tell you, “As long as the baby is ok, you should feel fine about your birth experience”. While they are trying to be helpful, please keep in mind that this just is not true. Your birth experience matters! As Barbara Katz Rothman said, “Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers--strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.” 

Here are some suggestions to start the healing process:

Do not judge yourself. Remember: your feelings and reactions are a normal reaction to trauma
Get support from family and friends
Join a moms group
Find support online
Get help caring for baby
Give yourself time to heal
Create art
Write in a journal
Write letters to the hospital staff (you do not have to mail them)
Exercise
Therapy, including EMDR (a research-validated treatment for the effects of trauma)
Find places to talk about your birth story
Body work (massage, mani/pedi)
Write your birth story
Re-write your birth story as you wish it had happened
Skin-to-skin contact with baby
Talking to baby about what the two of you experienced
Obtain medical records so you know exactly what happened
Consider talking to your doctor about medication

You do not have to go through this alone. If you or a loved one are struggling with Birth Trauma and PTSD, please contact The Catalyst Center at 720-675-7123 for help finding support.

Adapted from: Griebenow, Jennifer J (Winter 2006). Healing the Trauma: Entering Motherhood with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Midwifery Today Issue 80.

The Catalyst Center is here to help. We offer individual, couple, and family therapy, for pregnant and postpartum mothers and their partners as well as a Therapy Group for Postpartum Mamas where mothers can share their stories, receive expert guidance from our postpartum specialists, and find connection with other mothers. 

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