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Birth Trauma Matters

Birth Trauma

How You Birth Might Not Matter,
But How You Feel About It Does

birth trauma

 

Whether you have a csection, vaginal birth, home birth, or in hospital. It could have been a hands off birth or you had lots of intervention. How your baby was born might not matter as much as how you felt during and after their birth.

Birth Can Be Scary

Some people use the fact that birth can go very wrong to prove that it should not be traumatic. As though being traumatised by the event means the mother didn’t fully understand the potential risks…. That makes absolutely no sense! 

As a parent isn’t the prospect of losing your child one of the most frightening things you could face? Or the thought of your child losing their mother.

Trauma can also occur from perceived risk. Things may not have been as dire as they seemed at the time. It could have been that a mother wasn’t feeling safe. Maybe the health care providers weren’t respecting her. Maybe she was told that the risk to her baby was much more than it was.

A mother can go through a “normal” birth on paper and still have experienced trauma.

Trauma Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Love Your Baby

These people imply that because a mother is traumatised by her child’s birth that she must care more about her own experience. That she doesn’t care as much about her child’s welfare.

Somehow “Be grateful that your child didn’t die” is supposed to be comforting. 

They seem to believe that a baby surviving their birth should be enough to heal all wounds. If it doesn’t you must not have your priorities right.

It makes me deeply sad to say that the day my son was born was one of the worst days of my life. And if me saying that makes you angry, then imagine how I must have felt to have lived it.

The day your child is born is supposed to be joyous. Painful, difficult, exhausting, maybe even a little scary at times. But once that baby arrives it’s supposed to be the best day of your life. It’s the day you get to meet your child for the first time. 

Love Doesn’t Fix Trauma

Immediately after my son was born I agonised with feeling selfish. And thinking that I wasn’t a good mother. I thought I should just be able to swallow down my pain and the hideous memories of his birth. That I should be able to just love my son enough to be okay with how he was born

But that’s not how it works. Love doesn’t change what happened. It took a long time, and a lot of a sessions with a perinatal psychologist, to get to a place where the memory of his birth doesn’t follow me around.

So when people tell mothers who are hurting that “All that matters is a healthy baby” I will still step in, because I want those mothers to know they are not alone. That there is support. And that they matter as well.

Your experience of birth matters.  

Even if the birth wasn’t traumatic. Even if we’re talking about feelings of being disappointed, guilt, regret,  being let down – either by your body, or the care you were given.

How you feel doesn’t make you any less grateful for your child. Or mean you love them less. Or that you need to change your priorities. While focusing on the positives, and enjoying your new baby might be helpful for some people, you can’t always control how you feel.

If your thoughts and feelings about how your child was born are getting on top of you. Or you feel you need to talk to someone, there’s help out there:

Birthtalk.org provide support specifically for trauma and disappointment around birth. (They also have a book called “How to Heal a Bad Birth“) 

PANDA offer telephone counselling and referrals for perinatal depression and anxiety (which can go hand in hand with birth trauma.)

Also, even if you don’t feel like you need to – or are ready to – seek professional help, just know that you’re not alone and that it’s not your fault.

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*Originally published April 2016

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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30 comments

  1. Love this Rachel. I hear “the only thing that matters is a getting baby out safely” all the time, and it’s just not true.

  2. I so agree. The idea that a good outcome is all that should matter isn’t accurate. You can have a good outcome and still be traumatised by the journey towards it. I have a friend who was in a car accident. The car went under a truck. By some miracle, she walked away from it. Should she not feel traumatised in any way? It’s scary- even if the outcome is good.

  3. I love this. A healthy baby isn’t the only that matters if the mother is walking away (or stumbling away) feeling like shit. Doesn’t benefit anyone when mothers are unsupported 🙁

  4. I’ve had friends who suffered PTSD post the birth of their child, surely that matters?!?

  5. Oh so true! It absolutely matters, and can have profound consequences. Every birthing woman should feel nurtured, supported and given the time to process and heal (physically AND emotionally), regardless of how they birth. There is much more to our own lives than simply being alive… thinking that it’s suddenly black & white with birth doesn’t make any sense!

  6. Morgana GF

    Thank you for this. When I say the night my daughter was born was the worst night of my life, all I see is horror and disgust on people’s faces. If they had lived the horror of that night, they would be more sympathetic. It’s nice to know I’m not alone x

  7. Arianwen Harris

    Have you heard of the The Positive Birth Movement they run a project called all that matters http://www.positivebirthmovement.org/all-that-matters-project.html

  8. Eiryn Miles

    The day my first son was born, and the night before it, were the worst times of my life.

    It started out with an achy back, and the feeling I needed to urinate. The nurses had told me that the baby was large, I had an anterior placenta and bubs was facing the wrong direction. I was told to go down on my hands and knees and shake around a bit to encourage bubs to move.

    But that was 15 days before the back ache started. I was 34 weeks in.

    As the night progressed, I was up every 15 to 20 minutes thinking I needed to wee. By morning I was exhausted, emotional, and scared.

    I called the hospital and cried . They told me to come in.

    They fed me some yoghurt and strapped me to a monitor. Time passed. Drs came to see me. When they laid me on one side during the exam, it felt like my ribs would break. I screamed. They gave me a shot of pethadine.

    And continued to monitor. Checking for dilation (there was none).

    At around 4.30pm, they discussed whether to keep me in, or send me home. With the pethadine and not lying on that side, there was no pain.

    My hubby left to get the overnight bag as they decided to keep me in for monitoring. Whikst he was gone, they consulted another dr.

    Bub’s heartbeat was just a little slow. They decided to do a c section. There was no sense of urgency or stress or worry. It was a precaution, it would be ok, it was a safety measure only.

    I was excited. I was going to be a mum that night. My hubby was called and told to hurry back.

    At 6pm they started the c section. They cut. And murmured. And said they’d have to cut some more. My hubby was worried. I could see it on his face. I told him not to worry. We’d watched shows on tv and amazing things happen. We were in the right place if anything was wrong. I did not believe for a second that anything would be more than a minor wrong thing.

    My baby didn’t cry as he was brought out. I didn’t see him, the nurse whisked him to a side room, in such a way I couldn’t see him. Deliberately so I couldn’t see him.

    Whilst they stitched me up we eere told bubs wasn’t breathing. That they were trying to help him breathe.

    After I was stitched up, one of the drs came and told hubby and I that bub’s lung “had popped” (what does that even mean? I couldn’t even think it at the time, I still can’t) – that he was suffering brain injury – that they didn’t think he would survive and if they did manage to keep him alive he would be severely brain damaged.

    Our son passed 2 hrs after birth. He had a haemangioma on his liver whicj was 11cms big and had cause severe hydrops. He was 11 pounds at 34 weeks. He wasn’t the wrong way round – just so big that they couldn’t feel his position. And the pain I felt when lying on my side was the pressur eof a big baby with a big tumor pressing up against my ribs.

    I walked out of the hospital 7 days later with everything I had expected of my life from that point forward gone. Just gone.

    It took us 2 years to conceive again, and we thought we wouldn’t be able to do so naturally.

    That was 8 years ago.

    Traumatic birth is terrible. And it should be recognized and empathized with. I am actually someone who can say with experience “at least you have a living child” and I don’t think it’s acceptable to discredit someone else’s experience.

    So, unless you’ve personally walked out of a hospital with empty arms: it definitely never should be a sentence uttered. And even if you have: maybe, like me after my loss, you might feel it, but as when someone says to me: “God doesn’t give more than you can take” or “He’s in a better place” – and I want to punch them on the face because what do they know?!?! even those of us who have lost a child and think there really isn’t anything worse – haven’t walked in that other person’s shoes.

    But I do understand why it’s said, too, because when faced with such incredible unfathomable grief and trauma – what can you say, what can you do? You are a grain of salt in the ocean trying to offer comfort – and these old sayings seem to be the right things, comfortable, even impersonal because they’ve always been there in the background of our social etiquette… we reach for them blindly without REALLY thinking about what they mean.

    • I really appreciate you leaving this comment. It’s such a personal experience to share and I’m really touched that you’ve shared it here. So, thank you. I can’t imagine how hard that would have been to go through.

      I also do agree, I think most people say these things because they want to offer comfort and they don’t know what to say. Even for people who are being dismissive I wonder if part of that is that they’re a little afraid of what empathy would mean for them. Having to understand and be with someone else’s pain can be really hard.

      xx Take care.

  9. Kiana Porter-Isom

    Validating health the health of mothers is so important. It is easy to get caught up in the health of the baby. Thanks for bringing this to light.

  10. Ashley Freligh

    Thank you for this. I had such a hard time coping with the birth of my son that I truly felt like something was wrong with me. It wasn’t.

  11. Great article, Rachel – and thank you so much for linking to our work, and our new book. We really appreciate that 🙂 It is so important for women and men to know that how we feel about our births and how we feel about our babies are separate – you can feel upset about how your baby arrived while feeling grateful that they arrived. We have free ‘Healing From Birth’ meetings in Brisbane every month, and offer support worldwide for those struggling after a difficult, disappointing or traumatic birth, and if we can help anyone in their healing journey, we would be honoured.

    • I’m a bit chuffed you’ve commented! I actually reposted this because of your new book. Your page was so incredibly helpful to me when I was still in the fog of it, and as an ongoing reminder that it’s okay to not be okay. My son’s birth followed me around for a long time after he was born, and I spent a lot of time reading your website while planning for a VBAC. You do incredible work.

  12. The day my daughter was born was one of the worst days of my life too. I had no expectations of the birth beforehand – I was happy to leave it in the hands of the doctor, and I was confident it would go smoothly one way or the other – but it was an incredibly traumatic, painful experience. The whole time I just kept thinking “Why have I done this to myself?” and regretting wanting to have a baby at all. It took a long time to get over and begin to feel the loving feelings towards my daughter that most people I knew seemed to have from the moment their child was born. I felt like a parenting failure from the get go.

    • That was how I went in. Which is why I cringe when people say things like birth trauma is because of unrealistic expectations. My expectation was that I could go into hospital and trust the medical professionals to do the right thing – which isn’t how it went for me.

      I had trouble bonding with my son as well. That really did compound the feelings of guilt.

  13. I so relate to this. I walked out with a perfectly healthy baby, but it took me a long time to recover from the loss of the birth I’d longed for. I just kept playing the day over and over in my head for weeks. Thank goodness for a midwife and a partner who understood and did not diminish my feelings.

    • Yep, my son’s birth was on a constant replay loop in my head for a long time. It was horrible to relive the experience over and over and over again in my head. I’m glad you had support. xx

  14. What a brilliant post – surely one of the most mentally torturous times in our lives surrounds child-birth – we women must be tough to even survive it ourselves, I think!

  15. Thanks Rachel – it’s good to hear another perspective. I felt as though I should have been traumatised because both kids were C-sections (and my second was an emergency) but it wasn’t – it was a little disappointing but it was managed so well and we were fully involved in why an emergency Caesar was needed. Much better than the first birth experience. But reading what you’ve written I can see the other side (helps me understand some of my friends better too). Thanks for sharing. X

    • I’ve often wondered how different my son’s birth would have been for me if I’d trusted my health care providers when the shit hit the fan. I was disrespected, lied to – and I was made to have an internal exam when I was saying “no” and crying. I had an obstetrician do a stretch and sweep without any kind of consent (I didn’t even know what a stretch and sweep was until I looked into it afterward he was born)… so when things started to go wrong with my baby I was already feeling violated and afraid.

      In contrast my daughter’s birth was long and hard, there was a little bit of a scary patch where her heart rate was being closely monitored, but I trusted the midwife completely and as difficult as it was I felt safe and respected throughout.

  16. Ellen McNally

    A birth experience whether positive or negative often stays with them their whole lives. It can affect the mother child dyad. Women matter because it impacts their whole community

  17. I agree completely. And am also learning that trauma doesn’t always manifest immediately and might not even be related to the labour experience itself but the aftermath on your body (as is the case with me)! We need to be understanding and empathetic – welcoming new life into the world is no easy feat.

  18. I think we need to recognise that refusal of pain relief can be a reason for traumatic birth. Pain relief should always be the mothers choice. It is not the midwife’s place to tell a mother whether they are allowed to have it or not (unless contraindicated medically, obviously).
    I wonder how many women suffer from depression because they had an incredibly painful experience they need not have suffered.

    • Absolutely. I think any time a woman’s right to choose what does and doesn’t happen to her body is ignored is potentially traumatic. I know a couple of women who were refused pain relief because the midwife/ob didn’t believe how much pain she was in, which I think would be absolutely terrifying not being listened to and respected.

      On the other side of that with my son’s birth I said no to pain relief multiple times, but it was continuously offered until I accepted it – which felt like being bullied into something I’d clearly said I didn’t want.

      I think basic respect is what is missing in a lot of birthing suites.

  19. How to Heal a Bad Birth - making sense, making peace & moving on

    Thank you so much Parenting Central for this wonderful article about birth trauma. We also very much appreciate your recommendation of our book, and our organisation (Birthtalk.org) as resources for women who need support. Thank you for shining the light on this important issue, and Rachel, huge hugs for your own journey you have taken, and thank you for using your own experience in the support of others <3

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