Many people haven’t even heard of the term ‘birth trauma,’ let alone realise that in some cases a difficult delivery can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms include flashbacks, anxiety and anger, and while PTSD may occur at the same time as postnatal depression, it is a separate condition.
The Birth Trauma Association, www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk, is a specialist charity dedicated to raising awareness and supporting mothers, who can sometimes suffer in silence for decades following a traumatic birth. The BTA estimates up to 200,000 women may be affected each year.
Often the key to recovering from a difficult birth experience is understanding why it happened and having your feelings validated. Being urged to sweep it under the carpet because ‘it’s all over now’ isn’t sufficient and many maternity units run a debriefing service where you can talk through your notes with a professional. You can also request a copy of your notes and it may help to discuss them further with a health visitor.
Communicating your emotions with women who’ve been in a similar situation can be hugely therapeutic. This may help to diffuse anger and avoid you dwelling on the situation, so you can focus on bonding with your new-born. Your partner may also feel fragile as the only one to witness your trauma, but it often helps to talk to others.
Seek specialist help
It’s so important for mothers not to neglect themselves and worry they won’t be taken seriously. When a baby has complications and needs extra care after birth it can take longer to address mental scars, but there isn’t a time limit. If you are nervous about explaining the situation to your GP during a standard ten-minute slot, try asking to book a double appointment or writing a letter prior to the visit. They can advise on options such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
Visiting baby groups and leaving the house as soon as you are able after the birth will help relieve feelings of frustration and isolation. You may not be able to change the past, but you can put plans in place to ensure your experience is not repeated in the future, by amending your birth plan and confronting exactly what made you feel vulnerable.
Remember time does heal
Time really is a great healer when it comes to birth trauma. Being upset about the treatment of your baby and yourself during delivery doesn’t make you an ungrateful parent. If your experience has led to severe fear of childbirth known as tokophobia, you will need to receive specialist help from your GP or local maternity unit. You may even put your experience to positive use at some point and reach out to other women on a similar journey of recovery.