A year ago I had no idea what birth trauma was.
To be honest even a few months ago I had no real idea about what it meant.
I knew I had a traumatic delivery and birth experience with Chloe. But that was it.
I knew how I felt but I didn’t realise that a LOT of other people felt the same way. I didn’t realise I wasn’t the odd one who felt this way. I’ve felt very strange about it all. I have 3 older sisters and a mum who have between them given birth to 16 children – none of them have had dark clouds of anxiety lingering over them and birth flashbacks almost daily. I started to feel it was just me. Maybe I was just weak, a bit useless. A bit of a wimp.
Recently I’ve read lots of articles on birth trauma and it’s a lot more widespread than I thought. I’ve also found that typically birth trauma occurs because of one particular thing which happens during or prior to the birth.
Yes of course birth trauma occurs on a serious level for people who experience stillbirth, health issues with their newborn or themselves which I imagine must be horrific and cannot comprehend how you deal with losing a child or a child having life threatening health issues BUT sometimes birth trauma happens for what others may consider minor reasons. After all birth is on most occasions a painful and possibly scary time so why is my experience any different to anyone else’s? Why was this birth so different to my first child’s birth? They were both hard. Both painful. Both resulted in wonderful and healthy children.
The Birth Trauma Organisation and other websites list the following as causes of birth trauma:
* A bad experience with a care giver or doctor.
* A woman is given an episiotomy without her consent.
* A traumatic or stressful pregnancy
*Not being fully informed of procedures or problems during the birth.
* Feeling out of control during or before the birth.
*Lengthy labour or short and very painful labour
*Poor pain relief
*Feelings of loss of control
*High levels of medical intervention
*Traumatic or emergency deliveries, e.g. emergency caesarean section
*Impersonal treatment or problems with the staff attitudes
*Not being listened to
*Lack of information or explanation
*Lack of privacy and dignity
*Fear for baby’s safety
*Birth of a damaged baby (a disability resulting from birth trauma)
*Baby’s stay in SCBU/NICU
*Poor postnatal care
*Previous trauma (for example, in childhood, with a previous birth or domestic violence)
Out of the above list of 21 causes I experienced 11.
As you can see there are lots of reasons why it can occur but it can still be incredibly hard to get help or to begin to deal with it.
Doctors don’t seem to take it very seriously and health visitors (mine anyway) barely discussed it with me even though I openly on many occasions told them how I felt.
I had a very stressful pregnancy with a number of problems throughout. I was in hospital most weeks and it was a very scary period of my life. Externally I felt I was dealing with it well at the time but internally I wasn’t at all.
When I arrived in hospital for the last time 4 days prior to the birth I was already a bit of a mess but the beginning of the trauma in my mind was a particularly painful and frightening time with a consultant. She was cold, uncaring and treated me in a harsh way. I won’t go into details as they aren’t pleasant but I was left in a lot of pain and I was so very scared from that point on.
10 months on I think of that moment and I still want to cry. I can feel the pain as clearly as if it happened five minutes ago.
The only thing that has begun to help me is talking about it. With my mum, with Andrew, online friends and with a counsellor. I’ve found websites where people talk about their own experiences which I imagine will help some people but I still find it all a little raw and too hard to read. I can’t watch films with birth scenes and my love of One Born Every Minute has gone forever. I know I could never have another child because I couldn’t face it again.
There are lots of forms of support for people who have post natal depression and rightly so. I have in fact suffered with this myself this time and I’m grateful for that help but I don’t think there is enough support for women who have birth trauma. The repercussions of it being left untreated/not talked about are huge. Even for myself, someone who has openly discussed it I suffer with anxiety, nightmares and flashbacks.
So what can be done?
Talk about it. Blog about it. Raise awareness. If you have it, go and see someone. Don’t let it fester. If someone you know may be experiencing it, go and chat to them. Tell them there are people who can help. Blogs they can read. Websites which offer support.
Above all treat it as you would if someone had an injury. Because that’s what it is. It’s a trauma. An open wound which untreated will not heal. It’s not a silly thing or something to be embarrassed about. It’s serious and life changing. Admitting you have birth trauma does not mean you regret your child being born or that you love them any less.