What Happens When You Can’t Get Over a Traumatic Birth Experience?
Birth Trauma: A Dark Cloud over New Motherhood
2-6% of moms feel like they can’t move past their traumatic birth experience. They may feel isolated, confused and scared after giving birth to their baby. They may feel a pressure to be silent about their struggles. In this post we are breaking this silence by sharing the stories of 4 women who experienced traumatic birth.
Since you clicked on this post, it is likely that you are one of the 2-6% of moms who has not been able to move past the traumatic birth of their child. If this is you, I want to start by assuring you that you are not alone, you are not to blame, and that with support, you can move past your traumatic birth experience.
Where Does Birth Trauma Begin?
Sometimes, things happen during birth that are scary. Things like needing an emergency c-section, excessive bleeding, fever in mom and/or baby, tearing, use of forceps, extremely long labour, or other things that even may have put your life or your baby’s life at risk.
You may have gone through one of the things listed above, or you may have had a birth that others see as completely normal, that you are not able to move past. Birth trauma can happen with any birthing experience that you cannot seem to move on from.
Traumatic Birth Stories:
Lisa says: “I was induced with my daughter. My labour was 34 hours long. After pushing for 2 hours my baby was stuck. I was rushed into an emergency c-section. Following this my daughter was taken straight to the NICU. I did not get to hold her until hours later. Even though I didn’t have a vaginal delivery I was still in extreme pain both vaginally and from my c-section. I blamed myself for not being able to have a vaginal delivery, and believed that this experience was why I was not able to breastfeed my daughter.”
Erica says: “I had wanted an epidural for my delivery with my son. However, labour went very fast and before I knew it I was pushing. I had fourth degree tearing. I was NOT prepared for a drug free labour, and I was NOT prepared for a drug free delivery. I felt like everything was out of my control. I can clearly remember the feeling of the pain.”
Mariah says: “After I delivered I lost a lot of blood. My husband was rushed out of the room and I wasn’t able to hold my baby. It was terrifying. Thankfully I was ok, but I was never able to process what happened. Family and friends told me just to be thankful that my baby was healthy, I felt like I could have died that day, but no one talked to me about it.”
Veronica says: “I had planned a home birth with my son. When I was almost ready to push we found out that the baby was breach. There was a lot of chaos, and I am still not entirely sure what happened. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. I didn’t know what was happening and was terrified for myself and my baby.”
Signs of Birth Trauma
Signs that you may have birth trauma include:
- Sudden, vivid flashbacks of the birth or nightmares.
- Avoiding thinking or talking about the birth or people that remind you of it.
- Inability to remember important parts of the birth.
- Panic attacks, sweating or heart palpitations.
- Feeling startled, hyper vigilant, on edge or on guard.
- Intense irritability or anger.
- Inability to bond with baby.
- Troubles breastfeeding.
- Avoiding sex.
Stories of Birth Trauma Symptoms:
Lisa says: “When I went for my 6-week appointment with my doctor, I had a panic attack when she started to do my physical examination. I broke down to her and told her how I hadn’t stopped thinking about my 34 hour labor with my daughter since it happened, and that I was still having nightmares about birth.”
Erica says: “For the first 6 months of my sons life, I refused to have sex with my husband. Any time I thought about being touched again, I would start shaking and re-living my birth experience. It was terrible.”
Mariah says: “I absolutely refused to talk about my birth story every time someone asked. I would change the subject, snap back at them, or walk away. I would not allow myself to think about what had happened when I lost all of that blood after giving birth. It was easier to avoid thinking about it.”
Veronica says: “I had planned on having 4 children, but after my birth experience with my third I refused to have any more babies. The thought of going through birth again was much to scary.”
Are You Going Through Birth Trauma?
If the stories of Lisa, Erica, Veronica, and Mariah* (names changed to protect confidentiality) stand out to you, you are not alone.
Many of you may have heard lines such as: “Just be thankful you have a healthy baby” or “You will forget all about your birth soon enough” or “Birth is natural, we all go through it.”
It is important for you to know that it is OK for you to voice your concerns. It is OK to hurt, feel sad, and grieve your birth story. You are not alone, and there is hope.
The hope in birth trauma is that with professional and social support you can feel better. This dark cloud that is hovering over you can go away. You can find peace with your birth story. You can move on. To learn more about ways to move on past your birth trauma, read this post.
If you are struggling with birth trauma, please reach out to your doctor, midwife, or counsellor to start getting professional support. If you are not sure where to start, connect with us on Our Mama Village. We would love to help you.
Healing a Traumatic Birth Story:
Lisa says: Talking to others about how I was really feeling helped me recover. I became connected with a support group of women who had also been through traumatic birth experiences. This helped me know that I wasn’t alone.
Erica says: “Psychotherapy helped me find strategies that allowed me to cope with my difficult feelings towards child birth. Slowly over time, I realized that thinking about my birth experience wasn’t taking over my mind anymore. I was able to bond better with my baby, and was able to start having a sexual relationship again with my husband.”
Mariah says: “After I started seeing a counsellor, I was able to own my birth story. I wrote it out, and developed coping strategies with my counsellor that allowed me to see my own power and resiliency throughout my story.”
Veronica says: “It took me years to come to terms with my birth experience. Looking back, I wish that I had talked to a counsellor much earlier. I regret the choice I made not to have any more children, and now I see that not every birth experience is traumatic. I encourage any mom going through this to seek help as soon as possible.”