Birth Trauma

What is birth trauma?

Birth trauma is a type of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) originating from a birth experience. Before COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, ⅓ of women in Greater Manchester reported their birth experience as being traumatic, and we suspect this number will have risen since lockdown began. Women who report having had a traumatic birth experience are very rarely talking about the physical process of birth, but about the way they were treated during labour, birth and postnatally, including obstetric violence, coercion and assault.

What causes birth trauma?

We know that birth is a natural process that relies upon the woman feeling safe, loved, warm, unobserved and undisturbed. Emotional support is a crucial component to maternity care but is often the part that gets forgotten or sacrificed due to the strain the NHS is constantly under, before the pandemic and even more so during. Women are not getting the continuity, balanced information and emotional support they deserve during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. In the current situation that the world finds itself in, where the NHS is overstretched and understaffed, and fear is all around us, women are much more likely to experience unnecessary interventions to speed things up, lack of one-to-one care during labour and a lack of postnatal support, leading to a traumatic experience.

Can you recover from it?

We often receive enquiries from women who have already had a traumatic birth and are planning their upcoming birth. We have seen women go from completely blaming themselves for what happened to them, to realising that actually they did nothing wrong, and their body did not fail them – they were not treated with care and compassion during birth, their rights were not respected and more often than not they were coerced into agreeing to interventions they did not want. This is the fault of the system, not the fault of women or the birth process. Understanding what happened in a traumatic birth can have a hugely positive impact on women moving forward, and going on to have positive birth experiences. 

Lori is trained in the 3-step rewind technique – a non-disclosure therapy that is an incredibly effective method of neutralising strong emotions that are attached to the birth trauma memory.

How can you plan for a positive birth experience?  

No woman should be subjected to violence, coercion, or oppression during childbirth, but this is sadly on the rise, and we have witnessed it ourselves many times. We know that having a positive birth experience isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’ or a ‘cherry on top’, but is the very foundation of how a woman starts motherhood and how she will go on to see herself as a person and a parent.

There are a few things that will make birth trauma less likely to happen;

Surrounding yourself with people who support you in your decisions – this might mean switching hospitals, opting out of the system altogether, seeking doula support, joining supportive community groups or a combination of these things. Having this kind of respect from the people around you will remind you that this is your body, your baby and your birth – you are in charge.

Processing any existing trauma whether that is from a previous birth, your childhood or adult life – birth can bring up a lot of deep feelings. Taking the time and seeking the support you need to process this existing trauma will positively affect how you feel about an upcoming or future pregnancy and birth.

Being informed of your rights around pregnancy and birth hugely important when planning a birth – this allows you to confidently question hospital pathways and policies that may in fact go against those rights. You have the right to accept or decline any parts of medical care, interventions or procedures that are “required” by hospital policies. You do the allowing! We quite often hear of women being told that they are “not allowed” to have a home birth, or water birth, or even “not allowed” to birth their baby vaginally. This is misinformation because nobody can stop you.

There are some fantastic websites dedicated to informing women of their rights in birth; Birthrights and https://www.aims.org.uk/ are two of them.

Being aware of the way the NHS maternity system works and the resistance you might come up against. You should be able to expect that when you go into the maternity system you will receive individualised care and be treated with respect, dignity and be given unbiased information before having to make any decisions about your pregnancy or birth. However, this is not always (in fact, very rarely) the case. We all know that the NHS is understaffed, and is, after all, an institution that only functions when things are efficient and fit into neat checkboxes. Birth is not one of those things.  Having this knowledge can be a massive advantage if you do choose to attend appointments in the hospital. Just because individualised care is not freely offered to women, more often women are presented with blanket policies and pathways, this doesn’t mean you cannot access the care you deserve. You may be told that you are “high risk” for one of many reasons and that this limits your options – this is actually not the case. All of your options are open to you, you might have to be the one to tell them this.

Whether you have suffered from birth trauma or are trying to be proactive in preventing trauma we are here for you. Get in touch if you would like to chat more about how we can support you.