As much as we are, and should be, grateful when a mother and child deemed healthy after delivery that is not all that matters.
-1 in 7 women experience Post Partum Depression.
-24-34% of women describe their births as traumatic.
– Approximately 1/3 of those women will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The physical health of the mother and baby is not all that matters. So please.. PLEASE.. stop implying that.
Birth is one of the greatest life events that a women will experience. A study done by Penny Simkin over 20 years showed that even as time passes most women vividly remember the details of their birth and emotions surrounding it. Women hold their birthing days up with varying degrees of importance, but for all it is an experience hard to forget.
That is why if a woman has a negative, or even traumatic birth, it can have profound impacts on the woman physically and emotionally.
The physical effects of trauma on the women are most often immediately apparent. A woman who had a cesarean, surgery complications, severe tearing, or other damage will face the imminent road of physical recovery. This can last weeks or months, and some women unfortunately face the physical repercussions of birth trauma for years to come.
What should be a time of excitement is dampened with pain and anxiety over this unexpected physical issue. The physical effects of birth trauma can contribute to the emotional effects of a negative birth experience.
The emotional effects that a woman may experience after a negative birth experience or birth trauma can also range in severity and duration. Some women may feel initial disappointment that their birth did not go as planned, but then accept it and move on. Others feel a deep sense of failure and shame that their body did not “perform” as they thought it would or should have. Others felt violated by how they were treated at their birth.
Women who experience any form of traumatic birth are more likely to have postpartum stress and therefore more at risk for Postpartum Depression (PPD) or other mood disorders.
My friend Megan had a traumatic emergency cesarean. In some of her last moments of consciousness before the general anesthetic set in she witnessed chaos, panic, and literately blood spraying everywhere. She awoke hours after her child was born. She struggled with PTSD and PPD and those feelings magnified when she became pregnant again 3 months postpartum. Her second pregnancy was filled with painful flashbacks to her trauma. Thankfully she had a support system, and her faith, to help her sort through her pain and anxiety. She took control of her next birth. For Megan that meant scheduling a planned c-section. It was a very healing experience that she can joyfully say was her dream birth.
“From the traumatic birth with Lexi, to the horrible nights of PTSD flashbacks of her birth as soon as I found out I was pregnant with Kyla 3 months later… God carried me big time! Having an OB who recognized the PTSD was so essential to my emotional health during the second pregnancy.” -Megan
Even if the next pregnancy after a traumatic birth is not months, but years later, those past scars can be brought to the surface.
A woman’s fears and anxiety can have physical effects on her labor. The anxiety may slow her labor. Getting to the point in her labor where the past trauma happened can be a huge mental roadblock to many women. That added stress hormonally inhibits the natural flow of labor. That is why it is so important that a birthing woman’s past trauma be addressed before labor.
Many people unsympathetically brush off a negative birth experience with sayings like, “Well at least everyone is healthy” or “Next time will be different”. Discrediting a woman’s birth experience by saying such things is not healthy or helpful. Women need to be met where they are at in their pain, heard, and then walked beside as they sort out their pain.
So when a friend, or family member experiences a birth that did not go as planned, pause. Do not remind them to count their blessings. Please do not utter anything that begins with”at least”. Do not shift the focus from where she is at emotionally. She needs to be heard. She needs to be supported right where she is at. Keep an eye and ear out for signs of PPD and PTSD in the weeks and months ahead.
No matter if it is 2 days, 2 months, or 2 years after the birth, be a safe place for her to share what she is feeling and experiencing.
Birth trauma is a real, common, and scary road too many women face alone. So if you are the one walking that path, please reach out to a loved one or caregiver. Take advantage of online resources and in person support groups. You don’t have to do it alone.
There is healing and recovery ahead. This weight you feel will not last forever. Look forward with hope to the journey ahead.