Did you know it is Birth Trauma Awareness Week? This year’s theme is journeys – the journey from trauma to recovery. Despite birth trauma being extremely common, it unfortunately is not spoken about very often publicly. There seems to be a lot of stigma surrounding this – not to mention a complete lack of upfront help to those struggling with it – so in this post we’re going to explore what birth trauma is, the symptoms that might be present, and where to get help.
Birth Trauma Awareness Week is 7-13th September 2020.
Birth trauma is the phrase used for PTSD resulting from pregnancy and childbirth
There are many symptoms, however some of the common symptoms include:
Anybody involved in pregnancy and childbirth can suffer from birth trauma. This includes both the person giving birth and anyone who witnesses the birth e.g birth partners.
Examples of things that might occur during labour which may trigger or increase the risk of birth trauma include;
I know first hand how awful birth trauma can be; it’s something I experienced, and am still experiencing even now – 18 months on. One thing I wasn’t aware of, however, is just how common it actually is.
Of the sample of women who kindly answered my polls on Instagram, 69% answered that they too experienced birth trauma relating to the birth of one or more of their children. In fact, the Birth Trauma Association (BTA) state that about 30,000 women a year experience birth trauma in the UK alone. Thirty thousand.
This year’s theme for Birth Trauma Awareness Week is recovery, and I also think that this is the most important part to talk about. You’ve endured a horrific trauma. You’ve gone through a life changing experience. You’re looking after a tiny little baby. When you’re experiencing symptoms of trauma, it can feel extremely scary and you may feel like there’s no way out. What next?
When I asked my followers on Instagram, unfortunately only 30% of women who stated that they had experienced birth trauma, were offered or sought help for this. Unfortunately, it does seem extremely common for little aftercare – there seems to be a focus on health visitors checking for postnatal depression (PND), but this is a very different condition to postnatal PTSD. In my opinion, both PND and birth trauma need to be assessed and monitored by health visitors. Most hospitals also offer ‘birth afterthoughts’ or ‘birth listening’ services where, in a meeting, you are taken through what happened during your birth, so that things can be explained to you. Most women however are not made aware of this service – I actually had no idea it existed until I saw Storm post about preparing for her birth afterthoughts session on social media. I definitely think this service needs to be spoken about more openly and advertised within the hospitals, as understanding what happened during your birth is a great step in terms of recovery.
The most shocking stat however was that 79% of the women who answered my polls stated that they do NOT consider themselves ‘recovered’ now, and whilst of course some of the women answering this question might consider themselves very much still in the raw, early newborn stages, most of these women’s births were well over a year ago. It is evident to me that the trauma sticks around for a very long time post birth, which is why it is so important to seek help if you are experiencing any symptoms. It’s also important to remember that recovery looks different for everybody – to some people, ‘recovery’ could mean the ability to be willing to endure another birth, for others it could mean letting go of the guilt or simply being able to practice self care without experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Let’s face it – as mums we have plenty of mum guilt, we don’t need the guilt of a birth to be a part of that too. Recovery does not need to be rushed or happen quickly, in fact, the BTA have released the #babystepschallenge to represent how recovery is done in baby steps. Recovery is personal and entirely individual, and whilst the stats might not be the most positive – recovery is possible.
I asked Storm, a 21 year old blogger sharing the highs and lows of single parenthood, some questions regarding her recovery from her birth trauma. Storm has always been very open and honest about her experiences on social media, and has kindly answered my questions in full on her blog, which I would definitely suggest reading if you’d like to hear a first hand, raw account from a mother who experienced trauma.
If you think that you might experience any of the symptoms that we’ve discussed, then please seek help. Reach out to family and friends, your health visitor or your GP. You could contact your hospital and request a birth afterthoughts session, if you think that might help – there should not be a time limit on when you are able to do so. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org to talk to a trained peer supporter. There are also lots of private counsellors who specialise in PTSD – you can use websites such as UKCP or BACP to find accredited private counsellors and therapists.
The BTA also have a facebook support group for those looking to seek support from other people who have gone through similar experiences. It is a safe space to talk to people who truly understand.
No matter what, please remember: You are not alone.