Rachel Clarke, birth coach and founder of Hey Mama Hypnobirthing explains how to recover from birth trauma…
If you’ve had a baby and you are struggling to move on from the birth, you may be in the 30% of women who find their labour or birth to be traumatising. You might be feeling disappointed that the birth experience wasn’t what you expected it to be or angry at the way your care team handled aspects of your labour or birth. In this article we will look at what makes a birth traumatic and what you can do to take steps towards healing and recovery.
What is birth trauma?
Post-traumatic stress from childbirth or birth trauma can have a long lasting and significant impact on your ability to live day to day. It can affect your relationship with your partner and stop you from enjoying your new baby. You may have had a long, difficult labour that resulted in emergency treatment. You might have had a very quick and intense labour that made you feel helpless and out of control. There may have been an experience that was shocking or unexpected in the immediate postnatal period. Either way, when you are reminded about your birth you feel overwhelming and intense negative thoughts and feelings that can be hard to manage.
What are common signs of a traumatic birth?
You might experience these common signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress: re-living aspects of your birth through nightmares, flashbacks, recurrent thoughts or physical arousal reactions like sweating or nausea; alertness or feeling on edge including anger, irritability or lack of sleep; or avoiding feelings or memories, such as feeling emotional numbness, avoiding anything pregnancy or birth related, using alcohol or being unable to remember parts of the birth.
What causes some births to be traumatising?
If you feared for your or your baby’s life, you thought you were in immediate or prolonged danger, you were scared and felt out of control, it is likely to have left you feeling traumatised. It’s likely that during a difficult birth, the switch to our acute stress response (known as ‘fight, flight or freeze’) is triggered. This sympathetic nervous system is a normal, biological response to life-threatening situations. It is unhelpful if it is switched on every time we are reminded of birth and we are unable to regulate or turn it off. Being constantly in this stress response leaves us feeling drained and exhausted.
Steps you can take to help your recovery
Everyone has an individual recovery journey that will take time and patience. What is helpful for one person might not be for another and may require a combination of steps or approaches.
Book your birth reflections session with your midwife
Making time to debrief with a senior midwife after your birth can be a helpful first step. This is your chance to understand what happened, talk through your thoughts and feelings from your birth and learn more about any future health implications.
Learn to manage triggered emotions
Learning some simple breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and practicing mindfulness will help you manage your triggers. Over time reconnect with yourself physically through yoga, pilates or other movement based exercise to help you become more aware of your physical signs of arousal. Get creative with poetry, drawing or writing to help express your inner thoughts and feelings associated with your birth.
Be kind to yourself
Practice self compassion when you think about your birth and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You could only make the decisions with the inner resources and information to hand at the time. Give yourself the time and space to recover in the ways you need.
Ask for support
There is help for you if you need support with recovering from your birth. Talking to someone will help you understand the impact of your birth and how it is affecting your day to day life. Organisations such as the Birth Trauma Association and Make Birth Better have resources for parents who have experienced a traumatic birth. Visit your GP for a mental health assessment and if appropriate ask for a referral for EMDR therapy or trauma-informed CBT (NICE Guidelines, 2014).
Sadly there isn’t a single magic cure for moving on from a traumatic birth but you can and will discover a healing pathway that is right for you. Often a combination of different approaches over a number of months or years, and for some having additional positive birth experiences, will provide healing relief. If you are struggling with moving on from your birth then consider the Traumatic Birth Recovery 3 Step Rewind as an option alongside other therapeutic interventions. Over only 3 sessions, this safe and gentle technique can help you feel significantly relieved of the heavy feelings associated with your birth.
Rachel Clarke is a birth coach who is skilled in KG Hypnobirthing, Traumatic Birth Recovery 3 Step Rewind technique and is currently a trainee Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist. Her passion is improving maternal wellbeing in the pregnancy period and healing birth trauma experiences.
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