Childbirth is often depicted as being a momentous event, filled with joy and love. However, for many mums this dream feels a million miles away from their experience and the memory of their birth experience can cast a shadow over the early days of motherhood. If you're a mum who's been struggling with memories of your birth, know that you are not alone. In this article, we'll explore the world of birth trauma, its impact, and how you can begin to heal.
Who Experiences Birth Trauma?
Anyone can experience birth trauma. You might be a first time mum or have had child number 3, it doesn’t discriminate. There are factors that make birth trauma more likely however, such as induction, poor pain relief, lack of autonomy or consent, emergency csection, not being listened to, fear for safety, or a lack of information. Some of these are more likely to happen if you sit within a group who has less power. Have a look at wheel of power and privilege and see where you sit. No person giving birth is in the top area for power and privilege and the further you are from that the more likely you are to not have your voice heard.
What Does Birth Trauma Look Like?
The aftermath of a traumatic birth can manifest in various ways. You might find yourself overwhelmed, anxious, quick to anger, sad, or persistently low in mood. Even sharing or listening to other people's birth experiences can be difficult. You may grapple with feelings of guilt, believing that you somehow caused it, or that the birth trauma damaged your bond with your baby. Resentment towards your partner, who may seem to be carrying on as usual, can also be a part of the equation.
Debunking Common Misconceptions
One common misconception about birth trauma is that it only occurs in life-or-death situations during childbirth. However, birth trauma can be the absence of something too, such as lack of consent, not being able to hold your baby immediately after birth, or having to endure childbirth or the recovery after, without your partner by your side, as was common during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Your Feelings Are Valid
If you're reading this and recognising these feelings, it's essential to understand that your emotions surrounding your birth experience are valid. It's often difficult to understand this as people find birth trauma difficult to talk about, often saying phrases such as 'at least you're home now' or 'at least you have a healthy baby' and it can really minimise your experience. You are not alone in this journey, and there are ways to ease the impact of birth trauma.
As new mothers, we often push through our feelings, thinking that we need to be strong for our children and partners. However, it's important to redefine what it means to be strong. Seeking support and help when we need it is a form of strength, not weakness. Birth trauma doesn't reflect any failure on your part.
How to heal from Birth Trauma
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings: Start by acknowledging your feelings. Write them down or discuss them with someone you trust. This can be an essential step in validating your experiences.
2. Professional Help: Don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional with experience in postnatal mental health and trauma. They can provide guidance, support, and coping strategies tailored to your unique situation.
3. Peer Support: Joining a support group for mothers who have experienced birth trauma can be incredibly helpful. Sharing your experiences and hearing from others who've been through similar situations can foster a sense of community and understanding.
4. Self-Care: Prioritise self-care. Whether it's taking a few minutes each day to practice deep breathing, enjoying a warm bath, or taking a short walk, self-care is an essential part of healing.
5. Talk to Your Partner: Engage in open and honest communication with your partner. Share your feelings and concerns with them. Remember that they may also be struggling to understand what you went through or may be quietly struggling with their own feelings around the birth, particularly if they thought you or the baby were at risk or they couldn’t be with you.
6. Educate Yourself: Learn more about birth trauma and its effects. Understanding the psychological aspects of what you experienced can be a step toward healing. Our body often does the talking. When experiencing something traumatic our body goes in to fight, flight, freeze or flop mode. The amygdala in our brain can get stuck ‘on’ when this happens as it doesn’t trust that it’s safe to turn off. This means your brain is left searching for safety which is why you can’t just ‘let it go’. The fact you’re struggling with it is for survival reasons, not because it’s your choice.
In time, with support, and by acknowledging your feelings, you can begin to heal from birth trauma and find the joy and fulfilment that motherhood can bring. You are stronger than you know, and your journey towards healing starts with the first step of seeking support and understanding.
Remember, you are not alone on this path, and there is hope for brighter days ahead.
Postnatal Mental Health Counsellor in Harrogate and Online
Claire Judd is a fully qualified counsellor in Harrogate, working with new mums and their postnatal mental health. If you’re struggling, get in touch for a free 15 min call to find out how we can work together. You can book online here: https://www.clairejudd.co.uk/contact and can find out more about counselling for postnatal mental health here: www.clairejudd.co.uk.
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