By Bree Taylor Molyneaux
Sometimes things go wrong during birth and while nature does her best, if a woman needs assistance to birth her baby, ideally this would be done respectfully, calmly and gently.
Sadly, this is not always the case.
More often during labour, things are done to a birthing woman or her baby, which trigger other problems to occur, and can even lead to more medical assistance being required. Ideally any such procedure would be preceded by respect, calm and gentle interactions with mum and baby.
In the absence of a positive birthing experience, it could be said that a woman has suffered a birth trauma. Trauma is infact by definition, a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
In reality, many women today in Australia and around the world are suffering from some kind of a traumatic birth experience. While definitive statistics are lacking at present, I suspect this number sits at-least 30%, meaning that about 1/3 of all births in Australia involve some kind of difficult or unpleasant experience for mum, and likely for her baby too.
Regardless of how a traumatic birth comes to take place (the “cascade of intervention” and various problems with modern maternity care is the topic of another lengthy article), the most lasting effect of a birth trauma is usually upon two key recipients – mother and baby.
This experience which may involve:
A serious injury or shock to the body, from violence or by accident.
An emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person.
An event or situation that causes great distress and disruption.
And yet the curious thing about birth trauma from a psychological perspective is how a woman can experience a complicated highly medicalised birth, and yet come away from it feeling happy. While a different woman can have a relatively straightforward birth, yet be unhappy with her experience.
So what is the difference? Perception.
Birth is a totally unique experience and it varies for each and every one of us. Our experience is personal, and thus sits entirely in the eye of the beholder, which means that regardless of what a woman’s obstetrician, midwife or partner thought about what happened, she most likely has an entirely different view!
Why is birth trauma happening?
Sadly, in our country birth has become more of an industry – one where the simple act of breeding and procreation is largely perceived to be risky. One where healthy, low risk women enjoying healthy smooth pregnancies are monitored, poked, prodded and have their labour induced. And most often this is done for no reason other than to speed up the labour process.
To fully understand this problem though is the topic of another article altogether, so instead let’s discuss the common issues present for a woman who suffers birth trauma.
Women I have professionally supported talk about there being a lack of discussion, inclusion or involvement in the birthing process. A feeling of being out of control, dis-respected or not important (the baby’s safety often being put first). She may even be left alone following the birth for many hours – cold, in shock and yearning to be with her baby but with no-one to comfort her.
This problem clearly includes all women, regardless of how they birth or delivery their baby, because while every woman’s experience is different and unique, her perception of what happened and most importantly – how she feels about it now – is where the trauma or positive association is built.
And when a woman’s association to birth is mostly negative, the flow on effect of such a trauma can be quite devastating, as she may:
Suffer from shock for a period of hours, days or even weeks or months!
Feel disconnected from her baby
Struggle with breastfeeding or post birth bonding
Suffer from post natal depression (as the shock lingers) and/or
Suffer from ongoing depression or even have suicidal thoughts.
What can you do to feel better?
My personal dream is that women become much more proactive – that they get better educated about their birthing choices, prepare more fully for birth and in turn avoid encountering a “cascade of intervention” which increases their chances of having a traumatic birth experience.
That aside, when a trauma takes place, in order to begin the process of healing there are many routes one can travel to achieve resolution, as the journey to healing is unique and un-structured.
My tips to begin the process of healing come under three areas:
1. Talk about it
Debrief with your care provider; they can provide their perspective on what happened, and you can share yours
Talk to your partner and get their perspective
Share your feelings with a close friend, counsellor or other health professional
Be honest with yourself about how you feel
Seek assistance to resolve the emotional charge (approaches like hypnotherapy, NLP, kinesiology can assist)
Meditate to find peace within yourself; acceptance of yourself and letting go of blame is a key step to moving forward
3. Support and connect with your baby
Get your baby checked by a chiropractor or osteopath ASAP after the birth. This will ensure there are no Retained Neonatal Reflexes which could do them lasting damage, hinder their development or even affect their early stages of growth.
Apologise to them and share your pain; speaking to your baby about however you feel can be very cathartic, and can also help to release the energy behind the trauma for you both.
Strengthen your connection to your baby (eg. baby reflexology, baby massage, daily skin-to-skin, breastfeeding if possible, baby carrying/babywearing).
However you choose to begin your journey to healing, be aware that it is yours and yours alone. Giving yourself the time, space and permission to heal fully is healthy and quite a natural part of the process.
Traumatic experiences, whether by physical injury, emotional wound or a combination of both can and do have a lasting impact on both mum and baby. There is also a flow-on effect that such experiences can have on the wider family unit – often the silent sufferers – dad/partner, other children and on the strength and resilience of the family as a whole. For this reason I think birth trauma – and the after effects – need to be treated more seriously by maternity care providers. Everyone can be affected by such a journey, and not always in a positive way.
Regardless of your experience of birth and your perception of what happened, to be able to look back with fondness, or at-least free of fear, panic and anguish is something I believe we all deserve.
*This article was published in the 2014 Autumn edition of Nurture Parenting Magazine in Australia.*
About the author
Bree Taylor Molyneaux is a Brisbane based happiness coach, clinical hypnotherapist, HypnoBirthing® practitioner, self-care and personal renewal facilitator, mother and wife. She founded Aspire Hypnotherapy, coaches women in a wide range of areas, runs restorative + self-care retreats, and has a range of and hypnosis downloads available. Read more about Bree here.