Traumatic birth experiences. As if childbirth isn’t emotionally and physically difficult enough as it is, there’s those who will have a birth experience that will leave them traumatised, and possibly with PTSD. I’ve been unfortunate in that all three of my birth experiences have been traumatic – enduring 12 hours of labour with William and Noah, knowing that they would die soon after their birth; the anxiety during Henry’s labour and the fear for his safety when the neonatal team arrived due to meconium being present; and the very fast and intense experience of precipitous labour with Everly.
Interestingly, it was only after my daughter’s birth that the trauma of the experience affected me. Perhaps it is the culmination of three traumatic birth experiences, perhaps it’s solely down to the way hers unfolded that was so different to my expectations, but either way, despite all of them being distressing experiences, it is her birth that has stayed with me, keeping me up at night as I replay it in my mind.
Precipitous labor is the medical term for labour that lasts less than 3 hours from the start of contractions to delivery. The contractions are intense – your body is going from zero to 10 centimeters at an extremely fast pace, and for labour to be completed in such a short length of time, the contractions are continuous and extremely long and intense right from the start, with no time to administer pain relief. I had no time to process my labour. One minute I was experiencing my first contraction, the next I had arrived at hospital with less than a minute between them and begging for someone to help me. I felt out of control, helpless and fearful.
Those are my experiences of traumatic births. There are a number of other events that can contribute to a traumatic birth experience. A lengthy labour or a short and very painful labour. Induction, poor pain relief, feelings of loss of control, high levels of medical intervention, emergency deliveries, impersonal treatment, not being listened to, fear for baby’s safety, stillbirth, or baby’s stay in the SCBU or NICU. For parents, events around their baby’s birth may have been confusing, unexpected or unplanned.
Here are a number of ways that have personally helped me and I hope can aid others in recovering from a traumatic birth experience…
Writing is such a cathartic process. It may be difficult, but it allows you to process your thoughts and clarify how you feel and pinpoint the particularly difficult parts. I write down my thoughts through my blog – sometimes I publish them, other times they stay in draft form. Jot down thoughts in a notebook, write in a journal or pen a letter to yourself. I found it particularly helpful to write out Everly’s birth story and detail what had happened, step-by-step.
I believe in the power of tears. Let the tears come – don’t suppress the emotions. Disappointment, sadness and grief all manifest through tears, and it the ultimate release. Only 30 minutes after arriving in hospital, I lay in bed with my newborn daughter in my arms and I cried due to the shock I was in over the whirlwind of events that had just taken place. I needed to let those tears come and acknowledge the disappointment I felt that yet another birth had become an unpleasant experience.
Whether it’s with medical staff, the person who was present with you at the birth, a doula, or a counsellor, talking is a form of therapy, and an ideal way to explore your memories, feelings and thoughts surrounding a traumatic birth. When I was seeking out information about overcoming a traumatic birth experience, I discovered Birth Afterthoughts – a confidential service in the UK that provides an opportunity to discuss and understand what happened during the labour and birth process. It’s the perfect opportunity to have any questions answered and fully understand the medical assessment and decision making process that took place.
Request Birth Notes
It’s likely that the labour and birth were very different to your expectations and the plans you made during pregnancy. In the moment, you may not have had time to process what was happening, or the reasoning behind it, so reading over the birth notes at your own pace, in your own environment, can allow you to fill in any blanks and help you come to terms with the sequence of events.
Make a Complaint
This may not be applicable for every traumatic birth experience, but if you were treated in a poor manner, it can help provide closure and healing. William and Noah’s birth was traumatic for obvious reasons, but with Everly’s birth, the way I was dealt with contributed to the trauma I experienced. I should not have been treated the way that I was, and I don’t want any other women to ever have that experience, either. The nurse in triage didn’t check to see how dilated I was, she didn’t check our baby’s heartbeat, she didn’t monitor my contractions, she refused to give me pain relief, and ultimately she did not believe that I was in labour until Everly’s head was crowning. And this was despite informing her that my waters had broken with meconium present, and that I had tested positive for Group B Strep and needed antibiotics asap. No woman should feel so disregarded that she ends up pleading for help, and I will be lodging a complaint with the hospital.
It can be a huge helping talking to others who have been through the same, or a similar, experience. Search for Facebook Groups, find charities who offer support forums, or look for groups that meet locally. Getting in touch with other women who have experienced a traumatic birth gives you access to people who are able to hear, acknowledge and understand your experiences. Their support and understanding can be invaluable, especially as your closest friends and relatives are often unable to provide that level of comfort and comprehension.
Have you experienced a traumatic birth? Let me know what helped you recover from it.