When you look back on your pregnancy and birthing experience, did you picture it going a specific way? Maybe you had a well thought out birth plan prior to your delivery, but things changed and you found yourself questioning everything that happened?
We can all hope for an “easy” pregnancy and delivery, but many of us are faced with difficult and possibly traumatic experiences leading to what we call Birth Trauma.
What is Birth Trauma?
Birth trauma is defined as any physical or emotional distress experienced during or after delivery of your baby. Additionally, trauma is an event that overwhelms your body setting off your stress response and impairs your ability to cope.
This trauma can include an emergency c-section, postpartum hemorrhage, a NICU admission, traumatic vaginal delivery, fetal anomaly diagnosis, loss, feeling ignored by the medical team, not receiving support after delivery, and many other possibilities.
Not only are there many circumstances leading to birth trauma, it has also grown to become more common as an estimated 1 in 3 women who give birth may experience a birth trauma.
What is the impact of birth trauma?
Society has created many myths of motherhood, one being that birth is a natural and happy time. Women are expected recover from birth quickly and expected to easily juggle all the new responsibilities in motherhood.
We can start by acknowledging that motherhood is an amazing experience that brings so much joy, but it can also be hard and filled with many layers or grief, especially when you are faced with an unexpected and negative birth experience.
After you go through an emotionally or physically traumatic experience during birth, you may find yourself feeling ashamed or worried you may be judged by that experience. Maybe you find yourself keeping those emotions inside and going through the motions of motherhood.
This may work for some time, however unresolved trauma does not simply go away. Instead it is stored in your body and expressed in many forms, including both mentally and physically. This can include putting you at higher risk of a perinatal mood disorder including Perinatal-PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Trauma can be held in your body in many ways, including symptoms of panic (rapid heart rate, chest pain, or nausea), flashbacks (reliving the trauma, experiencing intrusive thoughts),
avoidance (avoiding thoughts or feelings of the trauma), hyper-vigilance (difficulty falling asleep, frequent outbursts), and depressed mood (losing interest in day-to-day activities, feeling detached).
What can you do if you experienced birth trauma?
First, remember that your experience is valid and real. You can acknowledge the loss of the birthing experience you hoped for and make space to express those feelings. You are not supposed to experience your grief on a timeline or simply “get over it”.
If you feel like you have experienced a birth trauma, here are some simple tools to help with symptoms:
Acknowledge your feelings without judgement. You can do this by naming the emotions that you are noticing, processing those feelings with a support person, or journaling.
Utilize coping skills to regulate your nervous systems such as deep breathing or a grounding exercise. This can include a sensory grounding exercise such as—move your body, pick up and hold items near you, or smell you favorite scent.
Begin to set boundaries that help reduce your triggers and aid in your healing process. Define your limits and what supports your well being, this includes saying “no” to what no longer serves you.
If you notice symptoms are impacting your daily life, consider seeking support from a perinatal mental health professional. Therapy can provide the tools to process your grief and treat the trauma that you have experienced.
1 in 3 women experience a birth trauma.
Birth trauma is defined by any emotional or physical distress you experienced in response to adverse experiences you had during or after the delivery of your baby.
You can acknowledge the loss of your birthing experience you hoped for and make space to express those feelings.
If your mood and symptoms begin to impact your daily life it can help to seek support from a perinatal mental health professional.
How we can help!
At Noticing Growth Therapy Group our therapists are Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professionals and can assess and help you know whether you’re experiencing baby blues or a perinatal mood disorder. We specialize in supporting parental mental health postpartum and can help you find balance again and thrive in your parenting experience. Connect with us today to schedule a free consultation at 916-426-9340 or www.noticinggrowth.com
Posted by Jessica Sorensen, LCSW, PMH-C.
Jessica is a therapist at Noticing Growth Therapy Group. She holds Perinatal Mental Health Certification and is training in EMDR. She specializes in supporting parents in the perinatal period cope and recover from challenges in adjustment to parenthood and traumatic birth experiences. Follow Jessica on IG @jessica.lcsw