When asked what the happiest day of one’s life is, we often expect the days listed to include giving birth. This is not the case for everyone. Millions of parents have had a traumatic experience or traumatic event during childbirth. Yet these are rarely ever talked about leading many parents to suffer alone and feel isolated.
What is a traumatic childbirth?A traumatic childbirth, to a certain extent, differs for everyone. An intervention that one family may have been okay with can feel traumatic to another. The primary way to distinguish trauma is if the mother or baby experienced distress, either emotional or physical. This may occur because of a fear for the life of the mother and/or baby, it may occur in medical treatment, or it may occur in other ways.
Exact statistics vary, the organization Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth states that 25%-34% of births are traumatic. Some may have resulted in permanent physical wounds or damage. Others may have resulted in tearing, c-sections, interventions or wounds that will physically heal and may leave emotional wounding as well.
These experiences may also be emotional such as feelings of not being listened to by the medical staff or disappointment over change in the birth plan. Laboring parents may also experience trauma through the way they are touched or looked at during labor and delivery.
These birth stories can feel confusing to the parents. They’re grateful to have a baby and emotionally distressed over the experience. Parents may feel violated, afraid, angry, grieved, or dozens of other feelings.
Yet they also feel profound love and joy over the new baby. It can be overwhelming to hold both at the same time. We hope this article will help if you’ve experienced this.
Please know you’re not alone. Your story matters. Your experience matters. Please find a counselor to process it with and, if you desire, find ways to share your story.
People can experience PTSD from childbirth
Be aware that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) does occur in some families. It may occur in the parent who delivered the baby or in their spouse/partner. Parents often discount it and don’t realize that PTSD can be possible from birth.
Postpartum depression is also higher in families who had a traumatic experience during birth. Those who had pre-existing PTSD seem to be at a higher risk for PTSD after birth. Please reach out to a counselor, midwife, or doctor anytime you think PTSD or postpartum depression are involved.
These are common signs of PTSD:
- Avoiding the location, or neighborhood, the birth occurred
- Avoiding those who were present for the birth
- Avoidance of triggers/ memories of the birth
- Social isolation and/or difficulty functioning in social situations which were not previously difficult
- Lack of motivation in work and/or difficulty functioning in work or home tasks that were not previously difficult
- Detached emotions
- Intense physical or emotional symptoms when thinking about, or discussing, the birth
- Panic attacks
- Hyper-arousal or increased startle response
- Anger outbursts
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive sleeping
- Intrusive recollections of the events
- Amnesia around the details of the birth
- Denial the event occurred and/or outright arguing the details
- Feeling as though the event is recurring
- Intense fear of recurrence if another baby should be born
Traumatic birth and sexual relationships
As you may imagine, these birth experiences can impact on future sexual encounters. Parents may be afraid to have sex because they’re afraid to get pregnant and another traumatic birth.
Sexual intimacy may trigger memories of the birth experience. It may feel emotional and/or vulnerable to see scars or other wounds from the birth. Sexual arousal and/or sexual contact may also be physically painful as the body heals.
A counselor can be of immense help to work through the emotional aspect of resuming sexual relationships with your spouse after trauma. In some cases, physical therapy, medication, or other interventions may be helpful for recovering physically.
Tips for coping with traumatic birthIf you’ve experienced a traumatic birth one of the most helpful things you can do is counseling. Your OB or midwife may suggest counseling at your six-week postpartum visit. There are counselors who focus on birth trauma.
Working with a counselor can help you process the complex emotions and work on techniques to move forward. You may also want to work with a counselor if you become pregnant and find feelings of anxiety or worry creeping back in from a previous childbirth.
Give yourself space to grieve.
You spent months imagining what birth was going to be like only to have it turn out a different way. Grief is ok. Grief is good. Grief is healing. Allow yourself to grieve the experience you hoped to have. Your counselor can help you find ways to do this.
Take extra time off work.
If it’s possible to extend your leave from work, or take the full FMLA leave, do so. This will be a big benefit to you both in your physical healing as well as your emotional healing.
Talk to your midwife or doctor.
Ask them questions about why the birth went the way it did. If something happened that you felt was unnecessary, talk to them about it. You may want to work with your counselor beforehand to figure out what to say and how to say it.
In some cases, midwives may even be willing to come to counseling with you to process the experience together. Remember that sometimes the healthcare provider experienced trauma too.
Nobody has to read it. Even 5-10 minutes a day can be profound.
Write your story.
As awareness of birth trauma rises, so do families who are sharing their stories and helping others. Choosing to write and share your birth story may become a part of your healing.
Find others to connect with.We’ve listed a few resources below to connect with others who have been through a similar experience. Local baby boutiques and birth centers also tend to have connections for resources.
The practice of lament as seen in the Bible can be a powerful healing tool in emotional and spiritual healing. It is a way to pour out your heart before God and share your pain, grief, anger, sorrow, and loss. There are resources online and in books and podcasts on the subject of Lament.
Thank or bless your body.
In many cases, women blame themselves for what happened or feel as though their body failed them. Try to thank your body for growing and developing a baby. Thank your body for communicating when it needed help and for the healing process it is going through. A self-body blessing may also be helpful and your counselor can walk you through a process like that.
Give yourself permission to step away from “mom groups.” This one is tricky. As parents, we want support, these groups can sometimes be a blessing. Other times they can be painful and difficult when people start to share birth stories. If a group feels too difficult, give yourself permission to step away for a season.
Massage, chiropractic, and craniosacral therapy may be helpful on different levels of healing. Abdominal massage can be especially helpful for those who had a c-section. There are practitioners who specialize in postpartum treatment and even some who have extra training for traumatic birth.
When we’re in trauma, our bodies tense up and close in a bit. Gentle walking or yoga is a great way to start moving the body and helping it open up a bit more. Make sure to clear any exercise with your healthcare practitioner ahead of time.
Here are a few places to connect with other parents who understand how you feel:
- ICAN- The International Cesarean Awareness Network holds meet-ups worldwide.
- Support groups- Find them online or through a local birth practitioner
- Counseling centers
- Hospital or birth center groups
- Social media groups
- La Leche League
Christian Counseling after a Traumatic Childbirth Experience
If you’ve had a traumatic childbirth experience, working with a professional Christian counselor can help. Feel free to contact me or another therapist in the counselor directory here on this site to schedule an appointment.
“Newborn”, Courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Childbirth”, Courtesy of Jonathan Borba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Marriage”, Courtesy of Taylor Hernandez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Prayer”, Courtesy of Rosie Fraser, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.