I was traumatised after Bertie’s birth. I’d replay the horror of events of the 26th and 27th January 2013 over and over in my mind. At the time I swore I’d never be brave enough to go through it again, fortunately time took the edge off the memories. And discovering hypnobirthing enabled me to have a wonderful, empowered birth with Woody which helped heal me emotionally.
But I was lucky. Many people live long term with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after having babies which is why Emma Svanberg aka @mumologist, a Clinical Psychologist and Hypnobirthing teacher, is committed to raising awareness and support for Birth Trauma.
• It doesn’t matter what kind of birth you had. Natural, with intervention, emergency C section, planned C section… No matter how straightforward it looks from the outside, you can still feel traumatised by it (equally people can go through even the most complicated births and come out the other side not feeling troubled).
• What links traumatic births is that, at some point during the process, you felt severely threatened and unsafe or you felt that your baby was unsafe – and you experienced the helplessness, fear and horror that goes along with that.
• Research into the amount of women suffering from symptoms of PTSD after birth have ranged from 1% to 17%. However, women are frequently misdiagnosed with postnatal depression – and we know that many women won’t seek help at all, so it’s hard to know how many women actually feel that their birth has traumatised them.
• I collected over 70 birth stories during Birth Trauma Awareness week and analysed them to see what the common themes were.
• Five themes emerged – ‘A Force Bigger Than Me’ (the physical impact of birth), ‘Heroes and Villains’ (the influence of birth professionals), ‘Delivery into Parenthood’ (the wider ranging impact on mental health and relationships), ‘I Had No Idea’ (the culture of secrecy around birth and birth trauma) and ‘Make Birth Better’ (ideas to improve birth).
• You can read about these findings in more depth at www.makebirthbetter.org
• One of the most striking themes was how important professionals are – before birth in providing honest and thorough antenatal care, during birth in offering respectful and compassionate care (including proper informed consent) and after birth in offering a listening ear and, where necessary, information about where to seek therapeutic help.
• When this doesn’t happen, women can suffer alone for years – recovering from something that is sold to them as ‘the best day of their lives’.
• If you’re reading this and wondering if you’re still recovering from a traumatic birth, the first thing is to stop the voices which tell you ‘don’t be silly’ or ‘you should be happy’.
You don’t need to feel happy, and you’re not being silly. During birth you’re at your most vulnerable, and if you felt in any way unsafe during that time, it’s not surprising that there is an emotional fall out.
• There is help available if you would like support in recovering from your experience. You can speak to your midwife or health visitor, visit your GP or, in some areas, make a self-referral to your local talking therapies service.
• Some people don’t have a good experience in seeking help. They may be misdiagnosed, or have to face a long waiting list, or have to go back to the hospital they were traumatised in to get that help. Some help that is offered can, in fact, be re-traumatising. You might need to look around, and you might need to stand your ground, but there ARE people out there who really want to help you recover.
• Do look into the background of anyone offering you support. Make sure they are properly accredited and qualified to work with traumatic symptoms. And, if you don’t feel you have a good fit, don’t be afraid to keep looking.
• Have a look at these online resources for a start:
• Sometimes the best support though is from friends and relatives. Don’t listen to the ones who encourage you to move on, or tell you ‘at least you’ve got a healthy baby’. Find the ones who listen, and give you a tissue when you need one, and a hug when you need one, and feel angry and sad with you.
• Birth partners can also be traumatised, and are often forgotten. All of the above applies to them too.
• We forget that during birth, just like at all other times in our lives, we have RIGHTS. A right to respect, compassion, dignity, autonomy, privacy, equality. We should be given proper consent for interventions (and absence of intervention). Have a look at http://www.birthrights.org.uk for more information about your rights.
• You do also have a right to complain. You can contact your local Patient Advice and Liasion Service https://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1082.aspx?CategoryID=68 If you want support with this, AIMS (www.aims.org.uk) have a helpline and also have a great leaflet ‘Making a complaint about maternity care’
• There are huge changes happening around the country in maternity services at the moment, as part of the Maternity Transformation Programme. You can get involved in these changes by joining your local Maternity Voices Partnership (http://nationalmaternityvoices.org.uk)
• Birth can be better, and should be better for everyone. The more we talk about it, and push for change, the more likely it is that things can improve.
• Above all else, remember that you can feel better. Sometimes it might take a while, and some work, but you can feel better about your birth.