Birth Trauma

Including Bystander Birth Trauma

What is birth trauma?

Birth trauma is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs after childbirth.

PTSD describes the normal reactions a person may experience when faced with a traumatic or frightening situation. PTSD is a disorder that can occur following the experience of a real or perceived life-threatening event. This can be any experience involving the real or perceived threat of death or serious injury to yourself or your baby. PTSD can therefore be a consequence of birth.

Am I suffering from birth trauma?

Some of the characteristic features you will experience if you have birth PTSD are:

  • You have had an experience where you felt the threat of death or serious injury to yourself or another person close to you (e.g. your baby).
  • You responded with intense fear or helplessness to your birthing experience.
  • You persistently re-experience the birth through recurrent intrusive memories, flashbacks, and/or nightmares.
  • You feel distressed, anxious, or panicky when exposed to things which remind you of your baby’s birth.
  • You attempt to avoid anything that reminds you of your baby’s birth.
  • You may feel the need to talk about your birth experience a lot.
  • You may be experiencing difficulty sleeping and/or concentrating.
  • You may feel angry, irritable and be hyper-vigilant.

You do not have to experience all of the above to be suffering from birth trauma, but will probably be suffering from a combination of the characteristics.

Who suffers from birth trauma?

You do not necessarily have to have experienced an event during childbirth (pregnancy or immediately after birth) that you view as sensational or dramatic to experience birth trauma. Women who suffer from birth trauma normally report the triggers as being factors such as, experiencing a loss of control, feeling a loss of dignity, the hostile or difficult attitudes of people in the vicinity, feelings of not being listened to or considered, and the absence of any discussion about or informed consent sought for medical procedures.

What is bystander birth trauma?

As PTSD is a disorder that can occur after witnessing a life-threatening event, being present at a traumatic birth can trigger bystander birth trauma. Research into ‘the second victims’ is increasingly demonstrating the long-lasting emotional damage that occurs after witnessing a traumatic birth. Suffers of bystander birth trauma will experience the same characteristic features above. Therefore men and women who witness their partner’s traumatic childbirth experience may also feel traumatised as a result.

If you are a birth worker (doula, midwife, or other health care professional) you might also feel traumatised after supporting or witnessing a traumatic birth. Health care providers are occasionally offered support ‘in-house’ following an event, or are sometimes able to talk to peers. This isn’t always enough and you may be left feeling isolated and experiencing some of the characteristic features above.

Is birth trauma treatable?

Yes, you can get better.

Aspirations Counselling Service offers birth trauma recovery using the following structure.

  • A birth reflections session
  • Writing out your PTSD birth story
  • Rewind technique, using a three-step model:
    1. Deep relaxation.
    2. Guided recall of the event in a specific way whilst feeling safe and secure.
    3. Development of the image of coping in the future and responding differently.
  • Follow up/debrief session

Please use the free downloadable meditation while you consider whether to contact us. Click here to download or simply listen below:

This Healing White Light meditation is by Alex Heath from www.traumaticbirthrecovery.com and set to music by http://www.bensound.com

Sometimes Postnatal Depression (PND) can follow on from the PTSD, the symptoms co-existing. As awareness of postnatal PTSD is generally low, many women are wrongly diagnosed with PND and prescribed medication that may do very little or nothing to alleviate the symptoms they are suffering from. The two illnesses are distinct and need to be treated separately.

However, it is important to note that depression can go hand in hand with postnatal PTSD. If you have been prescribed anti-depressants, this may well be an appropriate course of action for your particular circumstances. Treating the PTSD symptoms allows you to recognize and focus on addressing any symptoms of PND. Some additional sessions of CBT may be advisable.