Giving birth is rarely a walk in the park. Whether you manage a medication free “natural” birth, get every drug under the sun, plan a c-section or get rushed in as an emergency, labour is hard work, and it hurts. But “they say” that the moment you hold your baby in your arms all that pain is instantly worth it or forgotten.
But what if it isn’t forgotten? What if you had a birth experience that leaves you with flashbacks, leaves you sobbing because it was dramatic and scary? Leaves you with mental scars?
You can feel pretty lost and isolated. After all, your baby arrived safely, albeit dramatically, you should be happy, yes? It’s easy to beat yourself up, thinking about parents whose babies didn’t make it safely, or even mothers who didn’t survive labour. Compared to them, you shouldn’t complain, right?
Birth Trauma is far more common than you’d think. The Birth Trauma Association estimates that traumatic birth experiences can leave more than 20,000 women a year with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This is a subject close to my heart. When I had X, things didn’t go to plan. He was back to back, and I was in painful labour for a long time. You can read about it here. I wont lie, I was terrified. 3 and a half years on from that day, I still find it a difficult subject to talk about – I’m overwhelmed the instant it comes up, my heart racing and tears flowing.
But despite my experience, the only mention I had from a health care professional about my labour was a throwaway comment two days later from the doctor who came to assess me to see if I needed a blood transfusion. She said “How’re you doing? You had a bit of a rough time I see?” with a laugh. How are you supposed to respond to that? I felt like my only answer could be to laugh it off too. Perhaps what I’d gone through was just par for the course for labour? Sure, my sister in law had had a wonderful labour a few weeks earlier, going exactly how she’d hoped, but equally, my other sister in law had had a rough time too.
It wasn’t until, a few weeks later, when I recounted my labour story for the ladies in my birth Facebook group, that it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t par for the course at all. I won the award for “Most Dramatic Birth Story”!
In X’s first weeks of life, I struggled incredible with anxiety. When he did sleep, I would find myself having flashbacks to what had happened during labour and afterwards, I wouldn’t take my eyes off him in case something happened to him, I barely left the house. I became obsessed with what had happened, and ended up ordering my birth notes from the hospital to try to make some sense of it all.
I wish I’d googled Birth Trauma. I’d have seen from those symptoms above that I was struggling with something REAL. Not just something in my head, not something I was blowing out of proportion – something REAL. And more than that, I would have known that I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I did.
Post Natal PTSD can have numerous causes. For me, it was the total lack of control during labour – I had no say in anything, or at least that’s certainly how it felt. I was informed I would be staying wired up to the heart rate monitor, even though it had a short lead and pacing was how I was managing my pain – I didn’t get a say in it. I was also not informed until much too late that X was back to back – I could have been in all sorts of positions to help him move, but despite it being mentioned in my notes very early on, nothing was said to me. They also gave me an anti-sickness medication I didn’t agree too, and wouldn’t have agreed to as it made me dizzy and disorientated when I had it for morning sickness.
Post Natal PTSD often gets swept up into being labelled Post Natal Depression – and while yes, the two can go hand in hand, it’s not always a given, and anti-depressants will do little to help the root of PTSD. All too often new mums are told “ah, you’ll get through it, you’ll forget all about it.” or “Look at your healthy baby though! That’s all that matters!”, which is little help or comfort when you’re desperately struggling.
If you know someone who has experienced a traumatic birth, or struggled with the above symptoms after your own birth experience, please visit The Birth Trauma Association website for tonnes of information on the help that’s available, as well as brilliant explanations of the emotions involved with Post Natal PTSD.