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Life Changing Experience: Dealing with Birth Trauma

posted May 5, 2014, 7:05 AM by AndrewandSarah Witzel   [ updated May 5, 2014, 7:12 AM ]
One of my friends once told me that she loves driving past the hospital where she had her daughter, because it reminds her of the day she gave birth. Unfortunately, not all women have such happy memories of their births. Many experience what is called “birth trauma” - when the circumstances of a woman’s birth experience causes symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can happen in any birth situation: hospital or home birth, medicated or natural labor, cesarean section or vaginal delivery. It also can occur even if the outcome of the birth is considered successful: a physically healthy mom and healthy baby. After my own birth experience, I experienced some symptoms of PTSD despite my birth even going mostly according to my birth plan. 

What are the symptoms? Insomnia, intrusive or recurrent thoughts of the birth (also called “flashbacks”), nightmares, feelings of despair, helplessness, or anger, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of birth, and hypervigilance (being unable to trust or relax) are just a few possible symptoms of birth trauma. Some of these symptoms overlap with the symptoms of postpartum depression and may be misdiagnosed as such, but birth trauma is a different situation.

What causes birth trauma? There are some factors why some women experience birth trauma while others do not, despite experiences that appear similar. Risk factors include a feeling of loss of control, prior experiences of trauma, high level of medical intervention (ie. episiotomy, forceps delivery), poor postnatal care, and either a very short and intense labor or a very lengthy labor.

How do I recover? Speaking to someone (a trauma counselor, support group, etc) is key to a successful recovery. Some women choose to journal their experiences or use art therapy. Accessing your medical records can be helpful as well. There may be a small fee, but these will be provided at your request by the facility where you gave birth. Learning and reading about birth trauma will also be useful. The links below have online information and book recommendations.