Birth trauma. What is it? How you can overcome it and how to prevent it.
Congratulations! If you're here with me reading this, you're probably either excitedly expecting your little one or have just recently given birth. The birth of your baby is supposed to be one of the most joyous events in a woman's life! Finally meeting your little one after months of anticipation, planning and dreaming. Despite your best planning and preparation, sometimes your birth isn't quite as you expected, although when it's your first birth it's so hard to know what to expect.
If, like me when I had my first son, your birth doesn't quite go as you hoped and you end of experiencing a traumatic birth, this can really impact on those first few days and weeks with your baby. My son arrived 3 weeks early, which totally caught me off guard and I had, what felt like to me, a traumatic experience. In all honesty this took me months to come to term with so I've always had an interest in birth and the impact it can have on individuals (both mum and dad).
I meet lots of new mums and parents in my work and hear similar stories to mine so am very aware that birth trauma is common. When I came across Tricia Murray and her work on Instagram I knew I had to get in touch and invited her onto my blog to help mums be more aware of birth trauma, what they can do to prevent it or overcome it if they've experienced a traumatic birth with their baby.
Tricia Murray is an anxiety and trauma coach who has helped hundreds of mums to get unstuck and feel relief. She is also a mum to 4 boys including twins, a dog, lives in Edinburgh and you’re likely to find in the sea most weekends. I hope you enjoy the short Q& A below...
Introducing Tricia - Anxiety & trauma coach
3. How can birth trauma be overcome?
1. What is birth trauma* and what impact can it have?
I like Gabor Mate’s explanation of trauma - “Trauma is not what happens to you, it's what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you”.
Regardless of if your EXTERNAL experience was better or worse than someone else’s - it’s the result inside and how you feel that you need to consider.
For me, when I’m working with clients, it’s when the body changes from everything is ‘ok/what I expected’ to 'it’s not - this was not what I expected'. That can be a matter of minutes or a matter of weeks or months.
One of the issues is that birth being a traumatic event is often very normalised (think all the stories you’ve ever seen on the media). That means there’s an expectation that your birth will be traumatic and thereby when you might tell someone that you feel your birth was traumatic, they will dismiss you.
Equally you may be wondering why you can’t magically move on from your birth experience.
If you’ve had a difficult experience, here’s a list of some of the common trauma symptoms** that you might be experiencing: flashbacks, can't move on/feeling stuck, anger, hyper vigilance, panic attacks, anxiety, startle easily, anger, rage, disassociation, numbing out, compulsions, intrusive thoughts, avoidance, isolating yourself, insomnia, brain fog, shame/guilt about your experience.
Recovery is different for every single person. There's not one solution.
I feel trauma recovery is something that is often seen as very difficult and very complex because when you think about trauma it's often associated with abuse, wars and tragic circumstances. It's often left to the 'professionals' yet there's so much you can actively do to support yourself at this time.
I have a guide https://tricia-murray.mykajabi.com/birth-perinatal-trauma-recovery-guide, which can SUPPORT your recovery and might be enough for you.
It's important to understand that whilst trauma can sound scary and frightening - healing is very much possible. Sometimes time heals. Sometimes a really great conversation with a friend who can truly listen to you heals. Sometimes sharing with someone who's been in a similar situation to you can help. And sometimes you need professional help.
If your trauma symptoms stay the same or get worse or get re-triggered by another pregnancy, help is available.
There are many different types of therapy and interventions available and there's not one right approach.
Here's a list of some of the therapies I'd suggest you consider - 3 Step REWIND, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Internal Family Systems, Reiki, Yoga, Solutions Focussed Brief Therapy, Hypnotherapy, Kinesiology and TRE. Counselling/CBT or traditional talking therapy can be helpful but make sure it's with a trauma-informed practitioner. Ensure that anyone you work with understands birth/perinatal/reproductive trauma. This is not an exhaustive list and you might find you need a combination of these or different therapies throughout your healing.
I offer 3 Step REWIND, EFT, Solutions Focussed Brief Therapy, Internal Family Systems and Reiki. I predominately use 3 Step REWIND because it is so powerful with perinatal trauma but can integrate other approaches if need be.
2. How does birth trauma occur?
There’s not a set way that birth trauma occurs.
Some people will have a very difficult birth experience but not have any trauma symptoms. Others might have a relatively straightforward birth but feel traumatised afterwards.
You might expect someone to have a caesarean to be traumatised and someone who have a vaginal birth to be ok.
It could be that your baby was taken away after the birth and that’s left you traumatised but others might have felt safe that the baby was being cared for.
What I am saying is that any birth experience can leave trauma symptoms regardless of what happened.
My experience from working with hundreds of women to relieve them of symptoms of trauma is that it’s how they’ve been made to feel. Such as when:
- A health care professional didn’t listen to them
- They felt that all choices were removed from them
- Things happened to them that they didn’t want but they felt that they didn’t or couldn’t say no
- No one explained what was happening in a way that they understood
- They felt vulnerable, scared and alone (even if they were surrounded by people)
- Their birth experience re-triggered a previous experience of violence or abuse.
The difference between birth trauma and other trauma is that there are no other instances when something that's been so difficult can give you something so wondrous too such as your own baby to love.
Many parents experience the pulling of two sets of emotions - one that is full of love and gratitude for a baby and one that is traumatised by the very thing that you feel you are grateful for.
That can mean for example, that you might not feel able to vocalise how you feel because the very baby that has brought you love and joy, has also been the reason you feel the way you do and is an everyday reminder.
4 is there anything expectant mum's can do to lessen the chance of experiencing a traumatic birth?
There are so many ways that parents can prepare themselves. Some suggestions are:
- Enrolling in great antenatal education which supports you to understand how to navigate the maternity system as well as how to give birth is essential.
- I’d never give birth without a doula - they are a big investment but will completely change your birth experience.
- Work on your own internal people pleasing and ‘good girl’ fears - this is the one time you really do not have to be the good girl or please anyone. That is uncomfortable as you are primed for everyone to like you and accept your baby but it’s ok to say no, take time to think about things, ask for things to be explained and re-explained until you’re happy.
5. Any other advice you would give to expectant parents about birth or the early days of parenthood?
Where do I start - get help and get lots of it - you will NEVER regret asking for help or paying for help but you will regret being a martyr and not enjoying this time because you are too exhausted and overwhelmed by it all.
*Many parents will not only experience birth trauma (around 30%) but perinatal trauma such as breastfeeding issues, a colicky baby, lack of sleep, poor mental or physical health, issues in pregnancy and reproductive trauma
**PTSD and having trauma symptoms are not the same. You can be traumatised but not have PTSD.
Go check her out!
I hope you've found Tricia's contribution here helpful, I know I have! If you don't follow Tricia on Instagram, pop over to her page now. She's so honest, supportive and full of amazing research based knowledge.
You can find out more here (www.triciamurray.co.uk) and download her guide 7 easy ways to support your recovery from perinatal trauma here (https://tricia-murray.mykajabi.com/birth-perinatal-trauma-recovery-guide)
If you've suffered from birth trauma, I hope some of Tricia's resources help on the road to recovery...
Get in touch with Tricia
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