Validating your feelings about a traumatic birth and how to recover from that trauma

Author: Elly Prior | First published: 18-10-2010 | Modified: 19-10-2017

What distress you must be in if you (and/or) you partner have suffered a birth trauma.

This article is for you acknowledging your pain, regardless of the precise circumstances of the delivery of your baby and how long ago it happened. You may have even landed here because you're pregnant again and memories are flooding back. Or you're feeling too traumatised to ever contemplate becoming pregnant again.

Let's see what might have gone wrong...

What caused you to feel so traumatised?

Problems with the delivery

  • The how, where and when of the delivery of your baby
  • You have sustained an injury
  • You may have felt out of control of the way in which the baby was delivered, even if you understood the reasons for it
  • The way you felt the doctors/midwives/nurses conducted themselves

Problems with the baby

  • Your baby may, very sadly, have died before, during or soon after it's birth
  • Your baby was injured during the delivery
  • Your baby may have arrived too early and is in a special care baby unit, you're in constant fear it may not survive and if it does, what it's future may look like
  • Your baby is ill or is born with special needs - expected or unexpected
  • Your having to watch your baby live in unnatural surroundings and necessarily being subjected to painful or uncomfortable experiences
Elizabeth Edwards: No one will truly understand what you've been through. But know you will be able to adjust your sails with, or without support

The consequences of those experiences

Any of the above events that could've potentially led to your feeling devastated and traumatised - even if some of them are not strictly birth 'traumas'.

A traumatic delivery of a baby can lead to a sense of loss whether or not your baby died, with the latter, of course, leading to a whole extra layer of suffering.

Here are the types of losses you're likely to be suffering...

5 Major losses after suffering a traumatic birth

  1. Losses surrounding your baby - the death or loss of the expectation of a healthy baby
  2. The loss of your sense of security and safety -  a safe environment, trust in the medical profession
  3. The loss of confidence in your body/yourself - you felt out of control, your body didn't 'perform' the way it was supposed or expected to
  4. The loss of confidence in other people - you feel let down by your partner, professionals and/or family
  5. The loss of important relationships - some people just 'disappear' as they don't know what to say or what to do, or it's too 'close to home' for them. Or your disappointment, anger and frustration with how they acted has driven a wedge between you.

These losses, however, also point to what needs to happen for you to recover.

What may be adding to your distress?

There are often other problems that could potentially contribute to you and possibly your partner's distress and sense of devastation.

Here are some of them...

Problems in your relationship or marriage

Marital or relationship problems are going to make it harder for you (both) to get over a birth trauma. Those problems may include:

  • the way your partner and/or father of the baby acted before, during or after your pregnancy and delivery
  • the state of your relationship at the time of your falling pregnant

Other potentially contributing factors

  • the manner in which you fell pregnant
  • distressing (family) events prior to your giving birth
  • other distressing life events surrounding your pregnancy and delivery
  • a pre-existing phobia, whether for hospitals, blood, childbirth or any other

Indeed some women fear that they're suffering from posttraumatic stress or even full-blown PTSD after the birth of their baby. To learn more about PTSD, start with my article on it's signs and symptoms.

You delivered a healthy baby, but had a traumatic birth?

When anaesthesia was developed, it was for many decades routinely withheld from women giving birth, since women were "supposed" to suffer.

One of the few societies to take a contrary view was the Huichol tribe in Mexico. The Huichol believed that the pain of childbirth should be shared, so the mother would hold on to a string tied to her husband's testicles. With each painful contraction, she would give the string a yank so that the man could share the burden.

Surely if such a mechanism were more widespread, injuries in childbirth would garner more attention.” 

― Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

There is a general expectation that you as a mother - and of course the other parent or partner - should be happy with healthy baby. Particularly if your circumstances are judged by others to be 'ideal. Well, however well-intentioned, that isn't going to help if you want to get over a birth trauma.

Your unhappy and even traumatic experience does not fit the expected ‘script’ if you're traumatised.  Loved ones may have trouble understanding why you're not your normal self. It's therefore no wonder if you've ended up putting on a mask and feel torn between revealing and hiding your distress, depending on who you are with at any one time. 

However, if your distress is such that you barely feel in control of your feelings, it's likely 'leak out', despite your utmost to try and to hide it.

Have a look at my other pages on trauma, starting with The Signs and Symptoms of Trauma. Your partner or other loved ones are much more likely to understand if they are educated about trauma.

Problem with the baby?

If there is any kind of problem with the baby, people are likely to attribute your and your partner's distress to your worries and sadness about that. The trauma of the actual delivery of the baby (birth trauma) may remain hidden.

How to overcome a 'disastrous' delivery

Can you get over a birth trauma? Absolutely you can! And it really doesn't have to mean years of psychotherapy. There are wonderful gentle and often fast ways of treating traumas, including birth traumas.

It is very likely that make a complete recovery. The memory of it will never be pleasant, but you won't be haunted by it anymore. You'll even be able to comfortably contemplate another pregnancy again, rather than thinking you'll never have another child!

You'll be able to focus on living your life without being distracted by the terror of that birth trauma. Gone those angry, painful, frightening thoughts, feelings, nightmares and flashbacks.

Discover what steps you can take in my article: Coping with PTSD.

Are you suffering from post-natal depression?

When you suffer from the after-effects of a traumatic birth signs and symptoms of PTSD can occur alongside postnatal depression. If you are traumatised it may be difficult to distinguish between the two, but really - the sooner you can be helped to recover from the trauma the more likely you can bond with your baby.

There are some really helpful self-hypnosis downloads I recommend for that. Have a look at my page on Hypnosis Downloads FAQ and Downloads for further information.

What help have you had, if any?

I wonder what help, support and treatment you've had in healing from your birth trauma:

  • no meaningful help at all?
  • support and help from midwives or other medical professionals?
  • psychological treatment from a suitably qualified trauma specialist?
  • support and help from your partner or spouse?
  • support and help from friends or family?
  • OR... nobody knows you're suffering!

Perhaps you have felt unable to admit to others (or even to yourself) that you can't get over that traumatic birth. Despite your trying to leave it behind you're still devastated by it.

So, let's get you on the path of recovery...

How to overcome a traumatic delivery

6 Self-help strategies to recover from a traumatic birth

  1. Admit to how you’re feeling, however scary that may feel. It’ll be the start of your moving forward. Yes, there are likely to be people who won’t understand, who may tell you to pull yourself together. However, if you can accept that their judgments are not your business, you free yourself up to focus on what does matter. Remember, nobody can read your mind - dropping hints isn’t going to cut it.
  2. Ask for support from loved ones - choose wisely who you'll talk to. Read my article on how to get the best relationship advice. Ask for practical, emotional and advisory support. Think carefully about who may be able and possible be ready to do what 
  3. Consider asking to speak to the professionals involved in your birth experience. Remember that may have made mistakes, but they’ll never have wanted someone under their care to suffer. Aim for an open, honest conversation, without blame. That doesn’t mean you can’t express any criticism. For starters you can connect with a professional, online, licensed therapist. See my page on mental health counselling for further information.
  4. Accept you may need professional help. There’s absolutely no shame in that. Allow someone to do their job and help you. We, as therapist, take use pleasure in helping and do it to the best our knowledge, with a deep understanding - as professional and as a fellow human being - of what’s at stake.
  5. Keep the channels of communication with your partner open. Remember, that - very likely - you'll each have your own ways of coping with what’s happened. Be open-minded about- and allow space for- your partner’s coping strategies, even if they’re very different from yours. Ask for the same in return.
  6. Be active in dealing with that depression. Read my article on how to deal with depression and get going with your chosen strategies.

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