“A dream birth for one person can be a nightmare for another.”
This week is Birth Trauma Awareness Week, a time for reflection and recognition as women share their own stories of traumatic birth events.
Many people experience PTSD after giving birth, making it difficult for them to bond with their baby, to continue with their relationship, or to feel “like themselves.”
Birth trauma and surgery coach Paula Ralph says that post-traumatic stress following birth can happen to anybody, irrespective of how many children they’ve had.
However, she says that if a woman is already in a high level of anxiety, it’s likely to make the experience go a lot less smoother.
“She’s already in that fight or flight mode, so everything is magnified,” she says.
“A dream birth for one person can be a nightmare for another. Just being told to push can be triggering for someone in ways they weren’t even aware of.”
Paula says that she has worked with countless mothers of all ages and backgrounds, who are still suffering from the events of their traumatic birth.
One woman that she met was triggered by being screamed at to push, due to a past trauma that had happened when she was just 18-months-old.
Another woman struggled to bond with her second child because the birth didn’t go according to plan.
Another said that she couldn’t hold a baby, or even walk past hospital doors, without getting overwhelmed and choked up. She was 74-years-old.
“She had her own kids too but she was just overcome with emotion,” says Paula. “Experiencing giving birth just stuck with her, that fear stuck with her.”
“Trauma can go really deep. Sometimes it can be a case of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m stuck, I’m scared.’
“But a lot of the time, it can be like a string of pearls: once you take the first pearl, the others just fall away.”
During her sessions, Paula aims to release mothers from the fear, pain, and anxiety that they have associated with giving birth.
Sometimes, it will take just 20 minutes of talking for a person to feel instantly relaxed. Other times, it will take considerably longer to teach the body how to calm itself using words, breathing exercises, and other confidence building strategies.
The traumatic birth isn’t forgotten, but rather it can become a “distant memory.”
“Remembering it is never going to be pleasant,” says Paula, “but you’re not choked up with all of this crushing emotion that makes you cry or shake or your heart beat faster.
“That emotion can be disassociated from the event.”
Paula says that although for many women, the trauma can be totally cleared, for others the experience runs so deep that there may always be a chance that it can resurface – especially if the underlying issue is not dealt with.
She points to the woman who was triggered by being told to push, saying that if they hadn’t went back to her past, the trauma of birth would not have been addressed fully.
“Just recovering from the birth wouldn’t have cleared that incident,” she says.
“She could have responded the same way in another situation. There is always a chance, but if the issue is the single life threatening event, the birth, then we can clear it.”
Witnessing a birth – traumatic or not – can also lead to its own issues, as partners of birthing women can also suffering from post-traumatic stress following the event.
Paula describes the experience as like “standing by and watching a car crash.”
“It’s this hyper-stressed state,” she says. “And some people just react to it more extremely than others.”
“If it’s someone they love and they’re powerless to help, just bystanders in this traumatic event, it can trigger something.
“A lot of the time, a partner might just not know how to respond.”
You can visit Paula’s website, and find out more about traumatic birth coaching, here.
Find out more about birth trauma here.