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Overcoming Birth Trauma

Updated: 6 days ago

A good place to start is with empowerment. Whether you’re worried that you might have a traumatic birth or you’re trying to recover from a traumatic birthing experience, there are impactful and effective things you can do. Check out some ideas:


Preventing birth trauma

1) Develop realistic expectations

Birth can look so, so many different ways. Unexpected things happen all the time in the birth process. It’s helpful to get a sense of the breadth of possibility. It’s not possible to perfectly predict how your birth will go, but it is possible to collect stories so that you can chip away at the unknown and get comfortable expecting the unexpected.


I highly recommend listening to The Birth Hour, a podcast in which people share their birth stories. Listen to the episodes about empowering, positive experiences, but listen to other ones too. Explore episodes with details you’ve never heard of before.


Not only does this give you a sense of the huge breadth of possibility in the birthing process, it also builds compassion. If we as a society can see people who experience birth trauma as people whose effort and value are no different than those who loved their birth experience, that will be a step in the right direction.


2) Develop a care team

It can really help to develop a consistent relationship with a medical provider throughout your prenatal care. Building a trusting relationship increases feelings of empowerment and improves communication in the stressful circumstance of the birth room2. 


Be thoughtful about who you want to invite into the room while you’re birthing. If you have loved ones whose opinions tend to overwhelm your own, or who sometimes communicate in ways that leave you feeling disempowered, think twice before you invite them to be involved in your birth. Ask them for ways they can help outside of the birthing room, like bringing you food or doing laundry during your postpartum time.


3) Make a birth plan which emphasizes the importance of informed consent

Be specific about what you expect from your medical providers, what kind of communication works for you. You can write into your birth plan that you require five minutes of alone time to consider any choices about non-emergency interventions. You can specifically ask them to explain costs and benefits, to address you and not your partner, and to be very clear about whether proposed interventions are intended for safety, for comfort, or for another reason. Whatever makes you feel ownership over your decisions. Then be prepared to enforce this.


4) Think beforehand about what it takes for you to feel empowered

Do you struggle to say no to authority? Do you find that it’s hard to hear your own voice when others have a strong opinion? Lots of people (particularly those socialized as women) do. Birth is a great opportunity to think about what you need in order to hear yourself and make thoughtful choices. Maybe you need a moment alone with your partner to talk over a choice. Maybe you need someone in the room to say no for you when it needs to be said. If you have a partner, share this information with them, and enlist them to help you enforce whatever guidelines you come up with.


Keep in mind that if you’re having negative experiences with your medical provider, it is always your right to ask for a different nurse or doctor. Birth is a perfect time to practice prioritizing your needs, rather than worrying about others’ feelings.


Overcoming birth trauma

First of all, trauma can’t often be treated alone. This is a time to get help. Reaching out to a therapist may be a great idea. But aside from therapy, an important key to recovery is to be able to share this experience with others. In particular, a helpful goal is to create a compassionate narrative; to be able to describe your experience, even if it’s very different than what you expected1,2. Talk to your loved ones about what you went through. Identify key moments in your birth, and what you were feeling at the time. Write out your story from beginning to end. Being able to make sense of your experiences through a narrative structure can help your brain begin to heal.


Additionally, you’ll need to address any difficulty bonding with your baby which you may have experienced as a result of birth trauma. Trauma is not a circumstance in which our hearts can be open. Fortunately, there’s great science behind bonding with a baby and there is nothing wrong with this process taking time. Your relationship with your little kiddo will grow and change over the course of your lives together. There is absolutely no need for you to form a perfect love immediately. Take your time. Take the weight of judgment off your shoulders, if you can. You’ll build something together in time.


A great exercise for this is just to spend some time eye gazing with your baby. Making eye contact with your baby and taking them in (noticing how they feel in your arms, how they smell, the warmth of their little body) will release oxytocin, which promotes parental bonding.

And as mentioned above, consider getting professional help. Birth trauma is highly treatable, and so are postpartum depression and anxiety! Reach out to a therapist with specialty in trauma or postpartum issues, or check out the resources available at Postpartum Support International, at www.postpartum.net. If you’d like to talk with me about it, you can reach me at DrKress@EnrichCenter.org. I’m here for you.


Sources:

Rhianna Ketley, Zoe Darwin, Ciara Masterson, Linda McGowan. (2022) Women’s experience of post-traumatic growth following a traumatic birth: an interpretive phenomenological analysis. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology 0:0, pages 1-12.

Watson, K., White, C., Hall, H., & Hewitt, A. (2021). Women’s experiences of birth trauma: A scoping review. Women and Birth, 34(5), 417-424.


A post-script about inclusive language:

If you’re wondering why in this article, I talked about “birthing people” instead of mothers, good question! A person with a uterus may or may not identify as a woman and/or a mother. For some more information about how gender impacts birth experiences, check out the previous article in this series, Birth Trauma Series: What Causes Birth Trauma

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