Giving birth is a momentous event
We may recall the process with wonder, amazement and positive feelings, but it also may bring complex emotions as we reflect on it.
We might even notice that our daily activities, future plans and our relationships with our partner, baby and our own sense of self are altered by our birthing experience in ways we were not anticipating. It is truly a life changing event.
It is understandable that there may be mixed feelings. For example, we may feel happy to have our baby and at same time hate the birth experience.
This is hard to talk about, especially as so many describe their birth as beautiful and perfect, when for many that is far from the truth.
The impact of our birth experience may come to us immediately or it might take some time to surface. In fact, some parents only recognise and explore these thoughts and feelings as they move into subsequent pregnancies.
Many parents come to Gidget Foundation Australia for support with processing the birth, and for 1 in 3 parents the birth of their child will be perceived as traumatic. Birth Trauma may impact the birthing or non-birthing parent. It is often described as a silent pain.
It is such an individual experience and what may be traumatic for one will not be for another. Left on its own, it can have long lasting effects on the mum, baby and the wider family.
As a result of a traumatic birth, a parent may experience:
- Physical injuries such as – tearing, prolapse, infection, complications as a result of episiotomy, fistula, bladder damage etc, and / or
- Psychological injuries such as, shock and other trauma responses, coping with being dismissed, ignored or misdiagnosed, depression/anxiety symptoms. Recent studies reveal that where physical injury has occurred, 85.5% of sufferer’s mental health will be impacted*
Adding to the distress, these experiences may be minimised or dismissed by medical professionals (medical ‘gaslighting’) or not understood by partners or loved ones. This can cause feelings of shame and isolation, adding to the person’s suffering. How imperative it is then, that we ensure each parent’s individual experience is given central focus before, during and after the birth.
Overtime, a traumatic event may leave us feeling like something has been broken deep within us, or that we have failed somehow. When in fact, the situation was out of our control, often occurring without opportunity to prepare physically, mentally or emotionally.
Some symptoms of Birth Trauma in birthing and non-birth parents:
- Feelings of anger, shame, failure, guilt, pain
- Withdrawing, isolation and low self-esteem
- Increased risk of perinatal depression and anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping
- Parent-infant relationship difficulties
- Intense preoccupation with baby’s health
- Fear that a similar or other frightening incident may occur again, leading to hyper-vigilance
- Difficulties partaking in day-to-day life or returning to work – for physical and emotional reasons
- Sexual and relationship difficulties (84% reporting that birth injuries have impacted sex lives due to pain, fear of incontinence, self-loathing and loss of sensation*)
- Changes to world view
- Changes to planned future and feelings about further births
- Changes to relationships with self, loved ones, colleagues, friends and spiritual beliefs
How can we help?
Often clients describe not feeling heard, receiving inadequate communication or medical care, or feeling ‘forgotten’ during their birthing process. Giving space to your experience is fundamental to our work at Gidget Foundation Australia.
If you or your partner are suffering the impact of Birth Trauma, we offer a safe place to navigate these complex and often difficult thoughts and feelings.
There are an array of health professionals who specialise in the varied aspects of Birth Trauma treatment.
We have provided the guide below to help you find holistic care for your recovery. We also highly recommend www.birthtrauma.org.au as a helpful resource.
Birth Trauma Care Guide
https://www.birthtrauma.org.au/wp-content/ uploads/2020/05/ABTA-Birth-Trauma-Care-Guide- May-2020.pdf
*Birth Trauma: the hidden epidemic.
A summary of insights from an international survey conducted by the Australasian Birth Trauma Association (ABTA), Birth Trauma Association (BTA) & Make Birth Better (MBB). Report, 19 July, 2022.