Becoming a mother is a profound transition almost every woman has thought about at some point in her life. And while most birth experiences are positive, unfortunately, this is not always the case. Unexpected events can occur during labor which leave many mothers feeling powerless, vulnerable, scared, resentful, guilty, sad, disappointed, and heartbroken. Out of their birth experiences, women long for more than just a healthy baby. They also hope that the process of giving birth can offer huge, life-long rewards. When this opportunity is lost, great emotional and physical consequences linger.
Giving birth is an incredibly empowering experience, yet many women today never know that empowerment. Far too often, women sustain some complication or interference with labor that causes them to suffer Postnatal PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.) Birth trauma can leave a woman feeling an incredible sense of guilt, sadness, and disappointment. She may begin re-experiencing the event with flashbacks accompanied by anxiety and fear beyond her control. It is important to remember that this is a normal response to a traumatic experience.
Some of the risk factors for Postnatal PTSD include lengthy or very painful labor, induction, poor pain relief, feeling loss of control, high levels of medical intervention, traumatic or emergency deliveries (i.e., emergency Caesarean section), impersonal treatment or problems with staff attitudes, lack of information or explanation, not being listened to, not feeling valued, feeling rushed to get the baby out, lack of privacy and dignity, fear for the baby’s safety, birth of a baby with a disability resulting from birth trauma, baby’s stay in NICU, stillbirth, poor postnatal care, previous trauma (previous birth trauma, domestic violence, childhood abuse.)
Women who are affected by Postnatal PTSD are usually unaware that it is the actual birth experience that is causing them to suffer. They may pass it off as the baby blues, when, in fact, it is a form of PTSD. This false assumption can make it difficult for new mothers to find support. Therefore, they suffer alone, only making the situation worse. These women will live with feelings of being less than or weaker than other women--a terrible burden for women to carry alone. If left unaddressed, these feelings can have a profound affect upon the lives of the women who experience them.
The most dangerous aspect for a woman suffering from a traumatic birth experience is detachment from her baby and others. She may see her baby as a reminder of her guilt and sadness. Therefore, she unconsciously begins to detach. Of course, detachment can interfere with the bonding-and-attachment period essential for healthy infant development. Isolating is also very common during Postnatal PTSD. Isolating can cause relationships with family and friends to deteriorate during a time when they are most needed. In addition, many women may feel torn between their desire to have more children and their fear of going through additional trauma. This dilemma may cause them to lose interest in sex altogether, affecting their relationship with their partner or spouse.
Have you had a traumatic birth experience that is still affecting you? Are the memories affecting your life and your happiness? Do you find yourself constantly ruminating on the trauma? These thoughts and feelings are, in fact, the nature of PTSD. You may continue to re-create the traumatic experience in an effort to heal the wounded areas. However, it is impossible to fully heal on your own. You must bounce your thoughts off of something other than your own mind, and you need to be reflected. It is important to see a trained therapist in order to begin to truly process your experience. Contact me today to schedule an appointment in my Longmont or Boulder, CO, office.