It's taken me a while to gather my thoughts regarding birth trauma. I'm still very much processing my own traumatic birth experience. But here are some things I will share, that I think are important to know about birth trauma:
FACT: It's not just the birth.
Birth trauma can occur at any time in the childbearing year. This can include prenatal appointments, events of the birth itself, and events in the immediate postpartum.
My traumatic experiences happened primarily in my final prenatal appointments, and my initial postpartum days in the hospital. They are still considered birth trauma.
FACT: It is common.
Birth trauma can include events where the parent or baby's life is (or is perceived as) at risk or lost.
It can include birth injuries or complications to the birthing person or baby, of any level of severity.
It can include a sudden, unexpected, or even unconsented change in plan.
It can include events where the birthing person felt a loss of autonomy or felt unheard, disrespected, invalidated, or discluded from the decision-making process.
If the birthing person and/or their support person(s) perceive an event as traumatic, it was. Period.
There were life threatening events that occurred during my birth that were never mentioned to me, even after the fact. I found out over a year later, when I obtained my medical records to make sense of my experience. For me, this led to another round of trauma.
FACT: It often goes unrecognized.
It can take months, even years, for a birthing person or their partner to recognize their experience as traumatic and begin to process it.
It wasn't until 17 months postpartum that I could say out loud that I experienced birth trauma. Before then, I experienced grief, anger, and self blame. I didn't feel as though I had a right to those feelings, since we were all alive. This led to some serious shame. I lashed out at friends, who couldn't see how I was hurting. I felt bitter towards anyone who came home from the hospital after their births feeling well cared for and supported.
After our traumatic experience, when I tried to talk about it, I was often met with invalidating comments such as 'a healthy baby is all that matters' / 'I would just try to be grateful' / 'It could have been worse' / 'A positive attitude is a powerful thing.' / 'Well, try to get over it. This time is precious.' Those comments re-traumatized me time and time again,ate away at me in my darker moments, and now that I'm in a healthier state, have permanently changed my view of those people.
Often, those who develop Postpartum PTSD following a traumatic birth are misdiagnosed with Postpartum Depression or Anxiety. I was misdiagnosed with Postpartum Anxiety at 7 months postpartum. It wasn't until I was 15 months postpartum that a medical professional recognized that what I was experiencing was PTSD. Getting the right help has been everything. For me, that meant moving away from a PMAD specialist, and working with someone who specializes in Trauma. This will look different for everyone.
I have made more progress in the last 4 months with the correct help than I did in the entire first 10 months I was receiving care. PMAD support is not enough for processing birth trauma.
I can only speak for my own experience. Everyone's is different.
FACT: The right support helps.
A birthing person (and/or their support people) may or may not want to talk about the events of their traumatic birth.
If you are visiting with a newly postpartum parent, ask them about their birth experience. Then follow their lead. Listen. Ask them how they feel about it. Validate their experience.
Avoid making assumptions, or invalidating phrases such as:
"at least _______"
"It could have been worse"
"Well, at least you are all healthy."
"I'd just drop it."
"The past is in the past. Enjoy this time."
....or any variation.
If someone says their birth was traumatic, believe them. Support them. Validate them. Listen, non-judgmentally to them. And keep your foot out of your mouth.