Healing Childbirth Trauma
The hard truth is, many individuals suffer in silence after childbirth, unaware that their childbirth experience can be viewed as traumatic. Birth trauma can come from adverse physical experiences, mental and emotional experiences, and interpersonal experiences. No one can label your experience other than you. A birth could have gone smoothly from others' points of view, but you feel deeply unsettled by your experience. A few signs of post-partum stress disorder (P PTSD) according to Postpartum International include:
Intrusive re-experiencing of a past traumatic event (which in this case may have been the childbirth itself)
Flashbacks or nightmares
Avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, including thoughts, feelings, people, places and details of the event
Persistent increased arousal (irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response)
Anxiety and panic attacks
Feeling a sense of unreality and detachment
If you feel you are suffering from any of these, the first step is accessing the support of medical and mental health professionals. The sooner you access help the sooner you can begin to feel better and the less likely you will be to develop postpartum depression. If it's been several months or years since your birth trauma, or you currently have postpartum depression you can still benefit from seeking help from a mental health professional. While this topic is extensive and multifaceted, I will outline the beginning steps to take in your journey to wellness.
Open Up and Step Out of Isolation
First, it is important to tell your family doctor what you are experiencing so that they can monitor your overall health. Secondly, it is important you open up to those closest to you, you cannot heal in isolation. This will be the biggest takeaway from this post, it may be hard to open up about trauma but you cannot go through this alone. Once those who are closest to you understand how you are feeling they can support you day to day. Understanding what you need may be obvious or it can be completely unclear, this is where finding support from trained professionals can be beneficial.
Supporting Yourself Through Hard Feeling and Expressing Grief
Post-Traumatic growth, a term coined by Martin Seligman, suggests that once we integrate, restore, and repair our nervous system after a traumatic event, we build resilience to tolerate stress. How then do we support ourselves? The ways you can support yourself through difficult times include the following:
Talking about the trauma to your partner, friends, family, support groups, and people who feel safe and understanding
Receiving care and support immediately after the event
Minimizing stress (If possible, have friends cook for you, take pets out for a walk, have your partner take care of finances)
Mindfulness practices and mindful movement (meditation, yoga, prayer, exercise, questioning your thoughts)
Time in nature
Time with animals
Taking to time safely confront difficult feelings alone and with professional support
Although things may feel very hard and life can be difficult to manage, with the supports listed above and the guidance from trained professionals you can start feeling safe enough to confront feelings of grief surrounding your trauma and be on the road to feeling better.
Most blame themselves or feel their bodies failed them, and carry this cyclical burden of blame and shame. Blame and shame are intricately linked, by healing and releasing oneself of the blame for the way the birth turned out, feelings of self-empowerment and heightened self-esteem can return.
Expressing grief allows you to confront the feelings of loss that you have encountered. There are many faces of grief that can present such as anger, shock, sadness, confusion, blame, and denial. These can all appear in any order. Allow yourself to express these emotions and share with others, rather than carry them internally and in isolation.
The body holds memory, for this reason, somatic approaches to healing can be very effective. Imagine what it would be like to return home to your body and feel safe and trusting within it. To have confidence, as well a sense of appreciation for your body when you complete daily activities. Learning to be home in your body can be done through breathwork, meditation, movement, yoga, dance, and by using your senses to feel your surroundings. A somatically trained counsellor, or one trained in EMDR can help you find ways of deepening your trust with your body and a sense of safety.
Seeking Professional Help
For physical birth trauma, it's clearer where to seek support; you can turn to a midwife, OBGYN, or pelvic floor physio for support around physical recovery. Psychological trauma is less clear. It is a deeply internalized experience that is often left unspoken about. It may go unaddressed for numerous reasons, there is a baby to be taken care of and your needs may come last, and often it is less clear than something physically going wrong in the body. Individuals who have adverse birthing experiences suffer in silence for too long. Help is available to you in the form of therapies and practices that aid in healing birth trauma.
Here are a few options for some different modalities of counselling that are available to you:
Somatic experiencing or body-focused psychotherapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy: questioning your thoughts
Relational psychology: looking at one’s core values
Creative therapy such as art, dance, writing, crafting or pet therapies
To speak with a counsellor about your birth trauma fill out the contact form on our website and our intake coordinator can assist with pairing you with the right counsellor.