With a large emphasis on medical appointments, doctor visits, lab testing, blood work, ultrasounds, and various medical interventions around a woman’s pregnancy, the powerful emotional and spiritual experience of labor and birth may often times be unintentionally overlooked. This unintentional, yet big oversight, may leave mothers feeling helpless and unheard during pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum. Postpartum Support International suggests that approximately 9% of mothers are impacted by Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by real or perceived trauma during labor, birth, and postpartum. A larger percentage experience significant stress related to childbirth and several symptoms of post-traumatic stress without meeting full diagnostic criteria (2).
Outside of the more glaring traumatic experiences such as those that are life threatening for either/both mom and baby, trauma may be overlooked. Someone can view what another may perceive to be a normal birth experience drastically different. All to familiar comments such as, “You’re healthy and baby is healthy” certainly don’t provide reprieve and can make a mother feel further isolated in her emotional experience. I truly hope that individuals who serve and work with mothers wholeheartedly understand and appreciate that they play a crucial role in a woman’s journey towards embracing her title as “mother.” I speak to this not from my professional experience, but rather, my personal one.
I’d like to share a few things that you may find helpful for yourself as you navigate and attempt to make sense of your personal experience. It goes without saying that if this brings up emotional pain that is too difficult to manage, treatment such as individual therapy may be appropriate and warranted.
Learn about your experience
Talk to your healthcare provider, to a family member or friend who may have been present during labor (if able – traumatic births may impact those present in the room as well), or your doula if you had one. Sometimes the more you can understand or make sense of the various things that took place, the more you can piece together your experience(s) of what happened.
Process your experience
Journal about it, connect with a support group, and absolutely consider individual therapy, particularly with a trauma informed therapist or one who has received training in maternal mental health.
Forgive and don’t blame yourself
Remove the “what if” scenarios and grant yourself permission to recognize that you did the best you could under the circumstances.
Don’t compare your birth experience to someone else’s experience
This is a big one. You are uniquely you, and your situation was uniquely yours. Don’t minimize your pain by comparing it to some one else’s pain, and don’t compare your perceived failures to someone else’s success story.
Reclaim your birth story if it feels right
Write your birth story. The process of writing your story can become the catalyst for healing. It doesn’t have to be in chronological order, write it as you remember it. This also doesn’t have a timeline. Writing out your birth story in conjunction with processing your experience may help to provide some clarity to the who, what, when, why, and how.
(re)Discover your love for your body
Engage in prayer, meditation, and exercise as you are able, or maybe spend some time connecting with nature. Engage in activities that help you (re) connect with and regain strength in your body that has been through SO much.
Be mindful of anniversaries
This may include the day you went into labor, the day you brought your baby home, or even your child’s birthday. Take extra care of yourself during this time; it may bring back some incredibly difficult memories.
There is power in support, and I encourage you to speak up and share your story.
All the best, Dr. Pickering
*This blog post was originally written by Dr. Alice Pickering on dralicepsyd.com and has been cross posted.
Postpartum Support International (PSI) (2019). Retrieved from https://www.postpartum.net
White, T., Matthey, S., Boyd, K., & Barnett, B. (2006). Postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress after childbirth: Prevalence, course and co-occurrence. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 24(02), 107-120. doi: 10.1080/02646830600643874