Childbirth trauma

Giving birth, it only takes a few days/hours. Yet it is these hours that have a huge impact. Because from that moment, your life changes forever.

Suddenly you have the baby you have dreamed and hoped so much about in your arms. How wonderful.
But... practice is sometimes more unruly. Many women do not look back on their delivery well. And even though it was short, these few hours have a huge impact on your life afterwards. Especially if you don't look back on this experience properly.

It is well known that the reasons why women do not look back on their childbirth well can vary widely. Women with 2 almost identical deliveries can still look at that event very differently. For instance, I remember 2 ladies whom I spoke to within 1 week in their childbirth. They had both had vacuum deliveries. One of the ladies really struggled with this, was extremely upset and felt very sad about it. The other lady had had a top delivery. Too bad she needed a vacuum, but it was for the best, so she was at peace with that. She looked back on her delivery very well.

When I heard that, I was still a student. And at that time, I realised that trauma from childbirth depends on many factors.

I ran into it again last year. I had a follow-up check-up of a woman with whom I had done a beautiful home birth. She did not want to give birth at home, but there was no time left to go to the hospital.

What seemed like a dream birth for me was very traumatic for her. She really hadn't wanted it this way. Although she was happy with my guidance, she definitely did not want to give birth this way again. 

It is well known that women can suffer PTSD as a result of childbirth. This is a reaction to a traumatic experience or life-threatening event. Symptoms of this can include reliving the situation, avoidance of situations that remind of the event and irritability.

What we also know is that this trauma can be so intense that women do not want to go through it again and let it determine their family and desire for children.

There are a number of factors that can play into this. Factors that make women perceive their childbirth as traumatic:

  • Loss of control and dignity
  • Hostile/annoying attitude of people around you during childbirth
  • Not being heard or not being explained about medical intervention during your delivery
  • Acts performed without your consent (going against your wishes and boundaries)

Medical complications during labour can also cause labour to be perceived as traumatic.

You can never rule out a traumatic birth because we cannot see into the future. There are things that can come into play, though.

  1. Find people around you who support you. Your own midwife: it is important to choose a midwife you trust and who you feel knows your wishes and stands up for your rights. It can also be a doula, someone who supports you throughout labour. Your birth partner, a family member or friend.
  2. Prepare well. It's good to know how childbirth can go. And to see or read great delivery stories. But sometimes practice is more unruly and things are more complicated. It can help you to know a bit more about that too. Some people like to have a detailed birth plan, while others let things take their course. Everything is fine as long as you feel comfortable with it.
    Taking a childbirth course can help. This will give you insight into the course of childbirth. It is also good for your birthing partner to know what you will need during labour. Do you want people around you to be quiet or encourage you? Do you need music or affirmations? Would you like a back massage?
  3. Put your wishes on paper. I also mentioned this point above. For some people this is not necessary, they let it all come to them. But if you know you have specific wishes, it can be useful to put them down on paper. That way, during your contractions, you don't have to "fight" for how you would like your labour. It can also help to make a birth plan for specific situations. For example: home birth, introduction, caesarean section.
    Especially if you have a care request outside the guideline, it is also good to put it on paper and discuss it beforehand with your midwife or at the hospital.

You may be reading this and recognise it from your own childbirth. That can be quite sad.

Even then, I have some tips for you.

  1. Find a healthcare provider that suits you. You may not have felt supported during your labour. If so, find another midwife who suits you. And consider a doula*. Because trust in those who will be at your birth is crucial. You need to be able to surrender completely to their good care when you have contractions. Sometimes it is necessary to switch midwives' practices.
  2. Engage in conversation. This can be done in several ways. If you find that you cannot let go of your birth, you can have talks with a psychologist to process your birth. (EMDR is a therapy used for this, among other things).
    But it may also be good to request a preconception consultation. A conversation with an obstetrician or gynaecologist before you are pregnant. In this conversation, you discuss what has been traumatic for you and how you would like to avoid this next time.  
    If you are pregnant, it is good to have a conversation about this with your healthcare provider at the time you need it. Many hospitals and midwives usually schedule this conversation around 34-36 weeks. But you may well need it much earlier. Check with your healthcare provider what you need to make this birth a positive one.

So there are things that can help prevent childbirth trauma.

Should you struggle with this, do not hesitate to contact us. Especially if we played a role in your trauma.

* Should you want tips for fine doulas from our region, we have them. Let us know!

** This blog was co-written with the information from Stiching Bevallingstrauma

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