Even though the hospital birth of my firstborn over six years ago was a relatively easy, uncomplicated one, afterward I had frequent anxiety-inducing flashbacks.
As a doula, I often hear women discuss their birth experiences, and when women tell me that they have a hard time integrating their difficult and complicated experiences, I can absolutely understand. If it was hard for me to integrate the things I saw and heard during an “easy” birth, I can imagine that when you see and experience very unexpected and frightening things, it would be difficult to move on!
Having a newborn is hard. It’s selflessness like you’ve never experienced. Having to be that selfless requires a heck of a lot of emotional stability and peace, doesn’t it? I know that when I have one little thing throwing me off my typical game- lack of sleep, blood-sugar swings, nerve-grating-hormone-peaking crying, I can end up a sobbing mess. If you have had something traumatic occur around the time of birth, that normal “baby blues” crying could quickly turn into a deeper problem.
I think it’s common for people to not take this seriously. They think when we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that we are exaggerating. Do you know what I think? I think that there are few things that matter as much as childbirth induced PTSD. People, it seriously affects breastfeeding. It affects how many children a person will choose to add to their family.
This is a big deal.
Research confirms that this emotional outcome is a big stinking deal. Women with a negative experience of their first birth have fewer subsequent children.
We aren’t talking about a small percentage of women, either. It’s estimated that up to 34% of new mothers have experiencing a traumatic childbirth. Interesting how that number is close to the nationwide cesarean average.
Psychosocial stress and pain related to childbirth, not to mention unexpected c-section are among the reasons for perceiving trauma. In other words, it really isn’t just a scary emergency cesarean that can cause PSTD. When you feel like you are out of control, when you feel like you are being seriously disrespected and abused, you can legitamately experience PSTD. It’s just more likely that you feel those things when you have a major abdominal surgery you weren’t counting on having.
When unexpected things happen, and you’re treated like less than an amazing human delivering a child into the world, you are left in a pretty dismal place. We all only have so much emotional and pain-coping reserves. Many women approach labor with their tank low to begin with, and then are left to cope with possible breastfeeding pain and discomforts and PSTD. Hard stuff.
Back to my “easy” experience 6 years ago, when I approached labor, my “tank” was “full”. My mother and husband had spent weeks pampering and caring for me. Labor drained those reserves, but not to empty, and I was quickly filled back up again by an amazing community of caring friends and family (meals every night for two weeks…my tank was full in more ways than one!). I think that support, before and after are key. And of course choosing care providers and birth places from whom you are most likely to receive the most caring and respectful treatment possible.
If you are think you are experincing PSTD, take this assement, and consider
Getting involved in a “birth circle” and telling your story. It can be healing and there are women who would love to hear it. By telling your story, you may help a pregnant mom avoid what you endured. If there isn’t a birth circle in your area, find other moms who can listen without judgement.
Find a postpartum doula who can help you with household activities, help with breastfeeding, and help you talk through and integrate your experiences.
- If you feel comfortable, talk to your care provider and/or your partner about how you feel. Consider finding a qualified therapist with experience in this area.
What was your birth experience like? Do you have a safe place to process it?