For most women, giving birth is an amazing and positive moment in their lives, but for some women it can be a frightening and anxious experience.
It is estimated around one third of women describe their birth experience as traumatic, and between 1.5-9% of women end up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after giving birth.
The thought of another pregnancy and birth after a traumatic experience can be very daunting. For some women, it can put them off even trying for another baby.
Careful planning can help you to navigate your next birth with less stress and anxiety.
Giving Birth After Birth Trauma
Here are 11 things to consider if you've previously experienced birth trauma.
#1: Debrief Your Experience
Often women who suffer a traumatic birth try to avoid having to relive the details of their experience. It can be hard to go over your experience and it’s important to have someone you trust who will listen to you. There might be counsellors and organisations specialising in birth trauma, who are in your local area, or who offer Skype sessions. A midwife or doula can also help you to debrief.
By speaking about your experience, you might be able to come to a clearer understanding of what happened and why. You can speak about your experience without feeling judged or misunderstood. Having your feelings acknowledged can bring relief and clarity, and increase your chances of being able to move forward.
Debriefing your birth experience can help you to release any negative feelings, and see your next birth experience as unique – not necessarily a repeat of your traumatic birth.
#2: Get Your Birth Notes
It can be challenging to confront the realities of your traumatic experience, but it will help if you have the facts, by accessing your birth notes. Often our minds try to minimise the impact of anxiety and stress by blurring the details; being able to fill in the blanks might give you a sense of closure.
Going over the details of any interventions or procedures used during your labour, with a midwife or trusted doctor, can provide you with an understanding of what occurred and why. It also helps you to prepare for your next birth, and to establish how you want your birth preferences to be respected.
#3: Make A Complaint
If you believe your birth trauma was caused by poor maternity care by the staff looking after you, you can make a formal complaint to the hospital. This can give you a sense of being heard, and possibly bring some closure.
You can also take your complaint to the professional body your care provider is registered with. Often women who suffer birth trauma want to ensure other women don’t have to go through the same experience. By making a complaint you can bring inadequate practices to light.
#4: Talk To Your Partner
Partners can experience birth trauma as well; and they might also be carrying a lot of guilt about letting you down or not protecting you. Your partner might try to ‘move on’, hoping it will help you to feel better, and might encourage you to focus on your baby and how happy you ‘should’ be.
This can feel hurtful and dismissive but it could be covering up the fact your partner is suffering too. Counselling or debriefing sessions together can help you both to understand and support each other.
#5: Choose Wisely
Choosing your next birth setting and care provider carefully can help you to feel empowered and in control. Many women who experience trauma describe a sense of overwhelming powerlessness; this can be addressed by having the right support.
Your care provider should view you as the decision maker, and make sure you have all the information you need to make informed choices about your baby’s birth.
Often women who have had a traumatic hospital birth feel home birth would be a better option next time. It’s important to remember to have a plan for transfer to hospital in case it is needed, so you don’t feel as though events are spiralling out of your control.
#6: Hire A Doula
Doulas are women who are experienced in birth support, and understand how important it is for you to have a positive birth experience. A doula will provide you with one to one support, help you debrief, create your birth plan with you, and be there for you on the day of your labour.
Partners can benefit from the support of a doula as well, especially if they are unsure how to help, or have also suffered trauma from the previous birth experience.
#7. Understand Birth
How trauma is triggered during birth depends very much on the individual person and the situation she is in. How women feel about their birth outcomes can depend on how empowered they feel to make the best possible choices during labour.
Learn about birth and how it unfolds as a natural process. This will give you the confidence to create your birth space and choose your birth team wisely. It will help you work on the link between your mind and body, which has a powerful impact on how you labour.
#8: Make A Birth Plan
Often women are told birth plans are a nice idea but in reality have little value because you can’t plan birth. Yes, things can change, and you might not get the birth you hoped for, but a birth plan isn’t a rigid idea which you refuse to deviate from.
Many women are nervous about their perceived lack of control during birth. A birth plan can provide a well thought out map of how you would like to birth your baby, so you can make informed decisions each step of the way. You don’t need to head into labour feeling scared and out of control; your birth plan will help you to redefine your role as a birthing woman and the key decision maker regarding your care.
#9: Connect With Your Care Provider
Create a supportive birth team by talking to your doctor or midwife about your previous traumatic birth experience. Let them know how you felt about the birth and why having a positive birth this time is important to you.
If you feel your care provider doesn’t take your concerns seriously, or tells you a healthy baby is all that matters, take that as a cue this is not the right person to support you through your next birth. Trust in your care provider is important, but remember you don’t have to hand over all the responsibility.
#10: Crisis Point
During labour, it is common for women to hit a crisis of confidence, believing they can’t go on and have their baby. This can happen because of buried fears or past experiences, or right before a woman digs deep and finds her power to keep going.
Towards the end of their pregnancy, women who have experienced birth trauma are very likely to start feeling anxious about giving birth. This can be carried into labour, and it’s important to know you might feel anxiety and doubt, but it doesn’t mean you will have the same experience over again.
Let your partner, your care provider, and your support people know how you are feeling. Hearing positive words and knowing you have strong support can make a difference.
#11: Beyond Birth
The days and weeks following birth are as important as those leading up to it. If you have a positive birth experience it might be quite healing, but that isn’t always the case. Even if you do feel differently after your next birth, coping with a newborn and other children can be a challenge and it’s a good idea to plan a post natal month.
Consider how you will cope if your birth outcome changes, and organise to have support in place, if needed. Have a plan for what to do if you aren’t coping, or are experiencing trauma symptoms. Make sure your partner, family and friends are aware of signs to look for so they can support you to seek the help and resources you might need.
Birth trauma is unfortunately becoming more common, and how each woman copes with her experience is a very personal journey. Having another baby after a traumatic birth can seem incredibly frightening. With careful planning and good support, you can give yourself the best possible chance of managing your trauma next time.