“there is now no doubt that some women develop post-traumatic stress reactions in response to childbirth-related trauma. This is a normal reaction to an extremely horrific event and consists of upsetting and intrusive memories, thoughts and dreams accompanied by attempts at emotional and behavioural avoidance from reminders” The Royal College of Midwives
What is Childbirth Trauma?
Trauma responses after childbirth is a form of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) that can occur after after labour, birth or the postnatal period. A conservative estimate is that this effects approximately 300,000 women in the UK every year.
Although you may have not been clinically diagnosed you may be experiencing some of the symptoms of PTS. It is estimated to affect about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience. It is not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others don’t, but contributory factors may be pre-existing mental health issues (such as depression), additional life stress and lack of emotional support.
Childbirth trauma PTS describes our normal physiological and emotional reactions to a traumatic, frightening or life threatening experience. A traumatic experience can also be an experience involving the threat of death or serious injury another person close to them (e.g. their baby) so it is now widely accepted that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be a consequence of a traumatic birth.
The complex variety of experiences during childbirth can lead to a lack of empathy and understanding about the deep psychological distress that some women endure.
If you experience an acute traumatic event such as a violent birth, it is very common to experience distressing or confusing feelings afterwards. Sometimes our systems cannot process the extent of the trauma and you may initially feel numb. Later on you may develop emotional and physical reactions and deep feelings of distress can emerge. Your system may be in ‘overload’ and find it difficult to distinguish between real and perceived threats.
“Estimates from community studies suggest that women experience PTSD at two to three times the rate that men do” Handbook of PTSD: Science and Practice
Additionally many parts of society expect that mothers will recover very quickly because childbirth is such a ‘natural’ process. Most mothers who have childbirth trauma will have had numerous interventions and medical procedures which have taken them far away from the natural birth that they longed for.