What I Learnt at the Birth Trauma Conference
by Anita Hill, mum of two children and Founder of Comfyse
Please note that the information written here is not intended to be specific medical advice and is not written by a healthcare professional
On the 22nd January 2020, I attended the 5th Annual Birth Trauma Conference, organised by Dr Rebecca Moore. I’m not a healthcare professional, I’m a mum, so why was I attending this conference? Because I wanted to learn and understand.
I wanted to learn from other women’s stories about birth trauma, to find out how they moved forward afterwards, with particular interest in learning about what support they were able to access during their postpartum and the tools they learnt so that they could process what happened to them. This is because I experienced birth trauma myself during my first baby’s birth and I hadn’t spoken about it nor reached out for help. I will be honest, listening to the professionals speak at conference was emotional for me at times, as I realised how much I resonated with other mums’ experiences and challenges of birth trauma.
I didn’t only go to the conference to learn more about birth trauma for my own benefit, but more so that I can raise awareness of it in the future and help other women reach out and get the healthcare support they need to move forward with their lives.
What is Birth Trauma?
Having listened to the speakers I learnt that, in brief, it is the loss of control over physical and mental processes. These lead to a change in behaviour and emotional responses during the postpartum period and beyond, all adding to the traumatic experience of the mum, and in some cases the partner too. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often experienced by the mum. Healthcare professionals who support parents during the birth can also suffer from PTSD, and so can need help afterwards too.
Some women experience events during childbirth or immediately after birth that would traumatise any normal person, for example an emergency c-section, haemorrhaging with significant loss of blood, the loss of a baby and significant perineal tearing.
For some women, it is not always the sensational or dramatic events that trigger childbirth trauma but other factors such as loss of control, loss of dignity, the hostile attitudes of or the language used by the people around them, feelings of not being heard or the absence of informed consent to medical procedures. This is how I was affected by birth trauma and it’s lived with me for nine years, buried in my subconscious until last year, when I started to talk at events about my business and why I’d created the new maternity cushion for women. I found that I was taken back, mentally, to giving birth. Before I knew it, out poured the emotion and upset of my birthing experience, which I had not appreciated that I’d buried and not dealt with.
Who Can Help A Mum or Dad Who Experiences Birth Trauma?
Listening to the healthcare professionals at the conference, it was amazing to hear the expert help that is available in this country. However, there isn’t enough of it and parents aren’t always signposted to it, so those needing the specialist help and support don’t receive it.
If you have been traumatised by the birthing experience, you may feel angry, frustrated, sad, low, unable to engage with others. If you feel like this it is important that you do seek help. If you’ve just given birth and are in hospital or still having checks with your midwife after the birth, share with the midwife how you feel.
If you’re health visitor is your point of contact after the birth, do be honest and tell them how you feel about your experience. They are there to help you and won’t be thinking that “you can’t cope” or that “she’s not a good mother”. They truly want to do what they can to make your life with your baby a happy and positive experience.
Alternatively book an appointment with your GP and share with them what happened and how you’re feeling now. They can connect you with the right support so that you can access the therapy and support you need.
If you don’t feel like you can speak to these healthcare professionals, then there are other organisations that are offering specialist help to mums and dads.
Make Birth Better
The Birth Trauma Association
Parenthood In Mind
Therapy Yoga (including for Birth Trauma)
Emma Mathews Therapy – Provides psychosexual therapy, relationship therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Covering north Wales, Wirral and Chester. Emma provides psychotherapy for individuals and couples. Her special interests include post-traumatic stress disorder and birth trauma.
What became clear at the end of the conference was that many women experience birth trauma and it’s not good enough. It has detrimental impacts on women, their babies and partners. To prevent it from happening, healthcare professionals need more training about it to understand what it is, the triggers for it and so how they can prevent it from happening and how they can help parents if they experience it.
Thankfully, with people like Dr Rebecca Moore and the Make Birth Better (@birthbetter) organisation things will change for the better, one day at a time.