What are the common causes of Birth Trauma Resolution & PTSD?

‘We all just really want to be seen, like really seen. Not glanced over and noticed, but for someone to take a moment and really witness the authentic light that flickers beneath the surface’ – Rebecca Campbell

The common causes of PTSD are:

· A situation leading to fear of maternal death.
· Fear of the baby dying.
· A long and difficult labour.
· A short intense labour.
· Loss of volition – an act of making a choice or decision.
· Feelings of having lost control of their birth.
· Feeling humiliated.
· Lack of privacy or dignity.
· Pain being dismissed.
· Lack of information and feelings of not knowing what is happening to you.
· Inadequate labour and delivery care.
· Staff incompetence.
· Staff indifference.
· Inappropriate staff comments.
· Neglect – being left on their own.
· Lack of continuity of care.
· Feeling invisible / unheard.
· When an emergency situation arises suddenly.
· High levels of medical intervention.
· Non-consensual intervention.
· Feeling trapped and unable to escape from the situation.
· Stillbirth
· Birth of a sick or damaged baby.
· Poor postnatal care.
· Previous trauma (miscarriage, multiple failed IVF treatments, previous sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, previous bad birth experience, previous bad experience in a hospital). A woman is also at risk if she has witnessed the listed traumas happening to family members / friends, or even on television.

Who gets birth trauma?

Does everyone who suffers the same or similar traumatic birth experience, go on to suffer from Birth Trauma / PTSD?
The answer is no.
If 100 people went through the same traumatic birth 80% of them would recover and process the trauma naturally.
Roughly 20% would need psychological intervention / treatment to recover from the traumatic event and the associated symptoms of trauma.

What influences our potential to be traumatised?

We know that certain birth experiences are so horrific that any normal person would be traumatised, e.g. a stillbirth.
Generally speaking, if you have no means of escaping the terrifying experience, it is especially likely to be imprinted in your mind as a traumatic event.
PTSD can be cumulative. Therefore, the more previously traumatic situations that someone has found themselves in, the more likely they will at some point succumb to PTSD.
For example, a woman who suffered years of sexual abuse as a child is more likely to be traumatised by a traumatic birth experience. Even a normal birth experience could trigger a traumatic birth if the abuse has not been worked through to some sort of resolution.

How imaginative we are also plays a part. It is very normal after a traumatic birth to talk it through with your family and friends to make sense of the situation. However, if a mother has a particularly creative mind and a very powerful imagination whereby she is able to visualise events clearly and easily, then she may relive and engage heavily in the details of the traumatic experience as she tells it to other people. She is, in effect, traumatising herself all over again.

This also means that being asked to relive a traumatic experience as part of a de-briefing session with the hospital, can inadvertently make highly imaginative women relive the event, adding an extra layer of trauma to an already powerful emotional memory.

Is it only horrific birth experiences that cause trauma?

It might be assumed that only the really horrific births cause birth trauma. This is not the case. Sometimes during an undramatic birth event women can leave the situation feeling traumatised because of many factors including a lack of volition, loss of control, loss of dignity, feelings of being invisible and not listened to and the absence of consent for medical intervention. All these situations can lead to trauma.

I remember treating a woman for birth trauma, whose birth was documented as a normal birth with no complications. However, following our meeting and discussion, I learned that because it was a straight forward birth, every time she asked for assistance, and for a midwife to come and see her, she was told they would come soon but were tied up with another woman who was having a difficult time. This kept happening. Whilst the mother was left by herself to get on with the labour, she imagined that she and the baby would die if she didn’t receive support. She spent several hours imagining that she would die in childbirth if a midwife did not come and see her before she gave birth to her baby. Because of the intense fear of her own and baby’s death, due to the lack of care and attention, she left the experience traumatised.

The experience of birth trauma is therefore unique to the individual woman and her experience or perception of her birth experience, and not merely the objective view of the delivery. I have developed BTR therapy with this in mind, and use different tools and techniques in a tailor-made way for each individual so that they can get the most from their treatment.

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