Bringing a child into this world is a miracle. It is often a beautiful and joy filled occasion where parents gaze upon their newborn for the first time, overwhelmed with love and happiness. Many women find themselves saying the day they bought their child into the world was one of the happiest days of their lives. They would do it again in a heartbeat.

Women are taught how to deal with the pain of labour, c-section after care and the importance of getting your baby to latch. We excitedly pack our hospital bags and ready our post birth announcements.

What is a traumatic birth?

However, there are not enough books, magazines or prenatal classes that can prepare you for the idea of a traumatic birth. A trauma is an unexpected, potentially life threatening event that causes significant emotional, mental or physical distress. It can also be felt by experiencing the potential loss of life of a loved one. It is well understood that proper debriefing after a traumatic incident can reduce the possibility of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  

As a counsellor I have come across a variety of traumas that result in different degrees of distress. We are always on the lookout for symptoms of PTSD in our clients. I recently sat in front of a client who admitted to me through tears and guilt, that she had weekly nightmares. She was terrified after losing blood and needing 40 stitches after the birth of her baby. All that was said afterwards is that she “should just be thankful her baby is alive”.

The reality of traumatic births

I have since come across similar stories. One mother bravely birthed her baby only to end up in ICU for 2 days due to excessive blood loss. Others were in labour for hours but were turned away, told it is only braxton hicks contractions. This resulted in disastrous consequences such as stillbirths. I have heard stories of babies being born on bathroom floors in private hospitals. Of a baby born blue and cold but left until the next morning in the mom’s hospital bed.

One doctor accidentally perforated a mother’s uterus whilst trying to remove a retained placenta. Many women are living with scars and damage due to tearing or rapid births. A common theme runs amongst these brave mother’s stories-that none of them received adequate post birth counselling and support. Their bodies and lives were put at risk either due to incompetent doctors or unexpected problems during delivery. All faced incredible trauma in what is supposed to be a miraculous and joy filled occasion.

The links between birth trauma and PND

As trauma is associated with PTSD, traumatic births are also highly associated with the possibility of developing Post-Natal Depression (PND). This also results in a failure to properly bond with baby. Some women feel guilty expressing their feelings. They are often told to be grateful for themselves and their babies life. There is nothing worse than telling a person who has experienced a trauma to be “grateful”.

The sad reality of birth trauma is that it is often swept under the carpet by medical professionals, friends and partners. Visitors rush to see the baby, to ooh and aah over the cuteness and the mothers are overlooked. Western society wants mothers to birth and be happy, keep the house clean and prepare meals soon after birth. They are given very little time to heal and recuperate after birth (3 days if you are fortunate enough to give birth in a private hospital). Post birth counselling is almost unheard of. Depression among new mother’s is as high as 30% and effects marriages and other siblings. New research has shown that PND may have an effect on the child developing ADHD, language delays and childhood depression.

What comes after

I have witnessed how the silent pain of a birth trauma follows women around for many years. Many of them are fearful of having another child and have turned towards c-sections under general anaesthetic. Some have had to pick up the pieces after a traumatic birth resulting in a stillborn baby and work through feelings of guilt and shock as well as recover physically.

However despite the intense physical and emotional distress a traumatic birth can cause, I have seen incredible resilience in every one of these women. Many will still tell you that despite it all, their babies are their beacon of hope and survival. To say these women should be admired is an understatement.

The reality of dealing with a birth trauma is that you are not alone and you should definitely talk to someone if you feel the need. There are many groups out there to help you overcome this difficulty and find the strength that you don’t know that you have.

Women are tough, even when they’re not.

For more information see:

www.pndsa.org.za