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For the Woman Questioning the Validity of Her Childbirth Trauma

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Birth and postpartum trauma are something very close to my heart. The amount of mommas I speak to who experience trauma is enormous. At the Homebirth Conference I attended this year, a beautiful psychologist, Katherine Reynolds, spoke about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and birth. Her talk focused on her doctorate study, which was on the “Vulnerability to Stress Reactions After Childbirth” and it was amazing.

• What is PTSD?

To anyone working with postpartum women, it was anything but surprising. Katherine discussed how high the rates of trauma are in women post-birth. I was sitting with my friend and mentor, Julia Jones of Newborn Mothers. As we were nodding along, we knew, we know, it all too well from what we see. We see it every day. We support and love the women left scarred by their births. These women are left behind and told to get on with it.

I find the approach to trauma from childbirth to be interesting. Most people seem to think that in order to experience trauma, you must be in a life or death situation. This is not always the case. I have spoken to many women who have been left traumatized, devastated and distanced from their babies and loved ones because their inner voice is drenched in trauma.

I have spoken to women who have had life or death caesarean births and serious medical emergencies, and they are fine. It wasn’t the birth they wanted, but they don’t feel traumatized. I have also spoken to women who have had natural vaginal births and are left hollowed by their experience.

I often speak to women who are traumatized. They actually ask me, “But, was it that bad?” “Am I being silly?” Then, there is the good, old faithful thought that has been drilled into us all, “My baby is fine.” No woman should ever have to ask if her trauma is real.

How do you know if you experienced trauma?

Because you feel you experienced trauma. It is as simple and as complicated as that. No one can take your experiences away from you, whether they are positive or negative. If you feel you experienced trauma, if your birth left you feeling even a little bit broken, then it is valid. There is no such thing as fake trauma.

How do we help those around us suffering from trauma?

Most women need to talk about their experiences. They need to debrief, often a lot and for a long time. Trauma from childbirth is life changing and can be lifelong. If someone you know is opening up to you about their experience, then try to create some space for them to feel safe divulging their secrets. Be open to their trauma. Don’t try to fix it or undermine it by finding something positive in their experience. This is not what they need.

They need you to open your heart. You just need to listen most of the time. Offer hugs, housework and meals but know you can’t fix their trauma. If you are worried about your loved one or feel you cannot support them, then find some external help. Get them professional debriefing from a doula, midwife or psychologist. Offer to help organize someone else to talk with them if you feel out of your depth. Try not to hide from them. Trauma can be triggering and confrontational. It’s OK if you’re not sure how to cope with it.

How do I get help for myself?

Whatever you do, if you are suffering from trauma, know you are not alone. Know there are those who get it. We are here. There are probably more of us than you realize.

I beg of you, don’t give up. Look for help, you will find it eventually, even if you feel misunderstood initially. Find your village. Those women you can truly be yourself around. They are out there!

Call a friend. Organize a regular Skype with those further away. Schedule it for once a month and stick to it! Even if you’re crying, your hair is a greasy mess and you don’t want to talk to anyone. You’ll feel better for it. And the person you’re talking to? The one who gladly schedules in talks with you? They’ll feel good too. You know why? Because they will know they are helping. Who doesn’t love how it feels to know you helped someone?

How do we know when someone has experience trauma?

If you feel you are traumatized, you are. Much like any mental or emotional health concern, trauma is not something people identify with for attention. It is something they are struggling with and living with every day, which often includes flashbacks, sleeplessness and constant triggers of the traumatic event.

For many traumatized mothers, even their baby is a trigger. If someone tells you they have experienced trauma, they have. Pure and simple.

Originally published: August 10, 2016
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