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|Dealing with traumatic birth.
There are many things that women can do to begin healing from traumatic birth. Some of the avenues which have worked for us are:-
Seek out a support group. Consumer-driven support groups are usually free and run by women who have experienced trauma as well. You should feel safe and well supported in the group you choose. Or, start your own group! You will certainly attract other women as birth trauma is a vastly underestimated experience in Australia. Accessing Artemis at Joyous Birth is both online and real life support. Check below for details.
Requesting a medical debriefing from your caregiver. If you were traumatised by birth in a hospital or birth centre they will probably have a midwife and doctor with whom you can discuss your experience. They should be able to explain to you, and your partner, exactly what happened and why. This can be particularly beneficial when something life threatening and unexpected has occurred and you feel shellshocked by it. It can also help your partner to understand why you are feeling as you are and how to support you. If you cannot go to the hospital because it is too distressing they can conduct this off site for you. If you do not wish to have anything to do with the hospital or BC, or your trauma occurred at home, a private midwife might be a good source of information for you. A general counsellor can sometimes help with the fallout but may not be able to give you medical information or explain your record to you.
Contacting the health service where the trauma occurred and requesting your medical record. Quite often during labour women will be unable to see all that happens around them. If you were in pain or had drugs such as gas or pethidine, you may not have a very clear idea of some of what occurred. Having a support person who was with you who can tell you what went on is also helpful in this way. We feel that to fully heal you need to look at everything that happened and your medical record is one way to fill in some of the gaps. Labour and birth notes are often not very clear and you may feel the staff’s notes have little or no relation to what happened from your point of view.
Write your experience down. Putting your story on paper can be very difficult. Some women write little bits of it and then string them together. This can help you feel that the experience is out of you and not sitting in your heart distressing you. It can help you find patterns in what emerged, work out your reactions and those of the people around you, and even find new ways to see some of it.
Keep a journal. You can record your emotional state and work out what distressed you the most as well as how you are healing yourself.
Talk about it to sympathetic listeners. Talking therapies such as counselling can be vital in giving us space and validating our experience. It is another way to get the pain out of you. People are often uncomfortable with emotions and you may find that even trusted friends or family members cannot comprehend what you are saying. They may try to comfort you by saying “You got a healthy baby, why don’t you concentrate on that?” This is not helpful. It goes without saying that we are happy that our baby and ourselves survive but there are many other factors which are important in a birth. Sometimes giving people a copy of your birth story to read will help them to really see why you are distressed.
Be good to yourself! You may find as you review your experience that you will start to feel that it was your fault. While it is always better to be an informed consumer, sometimes this would not have helped you improve your experience anyway. Hospitals and birth centres are institutions and can only be as good as the staff you get. Protocols are not necessarily useful or sensitive and some staff are not thoughtful about how they follow them. Having your medical record and understanding hospital/BC protocols will help you understand how much choice you actually had in the situation and what you might think of changing in subsequent births.
Alternative therapies can help. Maybe see your naturopath or GP. Not all caregivers, especially those in conventional medical fields, view traumatic birth as important or valid. If your caregiver is not supportive and understanding, get a new one! A naturopath or homeopath may offer you herbs, vitamins or flower essences to aid your recovery both physically and emotionally. Some of us have found this extremely helpful to use alongside talking therapies. Be wary of prescribed drugs such as antidepressants or sleeping pills which may help alleviate some of the symptoms but not help you with the root cause of your distress. They also may make it hard to care for your baby.
Try to get some physical support. Sometimes having a friend wash the dishes, do the washing or clean the kitchen can free up you and your partner to have time together. Some women find that a less chaotic home environment is beneficial. Sometimes even a little bit of scrubbing can be cathartic in itself! But we don’t recommend you get too bothered by housework at this point – healing is so much more important and, trust us, the dishes will be there tomorrow.
Read some books and articles about birth trauma and recovery but also about sexual assault. Many women feel that their experience was similar to sexual assault and find relief in approaching some aspects of their healing this way.
Some useful books, articles and web sites are:-
Reclaiming the Spirituality of Birth: Healing for Mothers and Babies, Benig Mauger, Vermont, 2000.
Rebounding from Childbirth: Toward Emotional Recovery, Lynn Madsen, London, 1994. Woman’s Experience of Sex: The Facts and Feelings of Female Sexuality at Every Stage of Life, Sheila Kitzinger, New York, 1985.
Accessing Artemis for women recovering from birth-related trauma. Melbourne
Contact Janet (03) 9499 8954
Birth Trauma and Stress Support, Brisbane
We offer support through email and phone and a support group. Contact Ursula at Estramina House: phone: 07 3809 0196 or email us at [email protected]
Support, Advocacy and Recovery on the internet
Loads of useful links. Includes info on recovering from traumatic birth. Very empowering. Encouraging of a consumer-type attitude to your health care.
Caesarean and Traumatic Birth Support. A site for women who want to truly heal spiritually and emotionally after a difficult birth experience
A site by, for and about those born by c-sec.
New Zealand site on traumatic birth and recovery – PTSD and PND.
Kitzinger on birth trauma.
Petition and declaration on the rights of birthing women.
A US site devoted to improving women’s experience in birth. Excellent for birth trauma.
Healing the Temple Door – a guided meditation on healing from rape which can also be excellently employed in recovering from birth trauma.
This pamphlet was written by
Janet Fraser for Accessing Artemis.
© Janet Fraser 2004
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