6 myths about birth trauma
1 in 4 women describe their experience of birth as traumatic, however there are many misconceptions and myths about birth trauma that contribute to preventing mothers and fathers from getting the support they need for recovery.
This article explores 6 common myths about birth trauma.
Myth: Trauma can only be experienced if birth was life threatening
Fact: We tend to think of trauma as something that involves the threat to life, for example a car accident, or a shooting. The truth is that trauma is subjective, personal and individually determined. Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that results in overwhelm of the individual’s capacity to cope, causing feelings of helplessness. There may or may not be physical harm involved, but typically involves loss of control, betrayal, abuse of power, pain, confusion, and/or loss. So in a nutshell, trauma does not have to involve life threat, birth trauma included.
Myth: Only mothers can experience trauma from birth
Fact: Partners can too. In fact, anyone who was in the room can experience trauma from a birth, including other supports and care providers. Those that witness a deeply distressing or disturbing event that involves loss of control, betrayal, abuse of power, pain, confusion, and/or loss, also have the potential of experiencing trauma from that event. Trauma does not discriminate between those who experience an event and those that witness it happening to someone else.
In fact, it is possible for a partner or caregiver witnessing a birth to experience it as traumatic when the birthing mother herself doesn’t. Some studies have found witnessing or the experiencing of others’ trauma in some circumstances may involve more vivid memory formation, thus increasing the potential for more memory intrusion and increased negative arousal to the intrusive memory.
Myth: Trauma manifests in thoughts and emotions, so if I control those, then I’m resolving my trauma.
Fact: Yes, trauma manifests in thoughts and emotions, but also in the body, in our behaviours, and in our relationships. Sometimes the symptoms of trauma may not be in our conscious thoughts or emotional awareness, but rather felt in our body for years after the event, through persistent pain or illness affecting our behaviours and relationships. We may learn to compartmentalise our birth experience so that our thoughts and emotional responses are controlled, but the body remembers.
Myth: Trauma symptoms occur immediately after birth
Fact: For some, trauma symptoms may start within weeks of a traumatic birth experience, but for others symptoms may not appear until years later. Related difficulties such as depression or physical health problems may also manifest years after the experience.
Myth: Birth trauma fades with time
Fact: For some it may, but for most individuals traumatic events are unprocessed. An association between the birth experience and distressing thoughts or behaviours is built, particularly for those who develop PTSD from their traumatic birth experience. These may reduce over time, but in reality we often get better at coping and compartmentalizing, not necessarily resolving the trauma itself.
Myth: Birth trauma isn’t treatable; it’s just a part of motherhood.
Fact: Birth trauma is most definitely treatable. There are several evidence-based options for treating birth trauma, that help individuals address triggers, symptoms and daily negative impacts so they can be freed from their traumatic experience. The options for treatment will depend on the severity and type of symptoms, the person itself, their background, their current situation, as well as previous experiences of trauma. An integrative approach is option necessary and can include therapies such as Eye Movement Desentisation and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR), which works to support individuals in regaining control and moving beyond the impact of their birth experience.
My name is Fiona Rogerson and I am an ACA accredited Perinatal and Trauma Counsellor, and Hypnobirthing (Mongan Method) Educator. I work with women and men to overcome emotional and psychological hurdles surrounding conception, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting and identity. I am also available to provide professional development training and workshops to various organisations. I am based south of the river in Perth, working across two location or via zoom for remote clients, and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0402 017 425 or via my contact page. Find me on Facebook and Instagram.