Every day I work with women who have experienced birth trauma, with the impact of their experience lasting weeks, months or years. As hard as it is to hear, this trauma is often caused at the hands of our medical model of birth. In fact, one study shows that 66% of mothers that have experienced birth trauma attribute the cause of that trauma to be at the hands of their care professionals. It’s because of this that many women then go on to find their visits to supporting health professionals post-birth, whether that be follow-up medical care or allied health, very difficult. Some then being retraumatized by this experience too. While the intent behind the interaction is always to provide support, the outcome isn’t always as hoped.
These are the top 5 mistakes health professionals make when responding to patients or clients who disclose birth trauma (or any trauma)…
Questioning them for further information
This is an easy mistake to make. Once a women slightly opens the door to disclose her experience, it’s easy to see that as an opportunity to swing the door wide open and prod her to keep talking. The risk here is re-traumatisation (the reliving of the traumatic experience causing the return of trauma-related emotional/cognitive/physical responses) putting that individual at further risk.
Relating their client’s experience back to their own
As humans we a deeply drawn to connecting with others through shared experiences, so this one is a common mistake that many health professionals make. The difficulty here is that no two experiences are the same, no two emotional responses to an experience are the same, and no two people share the same ongoing impacts of their experience. And because of this we run the risk of our patient feeling dismissed and questioning validity of their own thoughts and feelings.
Implying that their experience is all part of motherhood.
Yes, motherhood comes with it’s own challenges, but trauma of any kind is not (and never should be) a given. Again, this is harmful, and often imposes a barrier on individuals in seeking help to heal from their trauma.
Not allowing space for all emotions, shrouding them in positivity instead. This is so incredibly common, particularly when professionals aren’t aware of how to respond to disclosure of trauma. ‘At least you have a healthy baby’, ‘you both survived’, ‘it’s in the past, it’s time to move forward’. This is dismissive, invalidating and harmful.
Not knowing how to respond
So not responding at all. Responding to a disclosure isn’t easy… it can be triggering, it can be overwhelming, it can induce anxiety. But it deserves acknowledgment and validation.
All of these responses are natural and easy responses to trauma disclosure, but they can cause more harm than good, impacting the outcomes you’re working toward with your client. Trauma-informed practice is vital!
Want to learn more?
If you’re a health professional looking for resources on how to better work with trauma within your clients, head over and download my free Complete Guide to Trauma-Sensitive Language. There’s so much to learn on this topic so I want to share as much as I can!
My name is Fiona Rogerson and I am an ACA accredited trauma and perinatal Perth counsellor and Hypnobirthing (Mongan Method) Educator. I work with women and men to overcome emotional and psychological hurdles surrounding traumatic experiences, as well as 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 in Success, also working online. To work with me, email at email@example.com or phone 0402 017 425 or message via my contact page.