Fiona Rogerson – Perinatal and Trauma Counselling

birth trauma counselling

Birth Trauma counselling Perth and online

What is Birth Trauma?

A traumatic event is an event that causes an individual experience intense feelings of terror, horror, helplessness or hopelessness. For some this event can be something that occurs during childbirth, whether it be feelings of being dismissed by caregivers, unnecessary interventions, lack of communication from staff. Physical injury to mother or baby, uncontrollability of the events,, admission to special care or NICU, fear of unnecessary procedures, premature birth.… anything that leaves a mother experiencing feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, terror or horror in any aspect of her birth.

Trauma itself is a psychological, emotional, physiological response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing for that individual. It is a state of high arousal in which normal coping mechanisms are overwhelmed in response to the perception of threat. Trauma involves PERCEIVED threat.

If a mother or father perceives any part of the birth as threatening the safety of the mother or her baby, a state of high arousal may ensue.

In normal everyday events, our brain receives information from the outside world via our senses, this moves toward the amygdala to blend up and distribute to other areas of the brain. One of these is the thalamus, and the other is the pre-fontal cortex. It’s the thalamus’s job to sense imminent threat, and if threat is sensed, it sends an instant message other areas of the brain to recruit the stress hormone system and the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) to orchestrate a whole body response (fight, flight or freeze). Cortisol release increases, heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, all preparing the body to respond. Very soon after the thalamus receives this information, the pre-fontal cortex does too. It acts as the overseer, objectively and rationally looking at the situation unfolding. If it detects that there is in fact NO real threat, or when the danger has passed, it communicates to the amygdala to calm down, returning the body to its normal state.

In the case of a mother or father affected by birth trauma, this can be very different. Certain areas of the brain can be physiologically changed. The amygdala can begin to misinterpret whether a situation is dangerous or safe. The pre-fontal cortex that allows us to objectively view situations/thoughts/feelings may be inhibited, engaging the body’s flight/fight/freeze response when it is not needed. Emotional, survival mode remains on, without a real threat of danger. In trauma, the critical balance between these areas of the brain shifts dramatically, making it harder for an individual to control how they manage emotions. The body is quite literally misinterpreting information, sensing danger and reacting. Mothers may begin to be hypervigilant about their baby’s safety within the home. They may dissociate and withdraw from what is going on around them, including their baby. Become intolerant to loud noises, enraged by small frustrations, freezing with touch because everything is sensed as a threat. Postnatal depression, postnatal anxiety, PTSD. All coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma. 

Who does birth trauma affect?

Birth trauma is subjective, personal and perceived, and it’s because of this that it can affect anyone… mothers, fathers, witnessing caregivers, even those that have been told about the events that took place.  Irrespective of whether the birth ticked all of the boxes from the birth plan, trauma can still be experienced if there was a threat to safety before, during or after the birth.

1 in 3 mothers in Australia experience their birth as traumatic. Father are subsequently distressed and preoccupied with the birth events but tended to feel that their responses were unjustified and tried to cope through avoidance. Fathers describe the need for support but face reluctance to receive it.


What can birth trauma feel like, and how long can it last?

The ‘symptoms’ of birth trauma can be as individual as the experience itself.  Common experiences include a range of emotional (eg fear, anxiety, panic attacks, numbness, overwhelm), physical (eg. fatigue, headaches, sweating, increased heart rate), mental (eg. rumination, intrusive thoughts, nightmares) and behavioural responses (eg, avoidance of people or places, not wanting to be alone, overly protective of baby, inability to do daily tasks).  These reactions name only a few, and it’s important to note that reactions will vary from person to person in severity and the impact that they have on daily life.  For some, these reactions remain for a short period of time after the birth.  For others, the body remains in ’emergency mode’ well after the birth.  It’s when these reactions don’t subside and the trauma continues to be relived, with ongoing impact on behaviours, emotions and thoughts, that support may be needed to resolve the trauma. 

There is no set time-frame for birth trauma recovery because each person and their experience is unique. For some, with birth trauma counselling from a single event may resolve in weeks, for others it can take months or years.  It’s vital to note that there is also no time limit for seeking counselling support post-birth.  Whether it be days, weeks or years following the birth of a child, the impact of a traumatic experience can life a lifetime.

How can birth trauma be resolved?

There are many different types of therapy treatments available for the processing of birth trauma, however in order to release trauma, specific modalities are needed.  As trauma is rooted within the body it’s important that we attend to this in counselling.  

It’s important to not only talk about what is happening or has happened for you, but to also process the bodily response, the emotions, the beliefs that ensue and how these are impacting your daily life. EMDR therapy is one well-supported and documented therapy that does this, put past traumatic events in the past so they no longer intrude upon your daily life – physically, psychologically or emotionally.

What happens in birth trauma counselling?

Working through birth trauma can be scary, confronting, and heavy.  It can also be potentially re-traumatising. Because of the risk of re-traumatisation, this work is best done with the support of a trauma specialist. Finding the right counsellor may take some time, but the quality of the relationship you form with your counsellor is equally important. so there should be a sense of trust and warmth between you and your trauma counsellor.

Birth trauma counselling is unique to each person and their experience.  It may involve ‘talk therapy’, allowing you the space to gain clarity and understanding of your birth experience, your reactions and your emotions, while your counsellor works to gain a deeper understanding of your experience, it’s ongoing impact in your life, awareness of current triggers and coping mechanisms. Or it may involve ‘resourcing’ you with strategies for calming your mind and body from the emergency mode so that you can feel safe to talk. It often involves a holistic integration of well-supported therapeutic approaches to support your recovery, such as EMDR Therapy.  

Either way, the priority will be to create a deep sense of safety and trust so that the work can unfold as it should.

Find out more

Birth trauma Counselling Perth - Success, Bedfordale or Aus-wide online

If you want to know more about birth trauma counselling or you’re ready to take the first step toward your healing, simply fill in the contact form below and I will reply to your message with my available sessions:

Trauma Counselling Perth – Follow me on Facebook