Nobody knowingly enters into pregnancy with the expectation that their birth won’t go to plan. I think for the majority of parents there’s such an air of joy and excitement around the birth of a healthy baby that other outcomes aren’t always discussed (unless there has been previous trauma). Unfortunately, for many women, it doesn’t work out like that.
The average daily birth rate in the UK is around 1,800 babies. Out of those numbers, according to UK statistics at Tommy’s, is that 1 in 3-4 women end up delivering their babies via unplanned emergency C-sections,and 1 in 13 babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks). These numbers aren’t inclusive of other possible complications that might happen in late pregnancy or post-birth. So the number of women going into unplanned, unknown, highly stressful situations during labour is huge. And for a lot of those women, they might not recognise if they are experiencing any perinatal or birth trauma symptoms, which can potentially lead to further health complications if left untreated.
Sometimes a seemingly ordinary birth experience can be traumatising due to the way you were treated or made to feel. More obviously, when you’re rushed into an unplanned emergency situation and you’re not mentally prepared, it can leave you with long-lasting psychological effects of trauma. Severe anxiety, overwhelm and PTSD are just some of the symptoms that I have seen parents left with after experiencing birth trauma. When it is left unprocessed these symptoms can worsen and really make day to day life very difficult. If you’re wanting to become pregnant again this can bring up a lot of anxiety and underlying tension.
As an experienced Midwife, I have witnessed many negative birth experiences over the years. It can be a very distressing situation for some families. However, the good news is if you have gone through birth trauma there are some very effective and accessible therapies and tools to help you overcome this.
If you feel unsure that you are suffering from post-birth trauma please contact your GP or health care provider to discuss what options and therapies are suitable for you.
Below I have listed my top tips for moving on from a negative birth experience that I hope will help you. Not all will be useful for everyone so have a look and decide which resonate with you:-
- Get a copy of your maternity notes. You can do this by making a Subject Access Request to the hospital that you were booked with for care. Remember to ask for all that you require, antenatal, birth and postnatal, as well as records for baby – especially if your baby was unwell or in NICU or special care.
- Write your story – ideally with your birth partner, start with a basic timeline and add in key events as you remember them – note how you react to or feel about different things/events/words. This can be useful if you go on to seek a birth exploration session or debrief. If writing isn’t your thing then you could try drawing or painting your story or your feelings.
- Use this story as the basis to write a letter of complaint/compliment or feedback. If you require a formal response then I recommend utilising the formal complaints procedures – this is a really useful resource https://www.birthrights.org.uk/factsheets/making-a-complaint/
- Seek a debrief or birth exploration/afterthoughts session from an independent midwife or from the hospital where you gave birth. This will enable you to discuss your experience with a Health Care Practitioner who can help to fill in any gaps for you and provide an overview of what happened/what went wrong. You can find out more about my birth exploration service here: https://trustbirth.co.uk/my-services/
- Yoga, relaxation, mindfulness – you can use apps such as Headspace and Calm.
- Online resources – local Mental Health services websites have free online courses. There are a number of support groups on social media too.
- Join your local Maternity Voices Partnership (MVP) and tell the maternity services and their commissioners about your experience. This may help you to feel heard, to process your experience and could help to make improvements in Maternity Services.
- Journalling can be very helpful. Writing down your thoughts and feelings and also writing down things you are grateful for can be positive and have good effects on our mood too.
- Find supportive friends and family to talk to.
- Engage in bonding activities with your baby: baby yoga, baby massage, baby sensory.
- Get out in nature. Being outside in the fresh air is so good for us all and can really help lift our mood, increase serotonin and dopamine.
- Consider 3-Step Rewind Therapy!
As an experienced Midwife and 3-Step Rewind practitioner, I help women to resolve their negative and traumatic birth experiences quickly and effectively by using the 3-Step Rewind process to help them feel calm, confident and able to enjoy motherhood.
This technique works by allowing you, whilst in a safe relaxed state, to reprocess the memory so that it becomes stored as an ‘ordinary’, and non-threatening memory rather than one that continually activates a fight, flight or freeze response. This is done by enabling the memory to be moved from the amygdala to the neocortex . The amygdala, a small, almond-shaped region situated in the temporal lobe of the brain, assigns emotional value to memories. Its significance lies in the fact that memories associated with intense emotions, such as shame, joy, love, or grief, tend to be deeply ingrained and hard to erase. Not only does the amygdala influence the intensity and emotional nature of memories, but it also serves a crucial role in creating new memories linked to fear. Fearful memories can develop rapidly after just a few repetitions thanks to the amygdala’s involvement.
In humans, the neocortex is responsible for various high-level functions, including sensory perception, motor control, spatial reasoning, and language processing. As we learn and experience new things, some of the memories stored temporarily in the hippocampus can be consolidated and transferred to the neocortex as general knowledge, such as knowing that coffee can help us feel more awake. Researchers believe that this transfer process from the hippocampus to the neocortex occurs during sleep.
If you would like to find out more about this process and the steps involved, please book a free consultation with me and together let’s help you move forward. https://calendly.com/trustbirth/30min