Healing from Birth Trauma - Emily's Story
Emily attended a MAMABirth class in 2016 and kept in touch with us over the course of her monumentally tough birth and postnatal journey. We are so grateful to Emily for sharing her story with us, and the MAMABirth community, to coincide with Birth Trauma Awareness Week. We are completely in awe of Emily's strength, determination and bravery.
I was hit by a train while giving birth to my daughter. Not literally, but the experience left me with the emotional and mental scars of a serious traumatic accident.
Birth trauma occurs for many different reasons; women that experience interventions during birth, premature babies, pregnancy/birth complications and unwell babies are all factors that lead to birth trauma.
1 in 3 women describe their birth as traumatic. For many, that trauma doesn’t go away – the trauma morphs itself into many different guises. Some women experience PTSD, relationship breakdowns, loss of self-worth, self-harm and even suicide.
I didn’t know birth trauma existed until I experienced it.
I knew that some women and babies have less than ideal births but to feel like you had been hit by a train is not what I expected.
So let me tell you about this train…………
If you are reading this article, like me you are probably interested in a calm, natural and non-intervention filled birth. At the time, I felt I could achieve this by hiring a doula, student midwife, attending private birth classes and reading an exorbitant amount of positive birth stories and books. However, what transpired on that day was anything but.
You are probably wanting to read the nitty little details that transpired but I’d rather sum it up in a few lines:
My body was touched and prodded without warning, so aggressive was one unconsented vaginal exam, the student midwife asked the on-call private obstetrician to stop (but she didn’t). Towards the end of the birth, my body was cut without my consent and my baby torn out of me. My doula and husband were powerless against the forces at play. I now know that what happened to me is called obstetric violence.
The physical scars I received that day, coupled with the feelings of vulnerability is what lead to my mental anguish following the birth.
My mental and emotional pain was intolerable.
Some days it got so bad I wanted to die and I self-harmed. I remember trying to write a letter of complaint to APHRA – I was looking through my birth photos and became so incredibly angry I punched a wall. I was balling my eyes out and yes – I wanted to die. But at this very moment I also had an epiphany!
If I died – what would that solve? Who would carry on the torch for others – to offer them light at the end of the tunnel when dealing with their own birth trauma? I had to be that light for others and in that instant, I decided to dedicate part of my life to reducing the number of women and babies that experience birth trauma and obstetric violence and to offer support to those that experience it.
I finally reached out for help.
I confided to my husband and family that I was not well and that I was going to take responsibility for my health and find a therapist. By sheer luck, I met a woman at a local parent place who complimented me on my ring sling. As the conversation progressed, it soon turned to our births and I could suddenly tell we both had a story to tell. Over a cup of hot chocolate, she told me about a free perinatal clinic that supported women and partners with birth trauma. I was referred right away.
In addition to using these services I also signed up for a birth debrief with Rhea Dempsey through MAMA. Even more beneficial was the debriefing and talking I was able to do with my doula. We became friends and without even knowing it she ‘doulaed’ me through many aspects of my birth trauma. I can’t thank her enough for the support she gave me during my pregnancy, birth and postpartum period and love that a genuine friendship has followed.
During my recovery (still ongoing and I’ve come to believe it may always be so), I have decided to work with other birthing women as a doula and placenta encapsulator. No- I don’t want to save every woman from the same situation (although I will try just as my doula did for me) but I want to support woman to feel confident to give birth on their terms. I want them to ride the pregnancy and birth train into a positive experience – not be hit by it!
If you have experienced birth trauma, please do not suffer in silence.
Surround yourself with supportive, loving people who are able to care for and nurture you.
Reach out for help. Having an outlet to voice your sadness, anger, jealousy and hurt helps.
Find a counsellor who is knowledgeable about PTSD and supportive about women's issues.
Consider a Birth Trauma Circle, sitting in solidarity with others that experienced a similar trauma and being able to tell your story is extremely helpful for healing.
Look for resources that will help you, the book; ‘How to Heal a Bad Birth: making sense, making peace and moving on’ was a great tool for both myself and my husband (it helped him, help me).
If you were treated poorly and feel making a complaint or having a birth debrief will be helpful in your healing, to draw a line under the experience, do so. There are volunteers that can help you through the Rose Revolution Australia Facebook Page.
Join a supportive Facebook Group. Both Birth Trauma Association and Birth Trauma Association Of Australia & New Zealand - BTAANZ are safe, supportive groups.
Do not judge yourself. Do not blame yourself. Be gentle to yourself.
What about the Baby?
Babies are also affected by their birth experiences. Mothers can help reduce the trauma their child experienced at birth by:
Delaying the return to work for as long as possible.
Warm baths together
Seeing a children's cranial sacral therapist
The balance of love, time and a mother’s touch can all bringing healing to both mother and child.
Emily helps raise awareness for Obstetric Violence (the leading cause of birth trauma) through running the Rose Revolution Australia Facebook Page.
During Birth Trauma Awareness Week, she hosted a coffee morning with her doula to help raise awareness for birth trauma. $238.30 was raised to support the Birth Trauma Association and support the purchasing of the book ‘How to Heal a Bad Birth: making sense, making peace and moving on’ for the local libraries.