Recovering from a traumatic birth
Recovering from a traumatic birth can take time. Below are some helpful tips and strategies to help you to recover from a difficult birth experience.
Do not judge yourself – Whilst your hopes and plans for the birth may not have worked out, this is no reflection on you as a person or as a parent. Be proud of yourself for getting through the experience. It is completely natural to experience distress after such an event, so it is important to accept and acknowledge that you are likely to be in need of support at this time.
Seek practical support – If possible try to access help with the baby once you return home. Here partners, extended family and/or friends can play a vital role in assisting with everyday tasks which may be quite difficult – particularly if you have experienced any physical trauma or are recovering from a caesarian section.
Seek out and accept emotional support – Seek support particularly from people around you who are empathetic and able to care for and nurture you.
Acknowledge the feelings you may have toward your baby – Caring for your baby who has played a role in instigating the trauma that you have experienced, can be difficult. Given this situation, you may find that you feel quite detached from the baby or have negative feelings towards your baby. Try and view these feelings within the context of what has happened. Take the pressure off yourself and give yourself time.
Talk to someone – If you find yourself feeling ongoing distress talk to someone you trust about your experience, and don’t just wait and hope that the feelings will go away on their own. Although it can be hard to recall and recount your experience, this process may help you to contextualise what actually happened – as your memories may have become blurred.
By articulating what has happened, this can:
- give you more insight into why and how things happened
- give you the opportunity to express yourself and have your experience heard and acknowledged
- bring you a sense of relief
- reduce the likelihood of reliving the experience in your mind
- reduce the likelihood that you continue to carry unpleasant feelings with you.
You may decide to talk to your partner, family member or a friend. Alternatively you may identify a health professional on the ward or outside of the hospital setting that you later feel comfortable to talk to.
Consider the impacts upon your relationship – Birth trauma can have a negative impact upon your relationship, particularly if your partner has been traumatised as well. Experiencing trauma can, for example, create confusion, distance and distress between a couple, and they can unknowingly continue to trigger each other long after the event. Relationship counselling can assist in these situations, by helping each partner to understand and learn how to respond to the other in a caring and supportive way, and ultimately support recovery.
Try and obtain details of what actually happened – This can give you insight into what interventions were used and why. Whilst this may be painful to relive, it can help you to ‘fill in the blanks’, feel a sense of relief and closure. You can do this for example by talking to, or going through your notes with your midwife or obstetrician.
If you would rather look at your notes on your own or with another health professional you may be able to get access to your medical records. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner can help you work out how to go about making a request.
Do not blame yourself – Know that gradually your feelings about your baby will change and become more positive with time.
Access a debriefing service - Many maternity units offer a debriefing service especially to assist with birth-related trauma. If you do not want to return to the hospital or this service is not available where you had your baby, there are some health professionals who provide support services in this area of birth trauma debriefing, counseling and therapy.
The time when you are ready to debrief can vary from days, weeks, months or even years following the birth, with many doing this when they are considering having another baby.
Make a formal complaint – If you feel that your trauma was caused by inadequate care by the healthcare professionals, making a formal complaint can also provide you with some sense of being heard and legitimising your experience. You can also consider reporting your complaint to the professional body which that professional is likely to be registered with. Give yourself time to recover – trauma, grief and recovery take time.
Be gentle on yourself – Any feelings of guilt, grief or difficulties connecting with your baby that you may experience are understandable given what you may have experienced. Be proud of yourself for surviving the experience.
Give yourself time – It is common for parents to respond to this experience by coming to the conclusion that they will be unlikely to have more children in the future. Given your experience this is understandable. However, often with time you may grow more confident to embark on having more children in the future.
When is it time to get further help?
Fortunately most women and men are able to recover, and this is more likely when they have social support (especially from their partner) and have reduced other stressors to enable them the time and space to recover.
For others however, the trauma experience can linger and may lead you or your partner to experience a condition called post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
If you are still experiencing symptoms two weeks after the birth, it is a good idea to talk to your maternal and child health nurse or your GP to see how you are going and whether treatment would be helpful. This may include counselling, or other treatments if your symptoms are more severe.