Birth Trauma – How to tell if you’re suffering from PTSD after childbirth
Here I welcome Alexandra Kremer, www.alexandrakremer.co.uk, to share her powerful story and valuable information about birth trauma.
Alexandra is a fertility, birth and parenting specialist, antenatal & postnatal educator and practitioner.
She is trained in delivering the Freedom Fertility Formula, The Calm Birth Method, The Wise Hippo Birthing Programme, BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm and is also a Certified Birth Trauma Resolution Practitioner which is where a huge part of her passion lies.
She has a keen interest in yoga as well as women’s and children’s rights during birth and beyond.
Originally from London, Alex now lives in Hertfordshire with her two young children. Alex sees clients in person and remotely from all over the world. More information can be found on her website.
Over to Alexandra.
Birth trauma is sadly all too often a common occurrence, perhaps you had an unexpected medicalised birth, an emergency or a problem with yourself or your baby before, during or after the birth. A common misconception though is that to experience trauma it had to have been really horrific labour. This is not true. Many people can leave a situation feeling traumatised due to lack of volition, loss of dignity or control, feeling unheard or even the absence of medical consent. It is reported that around 6% of women are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after childbirth, although it is believed that around 20-25% of women have symptoms that go undiagnosed or have been misdiagnosed as having Postnatal Depression (PND).
This also doesn’t account for the many men, partners, and midwives who are also struggling after witnessing a traumatic birth experience. Many of the women who are suffering from birth trauma or undiagnosed PTSD will often go to the doctors feeling depressed and overwhelmed, but unlike someone who is depressed, they are often on high alert a lot of the time. They experience high levels of anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks and may often wake up having had nightmares. The reality is that a general practitioner is just that, general.
They often have not had enough training to spot the differences between PTSD and PND which leaves many women unnecessarily on anti-depressants or in support groups that can potentially retrigger the trauma when there could be another more suitable option for them.
A lot of the symptoms of PTSD and PND can be very similar, so how do you know what it is you’re suffering from? Below is a list of common PTSD symptoms…
Intrusive, distressing memories of your birth, including upsetting images, thoughts or perceptions
Nightmares about your birth
Reliving the traumatic events of your birth, or having flashbacks
Feeling anxious or panicky when something reminds you of your birth
Experiencing any physical symptoms or problems when something reminds you of your birth. For example, asthma, stomach upsets/irritable bowel, etc.
Trying to avoid thinking, or talking, about your birth because you find it too distressing
Avoiding activities, places or people that remind you of your birth
Finding it hard to remember important aspects of your birth
A loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
Feeling disconnected and distant from those who would normally be close to you, such as family or friends
Feeling unable to have, or express, loving feelings towards those close to you, including your child, family or friends
Feeling like you have no hopes or positive thoughts about the future
Difficulty falling, or staying, asleep
Feeling irritable, or have outbursts of anger
Hyper-vigilant (constantly watching out for danger)
It’s important to remember that not everyone will tick every scenario off and that it can manifest in different ways for different people.
Here is my story…
“From the moment I found out I was pregnant with my eldest, I spent the entire pregnancy researching everything there was to know about childbirth. I went from wanting a c-section to a home water birth.
Sadly, due to a number of reasons, I requested to be transferred in where on arrival I was told that I was there for failure to progress (which wasn’t the case) and that if I didn’t succumb to being put on a plethora of interventions, that my baby may not make it.
I refused, I’d done my research, mine and baby’s stats were good and so I instead that they either let me birth vaginally or give me C-section. They refused, we compromised with having my waters broken only.
To cut a long story short, my labour ended with a room full of people telling me that I was going to kill my baby and that I should have an emergency section. During the procedure I was so drugged up I was shaking and in and out of consciousness.
The consultant left me halfway through telling me that he was going on holiday and to enjoy my baby that was now being delivered by someone completely different! Soon I was shown my completely healthy baby boy, having been told that he was fine and that she wasn’t sure why I’d have a section as there was no likely need for it.
I couldn’t hold my baby I was shaking so much from the drugs. I eventually calmed enough to want to try and feed him, I struggled to latch him and got my then-husband to go and look for a midwife to help. She was surprised I even wanted to try but helped me.
A couple of days later we were home, I couldn’t sleep. I felt exhausted and down but got on with things. For the few months that followed I was raging, I was constantly angry at what had happened, angry at myself for allowing it to happen and so completely devoted to my child that I hated anyone else holding him.
He needed me. Attachment. Breastfeeding. He should only have my scent. I was hyper-vigilant but kept it to myself though and suffered in silence when people held him. I lost interest in friends, yoga, sex and the idea of work. Luckily for me, I stumbled accidentally onto help via some professional training I was doing at the time.
I decided to go and train in Birth Trauma Resolution without even knowing that it was that I was suffering from. The first day of learning I broke down realising what was wrong with me, I had PTSD due to Birth Trauma.
A few days later I was a guinea pig for someone practicing the therapy. That one session changed my life. I came away feeling like a weight had been lifted. The memory still there but the intensity and anger had gone.
I felt like I could let go of my son more, I felt free. This is just my story, I now see countless clients who have medically traumatic births, but who also may have just been scared enough during labour that enough lasting damage was done.
The great thing is that we are starting to have conversations around this. It doesn’t have to be a taboo and help is available. The important thing is that whether it is PND or PTSD that you are suffering from, that you are able to reach out and get the support you deserve.
Recommended treatments for PTSD are usually EMDR or CBT, but these can often be lengthy processes, although they are very valuable. I found that personally, Birth Trauma Resolution was amazing for me after one session I came away feeling rested yet energised and no matter how hard I tried to feel as I previously did about my birth experience, I couldn’t.
The memory was the same but the intensity had dimmed and I started to relax. Whichever route you decide to go down my advice to you is to do your research, find the treatment and the practitioner that is right for you.