Updated: Dec 8, 2020
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Hi all! Welcome back to another episode of The Empowered Birth Podcast! I have taken a little bit of a break from this podcast to think and prepare for my upcoming birth! I am 36 weeks and feeling the need to hibernate until baby comes. I have been doing all of the things to prepare like painting, organizing rooms, setting up my birth cart and making meals. One of the things that comes up for me every time I’m talking to someone about their plans for birth or as I draw near to my birth is trauma. This has also been on my mind as I am taking a certification course on how to be a trauma informed professional. I have learned a lot and reflected a lot! I want to share some things about birth trauma specifically with you that I hope you find helpful. Whether you have experienced birth trauma in the past or are wanting to avoid trauma for future births this episode is for you! I will give you a disclaimer that if you are close to having a baby this may not be the best time to listen if you are easily triggered.
First off let’s define birth trauma: Trauma seems to be more of a matter of perception than it is of an emergent situation. “The strongest predictor of developing birth-related PTSD is the interpersonal difficulties with care providers, in particular, a lack of support (Harris & Ayers, 2012).” Thinking back to how I interpreted my first birth experience I can definitely see where lack of support was a major factor in trauma. I had seen my doctor 2-3 times during my pregnancy and for 5 minutes during my labor before she did a c-section. My postpartum nurse was so not empathetic to my situation, didn’t believe I had so much pain, was cold and not helpful. It took me a while of processing to realize that someone could have the same exact experience as me and yet feel totally different about it. I could never understand why until going through this course and realizing that the lack of support is key in how someone processes their birth experience.
Somethings I have heard women express as traumatic are:
Feelings of powerlessness during the procedures
Lack of information given to the patient
The experience of physical pain
A perceived unsympathetic attitude on the part of the examiner
A lack of clearly-understood consent by the patient for the procedure
I found this study interesting, In Sweden (Ryding, Wijma, & Wijma, 1998), 53 people were interviewed two days after an emergency cesarean. In general, all the participants felt that they had gone from feeling confident and safe upon arrival at the hospital, to feeling fearful by the time the baby arrived.
55% experienced intense fear for their own or their baby's life. Most feared for their baby and those who feared for their own life also had very painful labors
8% were angry that they had been badly treated by the delivery staff and felt helpless and violated
25% blamed themselves to some extent for the event
The authors conclude that emergency cesarean surgery can qualify as a stressor for trauma and that even when the parent is happy to meet their baby, they can also be dealing with feelings of fear, guilt, and anger.
Over on Instagram I asked what caused people to feel traumatized during their birth, no matter how it turned out. I unfortunately wasn’t surprised at the answer as it is something I hear quite often. The majority of women who answered the poll said that they felt violated during their birth. Many women compare what happens during birth as sexual assault and violations. I’ve heard stories of male OB’s keeping their hand in a woman’s vagina as she is yelling at him to stop. I have heard of midwives and obgyn’s alike giving episiotomies without consent. I’ve seen woman’s legs being forced apart when she intuitively wants to close them. The reality is that women are not feeling cared for or respected during this powerful and transformative time in their lives.
Some other traumatic things that can happen are:
Provider’s who prioritize their own agenda. When I was working through my PTSD and anxiety after my traumatic birth one thing that kept coming up was the fact that my c-section was done the day before Easter. I had felt like I didn’t give true informed consent for anything that happened that day. I was convinced that she had Easter dinner plans and wanted to make sure she was able to make it to the festivities. It’s still something that can get me worked up although the intensive work I have done has help me separate the emotions from the memory and I do feel like I’ve found freedom.
Come to find out this is a common occurrence and trauma for women who birth. It’s interesting to see a chart of when most babies are born. Hint… extremely low numbers of births happen on the holidays. Many women find that if they are birthing around the holidays more interventions are done and they feel as if it’s for the convenience of the provider.
Lie’s and Threats
But why would a provider lie? They wouldn’t do that? Let me just tell you if a woman says she feels as if her provider lied about the health and wellness of her or her baby and performed an unnecessary intervention please don’t respond this way. It happens. The most common threat is that of a “dead baby” It is sickening to me how many times I have seen and read stories of inductions happening or c-sections being performed because if a woman chooses not to her baby will most likely die. Women fully believe this, they are cornered into complying at risk of losing their baby and yet something in their intuition tells them it’s wrong. It’s these same women that will have the hardest time believing something different. If she believes that her doctor lied and an unnecessary intervention happened against her original expectations how will she live with herself for being manipulated? If this is you I want you to know that it’s not your fault! You don’t have to relive this experience. You can trust your body and your intuition. If you feel like something was off there is a very good chance that it was. It may help to talk to someone who knows the sound of obstetric lies and is able to help you process so that you can come to a conclusion and find freedom.
Wooo.. you’ve made it this far! I’m proud of you for sticking it out as this is some heavy stuff! I’m not going to lie, going through and learning more about trauma and nutrition and healing strategies and so much more during pregnancy has been extremely rough. I have felt all of the feelings, I have questioned myself, my experience, my abilities to birth again. This topic is not easy but it’s what lit a fire and a passion under me 4 years ago to stand by women through this transition, to be an advocate for physiological birth, to enlighten women to the power they inherently have. I have healed from PTSD and I truly believe you can too. It may take a team of support and a lot of work but it’s so worth it! I will never be the same person I was before struggling with PTSD and my traumatic birth experience but I am thankful for that. I am able to accept what happened and know that it has been used for good. It wasn’t the transformative, joyful, beautiful experience I wanted but it did change me and hopefully I can be used to change the culture of birth or at least one person’s outlook on what birth is and can be! So if you have experienced trauma there is hope!
Here are some strategies that can help you on your journey to healing from trauma:
First is identifying your triggers. Identifying triggers is an important step as it can help you avoid certain things or learn new coping skills if a trigger happens. My triggers in the beginning were driving past the hospital I delivered at, hearing a birth story (especially if it happened at that same hospital), sometimes driving I would get flash backs and have to stop until they passed (not sure what was triggering about that). Triggers can be location, smells, sounds, stories. Take some time and consciously pay attention to the times you start feeling out of control, or anxious or depressed. What happened right before you started feeling like that? Document your triggers. This will help you be more aware. Now that you know your triggers and are aware it’s time to find some coping skills to help you. Some things I hear and have experienced as being very helpful are:
Calling a friend
EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is psychotherapy for PTSD. It was developed in 1987 when psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro made a chance observation that eye movements could reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, much like there is eye movement during REM (rapid eye movement where there is more dreaming and movement) sleep. There are many counselors who practice this therapy and have found it helpful in processing traumatic events. Many women I have spoken with over the years have suggested this as a first line treatment! To learn more about this and other therapies to help with trauma check out the episode I did with Dr. Laura Pryor, episode 29.
Spirituality and Prayer is also an important part in healing. Faith is very important to me and it was a big part in my healing. There was times I was so angry that God would allow something like this to happen to me. I spent a lot of time in prayer and journaling and reading verses to bring me comfort and truth. The cool thing is that prayer isn’t just some woo woo thing that doesn’t do anything. Prayer and meditation influence the area of the brain associated with "self," the parietal lobes. Focused prayer and meditation lessen one’s sense of self by increasing a sense of connectedness to the source of one’s spirituality, and this is associated with an improvement in one’s ability to perform a variety of tasks with greater pleasure. Prayer and meditation increase the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate, and these areas of the brain are essential for keeping one’s attention focused on a task. Prayer and meditation are also effective in helping to reduce pain and lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety (Newberg & Waldman, 2010).
Peer support- Another huge part of my healing journey was the support I got from peers who had experienced similar things. They listened, they didn’t say things like “well at least you have a healthy baby”. They validated, they didn’t minimize. AT a time when I just wanted to isolate myself I found women online who didn’t make me feel like I was all alone. ANytime I found a woman in real life that had gone through a similar situation I felt like I had found a kindred spirit! Connection and validation is so very healing. If having peer support would be helpful for you I encourage you to join our private facebook group. You can click the link in description to go there or type in facebook.com/groups/empoweredmamastribe. I will say that sometimes support doesn’t come in the form of supporting practices and providers that harm and not calling out lies. If you want to hear truth and have your experience of trauma validated or education on how to prevent birth trauma then this group is for you!
There is hope and there is healing through birth trauma. If you’re preparing to have a baby and would like to have some support as you're either processing past births or wanting to talk through what your expectations are for your birth and maybe some strategies to get there, I would love to be your guide. Schedule a 60 minute birth prep session with me by going to bit.ly/birthprepsession. I am taking only a few more more this month and won’t have availability until end of February! So schedule now!
I hope this episode was helpful for you. No matter where you’re at in your journey of pregnancy to postpartum there is hope. Don’t give up, don’t lower standards…If you’re feeling a bit drained after this episode take a minute and walk outside. Take a deep breath of fresh air, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take a few moments to ground yourself. This was not an easy topic! If this episode has been helpful or any of the other ones would you please take a minute and leave a review? As always… stay empowered!
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