How to Cope With a Traumatic Birth
Birth is a raw and vulnerable time: Feeling new and powerful physical sensations, possibly feeling out of control, and being naked and exposed among strangers. We always say that more powerful than any comfort measure or massage, is the feeling of safety. Feeling safe and participating in the decisions being made throughout the birth process, is what leads to an easier and empowering birth.
Unfortunately, for some, they leave their births feeling disempowered or traumatized for various reasons. It could be from:
- An unwanted C-section
- Unmanaged pain or discomfort
- Birth complications like hemorrhaging
- Baby impacted by a birth injury and needing medical attention
- Birth wishes not be acknowledged and/or respected
- Not receiving the care that you had anticipated
No matter the cause, the memory of a traumatic birth can stay with a person for a long time. The entry into parenthood is already a challenge, and feelings of fear, sadness, and guilt can aggravate this further.
If you are finding yourself having a hard time reconciling the events of your birth, you are not alone. Here are a few practices that can support the healing process.
Write it Out:
Get it out of your brain and onto paper. This process can increase resilience and decrease stress and rumination. According to Harvard Business Review, “Research suggests that trauma damages brain tissue, but that when people translate their emotional experience into words, they may be changing the way it is organized in the brain.”
Write in authentic detail about your traumatic birth, expressing feelings and perceptions. Writing a story from beginning to end places the author out of the victim seat into the narrator’s, allowing the opportunity to claim power and agency.
Share your Story:
Exchange birth stories with other parents. This exchange can greatly contribute to the healing process. It helps to reframe the birth, build confidence in yourself when you hear that others have had similar experiences, and claim your identity as something separate from this event.
You can do this with friends and family or find a support group in your area. Ask around on Facebook parent groups. You may also find a recommended support group through the practitioners on your care team, such as your doula, lactation consultant, midwife, OB, chiropractor, and massage therapist. The birth world is a connected network of services, so tap into that.
Recruit Helping Hands:
On top of the trauma is the fact that you have a body that needs healing and a baby that needs care. If it is overwhelming, call in your support. This can be your community or hired help. Just ask for help, and they will come. Cooking, baby care, laundry, dog walking, or just sitting and watching a movie with you are all ways that can make this time a little easier.
Getting the support you need to rest, eat, and heal will ensure that your physical needs are being me, so that your emotional needs can be addressed.
Seek Professional Help:
If you feel that you’re constantly reliving the event, or lost in a dark place, you are not alone. See a therapist who specializes in trauma. A therapist can teach tools to self-regulate and process the original event. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a treatment technique that can decrease the emotional sensitivity to triggering memories.
Dana Nassau specializes in perinatal mental health and offers EMDR within her practice. She offers in-person sessions in the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles and here at Village Birth in Pasadena. If you have experienced birth trauma, Dana can help develop a path forward.
Village Birth offers doula services, childbirth classes, newborn care classes, lactation and pregnancy support for Los Angeles. Our space is in Sparrow’s Nest in Pasadena (bordering Eagle Rock) where we hold classes, support groups, workshops, and meetups. Interested in learning more about the birth process and options available in your birth setting? Check out Village Birth’s prenatal classes.