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How to deal with emotionally traumatic birth?

(15 Posts)
stella1w Fri 22-Jul-11 21:04:08

I recently gave birth to my son and although we are both doing OK physically, I found the experience emotionally traumatic mainly due to a very intimidating midwife who treated the event like an obstetric emergency which it wasn't. I am meeting with the supervisor of midwives to discuss my experience and also am booked for a counselling session.
But I wanted to ask how others have coped with such an experience? I don't want to block out memories of my son's birth, but everything connected with it makes me very depressed eg. seeing the antenatal clinic, what I was wearing during labour etc etc.
My first birth was very joyful and uplifting, but I felt very flat and depressed as my son was born and have been feeling like this ever since (three weeks now).
Should I rationalise the experience? Block it out? Try to recast it? (I am trying to hang onto positive bits of it, but can't really think of any, except that the third stage went well!!).
Obviously I am happy to have a healthy child but I still feel the birth has undermined me emotionally.

chocolateyclur Fri 22-Jul-11 21:21:44

I can sympathise with you. I had a very traumatic birth with my son 3 years ago, and I think deep down I am still coming to terms with it - I can talk about what happened very matter of factly, but it still bothers me under that layer - and a lot more people can see through it than I would expect.

Take each day as it comes. You've sought support early on, which is a good thing, and you're running over the experience with professionals which is also good. I don't believe in blocking things out - in my experience repression isn't finite and you need to be able to find a way to move forward. Things will still be very raw at the moment.

One of the approaches I use in my work, talking to people who have a variety of issues, is to visualise how they are feeling now about a variety of different factors, on a scale of 0-10, where 0 is the absolute lowest ebb, and 10 is the happiest they could ever be.

Using myself as an example, I might say that in terms of happiness about this pregnancy, I am somewhere around a 5.5. Ideally (if I was to set a realistic target) I would like to be a 7.5, so I need to ask myself what is currently stopping me achieving that - quite simply it is fear of this birth and how it is still "unknown" (I always expected a second birth would be more straightforward because you know what is coming - but I'm still as clueless as ever, though more informed about the ways it could go wrong). I am also terrified of getting PND again. So what can I do about these things? Apparently some areas offer "birth reflection programmes", and I am considering this - to try to deal with my feelings and memories in an environment that replicates the labour unit in which I found myself. I am also considering seeing if we can afford a hypnobirthing course.

On the flip side, I can say that my 5.5 has some positives - if there weren't positives I would rate myself as 0 or 1 - and the things that stop this are knowing that my boy, whilst he has some very, very slight facial scaring, has no other side effects from his birth. He is happy (aside from being a threenager!) and clever and has no memories of it.

I hope that you don't see this as me hijacking your thread - I just couldn't think of a better way to illustrate the method. And it does work - it's good at compartmentalising feelings, and you can use it to set targets for yourself to work through. You're on the pathway to recovery purely by being strong enough to realise early on that you needed to ask for help.

Riveninside Fri 22-Jul-11 21:26:30

Ring sheila kitzinger at Birth Crisis. She will listen. She is great. Number can be googled.

theborrower Fri 22-Jul-11 21:36:22

There is another Mnetter on here called Show of Hands - hopefully she'll be along in a moment because she always has such wise words to say about birth trauma. Or look her up and see her posts on childbirth threads.

Google birth trauma association and have a read on there - they can also put you in touch with people that can help.

I found counselling enormously helpful - a safe space where I could talk as much as I wanted with someone who would listen - and validate my feelings adn experience! - and make sense of what I had gone through and my feelings about it all. I hope you find counselling helpful too.

Of course you are happy to have a healthy baby. But how you feel about your baby is separate to how you feel about the birth, and if people say 'you should move on, you have a healthy baby, that's all that matters' - well, don't listen to them. What happened to you and how you feel about it matters too! Talk talk talk about it when you go to counselling.

Wishing you all the best

hazeyjane Fri 22-Jul-11 22:44:26

I still have some very negative feelings about ds's birth a year ago, and found his 1st birthday hard. I was referred for counselling and ended up in a room with the consultant who arranged my c-section and the surgeon who performed it. I barely said a word, and when I came home dh ( and several mumsnetters!) pointed out that the whole thing seemed like an 'arse covering' session (it has since been discovered that ds has developmental delays, and is under investigation for the cause). I asked to be referred to a proper counsellor, but heard nothing back.

I really don't know what to say, because I am going through something similar, and haven't found a solution. I have been taking anti depressants for the last 6 months, and they have really helped with the feelings of anxiety, but I still sometimes get a wave of sadness that crashes over me.

I hope you find a way through it all.

ShowOfHands Fri 22-Jul-11 23:17:20

theborrower <mwah> You're very lovely. To be utterly clear, I'm no expert. I've merely been there.

Firstly, congratulations. Secondly, gosh you're still very much dealing with the immediate aftermath of the birth. It's early days and I think you can allow yourself to feel as fragile as you need to. Your hormones will still be up in the air.

There is no should about birth trauma. No way you should be feeling and no way you should be dealing with it. But there are lots of suggestions that might help. Most importantly, don't ever feel that you are ungrateful or ridiculous or silly for dwelling on it. You can have the most straightforward of deliveries and still be utterly floored by the whole thing. Your reaction to it is what it is and you should make no apologies for it.

I can tell you roughly what helped me...

Understanding what happened. Going to talk to the supervisor of midwives is a brilliant idea. Take lots of tissues and a list of questions. It is okay to cry, it is okay to struggle with talking about it. Go back as many times as you need to. Two things are quite important when going for this sort of debrief. One, finding out what actually happened and how decisions were made. There were bits of dd's birth that I thought I understood (and god was I angry/upset/traumatised by them) but when I talked to somebody and saw the notes, I could see that there were factors I was not aware of at all. And this helped reframe parts of it. I didn't feel so much of a bit player in the whole thing, having things done to me. I realised that a lot of what actually happened wasn't as random or futile as I'd thought. The other thing is that it's a chance for you to explain in a way that you couldn't at the time, what would have been better for you and more importantly, the midwife to acknowledge any mistakes they made. I have a written apology from my consultant and it helps to know that they understand where they went wrong. Be prepared for them not acknowledging things or disagreeing with you. It is okay and it doesn't mean you're 'wrong'. You don't have to back down, agree with them or forgive them. You're just there to tell them. As professionals they should listen and respond appropriately. Sadly, sometimes they don't. I hope you get a good 'un.

Talk about it. To anybody who will listen. Your partner, mum, friends, siblings, the birth trauma association if that's your kind of thing, a counsellor. It is okay to need to talk about it over and over again. It's very therapeutic to talk about it and know that people are listening.

Give yourself permission to say it wasn't the happiest day of your life. It doesn't mean you don't adore your baby with every fibre of your being. It doesn't mean that their crashing into existence isn't as monumental or brilliant as with dc1. Their births are separate events and your feelings about them are no reflection on your gratitude or ability to parent or anything else that you worry about in the wee small hours. The sadness you have about the day, the anger you feel about the way you were treated is separate to the way you feel about your baby and you have permission to feel sad about it.

PTSD or PND are common with traumatic deliveries. If you have nightmares or flashbacks, if it affects your day to day ability to deal with things, if you're not managing to deal with things or to process it, then there is no shame in talking to a mw/hv/gp and getting help. Don't let something that wasn't your fault rob you of any more than it should. There is help there if you need it.

Time. It gets so much easier with time. For months, perhaps years the feelings I had about the day dd was born were so all consuming that I didn't think I'd ever feel positive about it. And while a lot of the things above helped, time was the biggest healer. And this peculiar thing that happened over time where dd became a person in her own right. Her birth stopped being a story of my own unhappiness and more something we shared. Because she asks about it, of course she does, it's the day we met and when my wonderful, gregarious, curious girl asks me about that day, I talk about it in a way I never could before. I talk to her about how soft her skin was, I tell her what I whispered to her on the ward that night, I mimic the way she sneezed, I tell her the names of the midwives and doctors and suddenly, it's what it always was. It's the story of how we met and that in the end became so much bigger and brighter than all of the other feelings. It took a long time mind you and I am still sad and angry and guilty, but the prevailing feeling did change because I realised eventually I wasn't alone through it. DD was there too and it's a story we tell to each other.

It's such a visceral, raw reaction and it's more so in those very early days. The smallest of things bring it flooding back and you can't rationalise it. You want to be able to say 'well I'm fine, the baby's fine, no problem' but it sounds hollow. And it hurts. You wish it had been different and feel so utterly stripped by the whole thing. It doesn't stay this way. It gets better. I promise you. And you take the time to let it get better, you be gentle with yourself physically, make sure your iron levels are good, you're eating well, you're as rested as possible with a tiny baby. You are recovering in lots and lots of ways and I think physical and emotional recovery can go hand in hand. But neither can be rushed.

Finally, if you ever want anybody to talk to, I'm only ever a PM away. You can say what you want. I won't judge.

Congratulations on the birth of your little boy. Cuddle him lots and lots. Never, ever believe you did anything wrong. Labour and delivery is so steeped in chance and circumstance and so affected by those who are there to care for us during that time. If luck isn't on your side or you don't receive appropriate care then it's never for a moment your fault.

Take care


fruitybread Sat 23-Jul-11 12:56:18

Apologies to OP, I don't want to crash your thread - but ShowofHands, that's such an honest, emotional and beautifully written post. I was in tears by the end (in a good way). Major respect to you, lady.

notsuchayummymummy Sat 23-Jul-11 21:36:21

Ditto fruitybread - that is one amazing post showofhands.
Congrats on the birth of your boy op - wishing you the very warmest x

stella1w Mon 25-Jul-11 11:01:45

I'm crying as I read through such wonderful supportive wise replies. Seeing supervisor of midwives tmrw and counsellor later in the week and will post more later when less tearful! thank you.

SnarkHunt Tue 26-Jul-11 18:10:35

Showofhands should be a post-birth counsellor!
It's a balance between not blaming or judging yourself, but not denying yourself the right to feel sad and mourn the birth you hoped for. "at the end of the day all that matters is a healthy mum and a healthy baby" is a terrible statement as it denies your trauma and fear just to focus on the results.

I also found comments like "hardly anyone has a straightforward birth" very very unhelpful, but found the kind words of a friend who had a beautiful natural waterbirth a week before our experience very helpful, even with this 'perfect birth' she cried for three days and felt like she had been hit by a truck.

I found doing the birth afterthoughts thing a good start, as it made sure my memories were correct. But beware that if you had a quickly unfolding emergency, as I did, the notes can be a bit sketchy - mine had mostly been written up retrospectively.

I avoid programmes or films about birth and don't feel I have to explain myself and my story to anyone; it's amazing how casual acquaintances expect you to tell them all the gory details. However I am worried about my baby's first birthday too, bearing in mind how many people have scary and traumatic birth experiences it's a wonder the custom of celebrating birthdays has survived at all!

hazeyjane Tue 26-Jul-11 19:26:48

I also hate the 'focus on having a healthy baby' thing, especially as ds wasn't healthy (in SCBU for a week with breathing difficulties) and now has developmental delays, low muscle tone and other problems.

I really hope you find some way through it all. I feel like I don't want to pursue the post birth counselling now. I'm hoping that time, and burying my head in the sand a bit will help!

theborrower Tue 26-Jul-11 20:36:16

I found this website particularly helpful - it's called "emotional recovery after a cesarean", but I think a lot of it may apply to anyone that has had a birth they found traumatic. It also discusses how to deal with friends and family etc.

snarkhunt - a while ago, I was also anxious at the thought of DD's birthday - which is now next week! - but I'm glad to say that it is much less now. I still think about her birth almost every day, but I'm not feeling anxious about her birthday in the way that I was. If anything, I think I'm looking forward to being able to put it behind me - it feels like we're passing a milestone (and we are!) and we're into a whole new phase. I'm sure I'll get a bit emotional, mind...

LauraRose78 Tue 26-Jul-11 23:30:24

stella1w I really hope your meeting today with the supervisor of midwives went well. Mine was last Friday (my ds is 21wks) & I feel SO much better (they are going to copy a few bits of my notes for me to keep as part of my issue was very patchy memory of events due to v fast labour & PPH & passing out - although like snarkhunt some of my notes were retrospective) - I hope you got the answers or feedback you needed. I also found it helped to know my hospital are reviewing their practises (relating to tongue-tie diagnosis & treatment). The birth trauma association website is very good, and there is a birth trauma section on baby centre website that is also supportive. My HV has been great & offered me several 'listening' visits too. I've found talking about it lots very helpful and, in the light of some answers I got Friday, I have been able to start to 'reframe' things as suggested above. showofhands your post was so touching - thank you on behalf of everyone who found their birth experience traumatic who might stumble upon this thread (like me smile)
Allowing space to mourn the birth you didn't have & accepting all feelings (especially any guilt for things you can't control) plus writing about what happened (I have pages of scribble!) have helped me - I feel like I'm just starting to see some light, & I'm slowly exorcising things relating to the birth (I even ate the same meal I had in hospital the other day). I hope you start to feel better soon xxx

stella1w Tue 02-Aug-11 14:54:10

quick update. I have seen a counsellor who - although she told me to focus on the healthy baby - must have helped in some way because I feel much less upset about the birth and was even laughing at the ridiculous midwife! The counsellor said two helpful things to help me reframe the event. She said the midwife was a "bystander" which she basically was because she did nothing to help me through labour, she just stood there and measured bp and heartbeat and took copious notes. Thinking of the midwife as a bystander reduced the power of this overbearing woman in my mind and memory.
The counsellor also told me "you won" which I thought was odd as childbirth shouldn't be a battle but actually I think that phrase helped me reduce the power of the memory of this midwife.
I met the supervisor of midwives today (she had postponed for a week). She talked to me for 1.5 hours and indicated that this midwife had issues at the moment and might need temporary redeployment and retraining because she lacked "soft skills" like emotionally supporting women in labour. She also indicated that this midwife's colleagues had raised issues about her manner so it wasn't just me...
She MAY also arrange a meeting between me and the midwife if she thinks it will help.
And she has invited me to an event where women talk about their experiences to hosp consultants and midwives which I think would be a positive move.
And importantly she told me I could have spoken to the supervisor of midwives at any time to complain about how my labour was being handled.. not much good retrospectively, but worth knowing for anyone else about to give birth.. be clear about your rights in advance because when you are in labour it is really hard to thing straight!!

nunnie Tue 02-Aug-11 15:18:06

I didn't deal with mine, I just buried my head and focused on baby and my toddler.

I fell pregnant within 11 weeks of having my son and am now getting closer to the birth and am regretting my decision not to focus on his birth more and get some answers.

Glad you have took the decision to face this and try to get some answers.

Good luck.

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