Life after birth trauma


Anyone who has given or witnessed a birth can experience emotional trauma. Some may try to sort it out on their own or just brush it off, while others may swap stories or vent to similarly traumatized moms. However, these approaches often only provide temporary relief and healing can be more elusive. Doula and Childbirth Educator, Shelley Rahim, offers some insight into emotional birth trauma and ways to move forward.

What is birth trauma?

Birth trauma can be physical or emotional, but in this post, we’re referring specifically to emotional trauma. Feelings might include deep sadness, regret, anger, shame, grief, blame, numbness, or disappointment about events that happened surrounding the birth. And while some people avoid thinking about some parts of the birth, others mentally replay moments over and over again wondering what should have been done differently.

Why is birth trauma so often kept hidden?

Shelley says that oftentimes we just want to make people feel better and don’t know how to listen to or validate their feelings. The quick response is often, “Well, at least there’s a healthy baby,”  but that doesn’t do anything to address the emotional struggles.

TIP: Approximately 9% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. Want more information about birth trauma? Listen to our podcast episode or read our transcript!

Can birth trauma affect you as a parent?

Yes, because when you have expectations about how a birth will be, and it doesn’t follow those expectations, you can be left with a lot of guilt and shame. Those feelings can spill over into how we parent, how we mother, and how we feel about ourselves postpartum.

How can women find safe and supportive places to share their stories?

Be your own healer – write down your birth story; ask yourself where you were strong and how giving birth has changed you. Asking these questions can lead to healing.

Another thing you can do is share your story with other mothers, not just those with traumatic experiences, but those with positive birth stories as well. You want to avoid dwelling too much in negativity.

If you’re still struggling, don’t hesitate to seek out a postpartum therapist.

How can we be better listeners when it comes to our own birth stories as well as those of other women?

  • Don’t offer platitudes or invalidate feelings.
  • Listen with compassion in your eyes.
  • If you’re up to it, you can just say something simple like “Wow”, and if you’re ready, you can say things that validate her experience such as “That must have been really hard.” You can even ask more questions, especially those that are solutions-based.
  • Consider seeking out a support group or therapist if you need more help.
  • When you replay your own birth story, tell yourself that while things didn’t go as planned, things can be different next time. And while you didn’t get to control the events, you do get to determine your feelings and have those feelings be heard, which will help in moving forward.

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