Birth Trauma- Is It Real?

(Side note: You can read more about me and my therapy work with trauma here.)
Update: You can listen to my podcast interview on birth trauma here.
You can join a free Facebook support group for birth trauma here.

Early in my career, I became a mom. This meant, by whatever mysterious law governs these things, I began attracting other new moms to my practice. I felt honored to be trusted at such a sacred season of life.

And a funny thing happens when you listen to people, really listen. They start to tell you the things they don't usually say to others. They start to open up their stories and experiences as they trust your care.

And I began to notice something. At first I thought it was a coincidence.

But over time, the pattern held. And my curiosity got involved. Now it has been years. And the pattern still holds. And so I am beyond curious. I am on fire about it.

This pattern? Women with medically "normal" deliveries were ending up in my office with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from their birth experiences. WHAT?

Some of them met all the diagnostic criteria. But a larger portion had just enough PTSD symptoms that they were affecting their life. Their sleep, their relationships, their anxiety, their bonding with their infant... were all being affected.

Now I need to pause here and explain. We are taught in school that PTSD only happens after a specific series of experiences. Namely, that the experience in question has to feel life-threatening. Otherwise, it's not PTSD. At least, this is what we are taught. (Thankfully this is slowly changing.)

So my mind wasn't primed to believe this was possible in any more than a few women. Sure, if a woman had a dangerous death-defying birth experience then PTSD would make sense. But this large group of women who didn't fear for their lives or their baby's? How could this be? What in the hell is happening here?

No lie, I used my professional access to ask this question of the foremost trauma experts in the field. And I got... nowhere. Blank stares and confusion at the question mostly.

So (a post for another day) I have dedicated a great deal of my professional life understanding this phenomenon. I trained as a doula (birth attendant) and I am currently researching this topic. We are only just beginning to acknowledge this trend exists as a profession. I know very few fellow clinicians who are aware of this and working on it. But don't worry, we are. I have heard you. I carry you in my heart. You are seen.

For those of you who found your way here because you think you might be suffering symptoms of Birth Trauma, here's what I want you to know.

- You can love your baby and be grateful for your baby's health and still have birth trauma. People who suggest "just be thankful for a healthy baby" don't get it. They mean well but they are shaming you. Do not listen to them. What you feel matters.

- You can have a medically normal birth and still have PTSD symptoms. In fact, most women suffering with birth trauma had medically normal births.

- You are not alone. In fact, research suggests more than 30% of women have trauma after their birth. And no, they are not okay either.

- There is hope. There are many therapies that work quickly and effectively on birth trauma. These include EMDR or Brainspotting (I offer these, click for the link). My research tells me that other treatment which might be helpful would include narrative-based therapies and other body-based therapies.

So what are some signs of Birth Trauma? Well, that's a trickier question than you would think. As of yet, we have no diagnostic criteria that we agree on as a profession. So I will just offer what I observe based on my experience and reading. If you have any of the following, you might have birth trauma.

1. Intrusion: This can be flashbacks, dreams or intrusive memories. For many of my moms, it is the sense that their birth memories (once triggered) plays through in their brain whether they want it to or not. They find it distracting, distressing or in some way unpleasant. At the same time, it happens more often than they want.

2. Mood and Beliefs: This can vary greatly by person. But generally there is some mood or belief consequence to what you're experiencing. It might include- anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, numbness, or emotional disconnection. It is an all-encompassing category that means these symptoms are having a negative effect on your life, whether internally or in relationships.

3. Avoidance: This one I find is less frequent. Some moms find they avoid things that trigger the upsetting part of their birth experience. In some cases this means they might even avoid their baby at times. I personally have found that this is variable. Some women experience it and others do not.

4. Arousal: This is a state of heightened emotions or attention. It can look like anxiety, an exaggerated startle response, or irritability. In new moms it can look like intense fear of germs, or other people holding baby, or a compulsion to watch baby while sleeping. It is as if (while part of you is so tired!) the other part of your brain is on high alert; ready for any possible danger whether real or imagined.

If you, or someone you love, recognizes their experiences in this list- please know you are not alone. Please know there is help for you. Please find a therapist who is experienced with trauma treatment. And find someone who will treat this seriously regardless of what the manuals say. One who will treat you as an individual. One who will believe you and your story. It can make all the difference.

And please know, that you have an ally. We are a small group but we are growing. We are listening. Birth trauma is real and women and babies deserve better.

Wishing you healing for your journey,


My Children Are Ruined

I'm ruining my children.

It's summer. I am home part-time with my six-year-old and two-year-old.

Like a wonderful mom I have been surfing Facebook and Pinterest ("working on my computer") while my children scream and destroy things (I mean, "play creatively") in the background. It isn't quite noon yet, and already I have a growing list in my mind. All the things. So many things. I am ruining my children. It is certain.
In case you're wondering how, let me form a short list of what I have messed up today alone:

-Children need unstructured play to develop creativity. Kids without lots of toys have it best. But I should maybe put some more thought into the activities I provide for them so they develop. Only if I care about them.
- Children need to be allowed freedom and autonomy in their play but I must be sure to engage with them so they are attached to me. Also I must watch them every second because they could drown or choke or impale themselves. But I shouldn't hover.
-Children who only spend time with their caregivers are more anxious and less flexible. They need to have exposure to others. But also if I let someone else care for my children, I am allowing strangers to raise them. Why did I bother having a child? Shame on me either way.
- On that note, I should be sure and model a happy and well-adjusted adulthood for them. But I need to make sure that doesn't detract from my unwavering focus on them. My needs are important but also not important if I love my child.
- Children need to be allowed to enjoy simple pleasures like popsicles, but only if they're homemade and refined sugar and allergen free. Unless its the ice cream truck and then why are am I denying them childhood nostalgia? I shouldn't control everything.
- Sibling fighting is totally normal, and will ruin them forever. So I must be sure to let them work it out themselves except I need to be teaching them how to do this through modeling and involvement.
- Screen time is ruining my children. I should simply send them out onto my plentiful acreage or my very safe street to play with the other children who aren't outside. Once again, see the rules about supervision. There are dangers lurking everywhere but I must let them explore if I want them to be functional adults.
- Lunch must be cute. Handmade. Free of dairy or gluten. Why can't I cut up fruits and veggies and arrange them beautifully? My kids would eat better if I only had knife skills.
- My house must be minimalist. With only creative-play wooden toys. But also, my children must learn computer proficiency and preferably know how to code by kindergarten. Do I want them to fall behind the times?
- A child's needs must be tended to. Always. This will make them a secure adult. Unless they are just crying because they are frustrated or needing to learn how to solve a problem. In which case I can stunt their development by rushing to save them all the time. Do I really want them to miss out on this learning?
- I should not raise my voice to express myself. But also I should not be fake. Authenticity is important in modeling and attachment. Unless I'm authentically losing my brains. Then that needs to be kept inside. I don't want to burden my children with my fakeness or my feelings.

... It is so serious. I have RUINED them. Before noon.
I know what to do. How about I visit a lovely supportive internet forum where moms talk about their mothering challenges? That should help....

(Original published on my Facebook page. If you enjoyed this, you should follow me there!)

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Common Sense Disclaimers- This is not a substitute for medical advice or for therapeutic advice. I do not know you personally. My advice cannot be seen as professional advice specific to your condition or needs. This video is intended for interest and information only and is never an implied professional relationship nor is it a substitute for one.