The Trauma of Childbirth Can Take a Psychological Toll on Moms: You Are Not Alone

pregnant womanWe are supposed to walk away from our births with an unparalleled happiness -- we have a baby, a new life, a beautiful bundle of joy. But that doesn't always happen. After a traumatic birth, many mothers carry with them a sense of sadness that is different than postpartum depression. It can continue for years. We know we are supposed to feel grateful and powerful and motherly, but something lingers that we often cannot shake. Mothers can have post-traumatic stress disorder after giving birth, and it's something we need to talk about.


Birth can be traumatic, but there is something about a happy outcome (a healthy baby) that makes many of us feel we aren't allowed to feel the sadness that comes from a terrifying birth experience. It's as if we are expected to just be happy our babies are healthy -- and we are -- but we also don't allow ourselves to properly process our emotions surrounding the birth. Sometimes that process takes years -- or we think we are just fine until something happens and acts as a trigger.

More from The Stir: 'My Birth Gave Me PTSD': One Mom's Dark Journey Back from Trauma

I held out hope that I would have a natural birth of my twins despite the fact that a specialist I saw insisted it wouldn't happen. I had a doula, practiced hypnobirthing, and really wanted a vaginal birth -- what I felt was a rite of passage, an experience I yearned for and still do. I ended up getting HELLP Syndrome and the situation was dire -- emergency C-section. I felt sadness. Failure. I cried for days after and not just from pain. I cannot look at my scar without feeling emotional. Now, almost six years later, I replay all that anxiety whenever I am at the OBGYN for an annual exam. My belly is still partially numb where my Cesarean scar is and there are times when I touch it and it takes me right back to being strapped down, tears accumulating in my ears, a curtain covering everything below my stomach, the sound of the hospital machine beeping, the smell of my vomit. I feel fear.

I am not alone.

Marj, a 43-year-old mother of two, has PTSD resulting from an emergency C-section due to placenta abruptia. She lost five pints of blood and the hemorrhaging left her hospitalized for a week. Her son was born blue with the cord around his neck -- he's 13 now and has developmental issues that she cannot help but question if they are related to his traumatic entrance into this world (even though she knows they are not and are congenital and genetic). She gets panic attacks any time she has to lie on a table at the doctor's office. The birth is replayed over and over and over in her head. She also has nightmares about it.

Nathalie, a 32-year-old mom of three, is still dealing with the emotional toll of having an induction and C-section. For years she couldn't even think about a Cesarean birth (even someone else's) in any capacity without having anxiety. She couldn't even use the word "birth" to describe how she had her son. "I felt like he'd been taken from me," she said. "I even wondered if he was really my baby."

More from The Stir: Women Deserve Good Childbirth Experiences -- and Healthy Babies

Thirty-eight-year-old mom Kelley has trust issues with doctors ever since her OB wouldn't listen to her when she felt something was wrong. Kelley had placental abruption, and her delivery wouldn't have been so traumatic if only her doctor had listened to her and been her advocate. 

We are vulnerable when giving birth -- it's a time when we display our power along with our powerlessness. There comes a time when our bodies take over, or we have to give in to our fate. This is why it's so important to feel supported, to be listened to and to feel we are truly heard. It's also a time when we can feel violated, not just in being ignored, but physically. And it's not just something that happens when a mother has a C-section.

Tara, 42, still has vivid memories and anxiety resulting from her midwife and her assistant putting their hands into her as she was pushing during labor. She wasn't told they were going to do this; she wasn't asked. She felt they forced their way in when she was trying to birth her daughter. When she pleaded and begged them to stop, they didn't. She cannot think about her otherwise beautiful birth of her daughter without thinking of this violation first.

We don't feel heard, it's as if our voice and often our rights are taken away. We are stripped of our power when we need to feel it the most. There is panic, flashbacks, and nightmares, and it's something many mothers experience -- and yet there isn't a lot of research out there on mothers who have PTSD. It's partially because we aren't talking about it -- our lives are busy, we are mothers with our countless number of jobs; dealing with PTSD isn't something we can just stop to do. Or perhaps, just like in some of our births, it's that we aren't heard when we talk about it. We can seek therapy in many places -- the traditional way or within ourselves, in art, in exercise, in nature, in hearing our children's laughter. But the triggers are still there. We can feel comfort in knowing we aren't alone.


Image via Evgeniy Isaev/Flickr

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