Emotional Healing from Birth Trauma
Emotional healing is more long-term than physical healing. Long after your scars are gone and your pain level has returned to normal, you may still be turning the birth story over and over in your mind. If you felt uncared for, if you felt that you weren’t listened to, if you felt that your care providers betrayed your trust, and you were ignored as a person while the birth of your baby took priority, then you experienced a traumatic birth. It doesn’t matter if someone else had a ‘worse’ experience than you—trauma is subjective, and the only perspective that matters is yours.
When I was recovering from my older daughter’s birth, my recovery included self-help techniques as well as actual therapy from a qualified therapist. I am not a therapist, I’m a Self-Advocacy Coach. I cannot diagnose you, but I can tell you about the facts and symptoms around common postpartum mood disorders, and you can use the language of experts to articulate your needs if you decide to seek professional help. Below are descriptions of common postpartum mental illnesses, and tips to address them.
Postpartum Mood Disorders/Mental Illnesses
- 60-80% of women experience “baby blues,” and the clinical definition is moodiness that coincides with breastmilk developing — something that usually happens between the 3rd and 5th day postpartum.
- While there’s crying, irritability, and sadness, it coexists with the ability to experience pleasure and peace.
- Most cases only last a few hours to at most a few days, and can usually be kicked with a nap or a pleasurable activity.
- This is “Postpartum Psychosis,” a condition the media sensationalizes. It only occurs in 2 in 1000 deliveries, and the biggest risk of harm is actually suicide of the mother.
- Make sure you seek emergency medical attention and/or hospitalization if you are
- Psychotic (hearing voices, feeling paranoid, having delusional beliefs)
- There is actual risk of harm to your baby
- You cannot tolerate being left alone
- You feel you can no longer cope
- You are unable to perform important daily activities, such as eating, dressing, or getting out of bed.
- Postpartum depression includes physical, as well as emotional symptoms. Pay attention to your ability to enjoy life, as well as your connection with your newborn.
- I want to direct you to the best resource on the web: Postpartum Progress
- But I also want to remind you that having a newborn is stressful, you’ve just had a traumatic birth, and you may be experiencing disappointment when some of your expectations of motherhood aren’t coming to fruition.
- The important thing is that if you think you’re experiencing postpartum depression is that you get help.
Post Traumatic Stress Injury/Disorder
This is perhaps what you came looking for when you wanted to learn about emotionally traumatic birth experiences. The whole diagnosis in the official diagnostic manual is fairly complicated, but the symptoms for post-traumatic stress disorder can be grouped in roughly three parts:
- Intrusive memories, thoughts, flashbacks and/or dreams of the event.
- Avoidance of reminders, or a general sense of emotional numbing.
- Physiological over-activity, as manifested by angry outbursts, hyperactive startle response (fight-or-flight reactions or panic attacks in response to environmental cues that remind you of the trauma), or constantly being on guard.
Category one symptoms are why you’re here: you’re ruminating on the events of the past. But that alone doesn’t justify an official diagnosis. Be aware that avoiding reminders in category two may include avoiding your child—and other types of emotional numbing may include overeating and alcohol abuse. Category three symptoms may be summed as “feeling jumpy” or “paranoid.”
Remember, not all women who experience traumatic birthings go on to develop PTSD. In this case, I think this advice from the book “This Isn’t What I Expected” comes in handy: No list of symptoms will ever replace a careful, individual diagnostic assessment from a professional.
Exercises for PTSD “First Aid”
If you suspect that you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, I suggest you try the following grounding exercises, to remind yourself that you’re not actually being threatened right now. They’ll help you believe you’re safe:
EXERCISE: BE LIKE A MOUNTAIN
Sit up at the edge of a chair, with your hands on your knees and your feet flat on the ground. While your body will be well supported like this, it will still engage your body’s vestibular system, which maintains your balance, and thus return your awareness to your body.
Or, do Mountain Pose (Tadasana). First, stand with your feet together, or hip width apart (whichever is more comfortable for you.) Tuck in your tailbone and push your shoulders down and back so that your back is straight. Keep your arms relaxed at your side, and spread your fingers out. Breathe deeply from the belly. This will also involve your vestibular system, as well as awareness of breathing, and should help you realize that you’re in your body and not just a mind floating around.
EXERCISE: NAME THINGS YOU CAN SENSE
There are two versions of this exercise, too.
1.) When you feel yourself hitting resistance or disassociation, name five things in different colors. Name one red thing, one orange thing, one yellow, one green, and one blue.
2.) Or, you could engage all of the senses. Name to yourself five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch (and touch them!), two things you can smell and/or taste, and one deep, cleansing breath.
This guest post was written by Kate Ditzler. Kate is a Self-Advocacy Coach who works with women who dream of saving the world and are struggling with aspects of their life situations and expectations. These women learn to identify, validate, and speak up about their emotions and needs so that they can live their most expansive lives, coming away with strategies, skills, and sisters for their world-changing role. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Policy, and her big mission for her work in the world is to solve the problem of feeling unseen, unheard, and unsupported for all women.
Her company is Practicing Empathy, and she has free gifts, such as a checklist to evaluate the extent of your emotional birth trauma, as well as a one-page summary of the federal laws that cover pregnant workers.