What is the hidden cost of birth trauma? Many women experience frightening and life-threatening experiences giving birth often coupled with a lack of emotional support or any dignity. As one traumatised client told me “No one prepared me that childbirth could be a ‘proper’ trauma”.
Let’s face it – who has the time to prepare us? 88% of mums have never met the midwife who helps them birth their baby. Couple this with the fact that over half of women giving birth in the UK experience a ‘Red Flag’ event during labour (this can be delayed pain relief, sometimes for hours, or more complicated action like an emergency C-section) we are usually woefully unprepared for what might happen.
Having worked with postnatal mums for many years it is clear that maternity services are stretched beyond belief in the UK, and if mother and baby simply survive that is seen as a great result, regardless of the physical and emotional impact on new mums.
The hidden cost of birth trauma on family life is difficult to truly measure, however, 150,000 women in the UK will develop some kind of mental illness during pregnancy or in the year after. It is estimated that childbirth related mental health problems cost the NHS £8.1bn per annum – which equates to approx. £10k per birth.
Post Traumatic Stress symptoms are often the result of a difficult birth, but sadly often dismissed or ignored. Many women feel like a complete failure if birth has been difficult for them, often feeling as if their body has let them down. While they have a lovely new baby to care for, which partners, family & friends are all cooing over, mums are often left reeling and many feel isolated and unable to express how deeply affected they have been.
As one client said “there was no mention of birth trauma to describe what happened to me, and because I had to keep this new small human alive all my experiences were ignored and devalued”
PTS symptoms can include, hypervigilance (feeling jumpy all the time), anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks (re-living part of the birth in your head), nightmares and either obsessively talking about the birth or avoiding any conversation or thoughts to do with birth or other babies. Less commonly talked about, because it is less obvious, is complete numbness and separation from what happened as it is just too much to process. Increasingly I see clients in their 50’s and 60’s who are only now able to process their birth story.
As one mum put it “during the birth I felt vulnerable, with no idea what was going on. I was bullied and intimidated and I lost all confidence to trust my maternal instincts”
These symptoms can lead to terrible isolation for new mums, they may feel that everyone else is coping and that they won’t be taken seriously. Or that ‘they should just get over it’ because everyone else seems to be fine, and it would make them a bad mother if they did admit how much they are suffering.
The cost to family life can be huge, as mums struggle to continue with life under the burden of hidden symptoms and lack of acknowledgement. Often clients will find me because they simply cannot go on any longer and they are either sinking (or have sunk) into depression or another serious illness. Sadly, the relationship with their children can also be effected as they battle through their symptoms.
So, what can mums do? Talking to your GP or Health Visitor can help or joining a postnatal yoga or baby massage class to gain a sense of community and understanding with other mums. Just talking about your experience and acknowledging it to a trusted friend can be a great first step.
Also seeing a birth trauma professional can really help if your symptoms are overwhelming.
I truly believe that new mums deserve all the help they can get. If we support mums we support our future generations. I offer workshops and individual specialist birth trauma support to help mums release the story of what happened to them in the birthing room and move on in gentle safety.
You can transform the story and let it go so that the memory of the birth is just that, a memory.