Mothers Speak Out About the Trauma of Childbirth

Mothers Speak Out About the Trauma of ChildbirthHaving a baby is supposed to be a joyous occasion. When something goes wrong, however, it can have lifelong repercussions on a family. Even when the baby is perfectly healthy, mothers can suffer severe birth trauma.

What is birth trauma?

The Birth Trauma Association provides a wealth of information about birth trauma, explaining that it’s a shorthand term for post-traumatic stress disorder that develops after a traumatic childbirth. Many mothers experience birth trauma during an extremely stressful birth where the mother has “the fear that [she] or [her] baby are going to die. We very often see birth trauma in women who have lost a lot of blood, for example, or who had to have an emergency cesarean because their baby’s heartrate suddenly dipped.”

What are the symptoms of birth trauma?

Not everyone experiences birth trauma in the same way. Writer Ellen O’Connell Whittet, in an article for BuzzFeed News, notes that birth trauma is much more than just the “baby blues.” She explains that it “exists on a spectrum from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder, which might look like flashbacks or hypervigilance, to symptoms that might not warrant a diagnosis but indicate difficulty coping after childbirth.”

Symptoms of birth trauma are similar to PTSD and commonly include:

  • Reliving the traumatic event via nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts. Re-experiencing a trauma can make you feel anxious, distressed, or panicky.
  • Avoiding things that remind you of the birth and associated trauma. This might include avoiding meeting new parents or going out of your way to avoid the hospital where you gave birth.
  • Hypervigilance, which is very common with PTSD and means being on constant alert. Parents who have experienced birth trauma are often jumpy and easily startled, and continually worried something terrible is going to happen to their baby.
  • Feeling depressed and unhappy, a condition the Birth Trauma Association calls “negative cognition.” This can manifest in feelings of shame or guilt about your birth experience, or difficulties in remembering what happened.

Rachael Benjamin, director of Tribeca Maternity at Tribeca Therapy, told BuzzFeed News there are a variety of reasons a patient could experience birth trauma. “Birth trauma could be an emergency C-section, not feeling safe during labor or delivery, insufficient pain relief, the loss of a baby, or a long labor. There could also be medical trauma.”

Medical trauma to mothers can include things like:

  • Complications from C-sections
  • Pelvic area fractures
  • Pelvic floor muscle damage
  • Pelvic organ prolapse
  • Perineal tears

When these conditions and injuries aren’t treated properly or in a timely manner, a patient can experience chronic pain, infection, and further complications.

What causes birth trauma?

Experts report some of the following causes for developing and experiencing birth trauma:

●      Assisted delivery with forceps or vacuum extractor

●      Being ignored or dismissed by medical staff

●      Birth resulting in neonatal intensive care unit

●      Emergency C-section

●      Experiencing a birth injury

●      Fear for baby’s safety

●      Feelings of loss of control

●      High levels of medical intervention

●      Induction of labor

●      Lengthy and/or painful labor

●      Loss of dignity and privacy

●      Poor pain management

●      Previous trauma

●      Stillbirth

For many, being dehumanized or ignored by doctors or other medical professionals is enough to cause lasting trauma. O’Connell Whittet points out that there is currently little accountability regarding birth trauma, and that needs to change:

Addressing the needs of those most likely to experience trauma during birth means creating broad structural change to make everyone safer during the most vulnerable moments of their lives. Restorative justice work and education about rights before, during, and after the baby arrives can change how giving birth can look in a country that centers the health, dignity, and autonomy of the birthing parent as well as the baby.

A mother named Ally recounted her traumatic birth to BuzzFeed, describing how her doctor performed a procedure on her with no warning – she “felt violated during a prenatal appointment when a doctor inserted and opened a speculum for a routine check without warning [her], and again after the delivery of her first child by the same doctor, when she experienced a retained placenta.”

Ally later entered treatment for postpartum depression and trauma (although she was forced to pay out-of-pocket).

Birth trauma and medical malpractice

When labor and delivery does not go as planned and a birth becomes a traumatic experience, doctors and medical staff should be prepared for potential emergencies and follow all standards of care. If your baby suffers a birth injury during a traumatic birth due to the negligence of a medical professional, you may be eligible for a medical malpractice action.

Injuries that can happen to an infant during a traumatic birth include:

Children who experience serious injuries may face a long road ahead, as some of these injuries will have a long-lasting effect on their health and development. It is not easy to care for a child with a birth injury, financially or emotionally, and when you are coping with the aftereffects of a traumatic birth, it can feel nearly impossible.

Did you or your newborn baby suffer trauma during childbirth? The experienced New Jersey birth injury attorneys at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow fight for justice for families. Call our office at 732-777-0100, or submit our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout New Jersey from our offices in Edison, Red Bank, and Toms River.