There are lots of different things that can happen while giving birth that can lead to you dealing with birth trauma. If you went through a traumatic birth, you’re not alone. Many women find themselves walking away from giving birth with difficulty coping and dealing with the things that arose during labour.
We want all new mothers to be prepared for the experience of giving birth and gain a better understanding of birth injury and birth trauma. You deserve the full knowledge of the different things that can happen during birth, and access to proper care and support if you’ve already experienced them.
Types of Birth Injuries
There are many different complications a woman may encounter in childbirth that can cause a traumatic birth experience. Some of these can be common birth complications, whereas others can arise from obstetric violence and mistreatment from medical staff.
Let’s explore some common birth injuries that can happen during a difficult birth.
During childbirth, a woman may experience perineum tears (also called perineal tears), or vaginal tears, during vaginal delivery. This happens when the vagina fails to stretch wide enough to accommodate the heads of large babies during birth.
Perineum tears vary in terms of degrees of severity. Tears can be small, or large enough to extend from the vagina to the anus. These tears, if severe, can lead to faecal incontinence, and sphincter injuries. These tears are treated with stitches that heal after birth.
Sometimes a doctor may perform an episiotomy, manually making an incision to widen the vagina to avoid perineum tears. While this can prevent the traumatic event of natural tearing, it should only be done if medically necessary.
Pubic Diastasis is a condition where a joint at the front of the pelvis, called the pubic symphysis, is separated. Think of it as a dislocation of your pubic bones, often caused by birthing multiple babies. This dislocation can be painful and is treated by wearing abdominal supports and patient exercise.
A postpartum haemorrhage refers to an unusually high amount of heavy bleeding after giving birth. While it’s normal to experience bleeding 2-6 weeks about birth, childbirth trauma can cause irregular, unsafe bleeding.
In severe cases, women can suffer mass amounts of blood loss. It is important doctors treat a postpartum haemorrhage right away.
A uterus rupture can happen as a result of trauma stress on the uterus, causing the uterus to tear during pregnancy. This is common in women who have had caesarean sections.
This is a medical emergency that can be life-threatening for both the baby and mother. Those who go through this condition will experience blood loss and will need emergency surgery.
After birth, pelvic organs can prolapse and bulge into the vagina. Long and laborious labours often cause a prolapsed uterus, where the uterus slips out of position and settles in the vaginal canal. This can lead to pelvic pain, urinary incontinence, and discomfort in the vagina. It is treated with pelvic floor therapy, and in extreme cases, surgery.
Psychological Impact of Birth Trauma
The psychological impact of giving birth can affect all mothers. It is not exclusive to those who suffered physical traumatic stress. Pregnancy presents a massive physical and hormonal change to your body, and can often lead to postpartum depression, and feelings of postpartum post-traumatic stress.
Many mothers go through post-traumatic stress disorder following birth, especially those who went through birth trauma. PTSD symptoms can include:
- difficulty with bonding with the baby
- feelings of isolation
- feelings of guilt
- fears around having more children
- believing issues surrounding a baby’s health or the birth process are your fault
- avoiding places and situations that remind you of traumatic childbirth (for example, avoiding the doctor or hospital)
Postnatal depression and postnatal PTSD can be difficult to work through alone. Many trauma symptoms can feel hard to acknowledge when your mental focus is being pulled towards your baby and away from yourself. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge the effect birth trauma can have on you psychologically.
Dealing with a birth injury, birth defect, or healing from traumatic birth can be devastating. Nobody wants to walk away from birth feeling hurt, confused, or like they were not listened to. It’s important that those dealing with postpartum PTSD feel listened to, reaching out for support. In many cases, medication and therapy are the best way to work through and heal from birth trauma or obstetric violence.
Moving Forward from Birth Trauma
After going through birth trauma, it’s time to begin the healing process.
If you face a physical injury during birth, it is important to work alongside healthcare professionals to ensure you heal.
Depending on your specific condition, these treatments come in the form of medication, physiotherapy, psychological therapy, surgery, or more. Be sure to visit your doctor as a part of post-natal care and book in a post-natal assessment with a physiotherapist to discuss any physical changes you encountered during or after surgery.
Healing psychologically can be even harder than healing from the physical. The most important thing to remember is to give yourself patience, time and remember that you are not at fault.
Here are some things you can do to start the healing process:
Build a support group: If you feel down after birth, reach out for support. Ask your partner, family, and friend to step up in helping with the baby if you need more time to recover.
Feel your feelings: Going through trauma can be an emotional rollercoaster, so don’t judge yourself. Even if you feel bad feelings towards your baby or are detached from yourself. Don’t judge how you feel.
Get professional support: To deal with feelings, a licensed therapist can do wonders to help you work through issues with PTSD. Look for a therapist to discuss what happened to you, and work through your trauma.
File a complaint: This is an important step to take if you think your birth injury or trauma was the result of poor medical practice. If you feel you can, you can reach out to the hospital to assess what happened to you, what caused your injury, and even file a birth injury claim. If you were harmed, it can be empowering to pursue justice.
Take time: Finally, and most importantly, take time to heal. Trauma isn’t something you can process and get over in a weekend. No matter how long it takes, give yourself time to work through feelings around your experience.
Working with our pelvic physiotherapists during pregnancy and after birth can help to prepare you both mentally and physically for what’s ahead. During the post-natal stage, there is much we can do to support you in the healing process and ensure you have the right healthcare team around you to get through this time, which is both challenging and rewarding. Book a post-natal assessment with one of our pelvic physiotherapists today.