Healing from Birth Trauma - What you can do to support yourself
Updated: Sep 27, 2021
Birth Trauma- we’ve all heard of it, we all hope it doesn’t happen to us, but to be honest, the majority of us come away from our births with some form of trauma.
It doesn’t have to be something huge like a life- threatening situation or an emergency caesarean. It could be something seemingly minor that has caused our trauma. Maybe it is a small but unexpected birth injury, a disappointed feeling that the birth didn’t go exactly as you had planned, anger at the way you were spoken to at some stage of your birth. There are countless reasons why someone may hold on to birth trauma.
For me, it was the way an unknown and untrusted obstetrician spoke to me. This obstetrician unfortunately became involved in my pregnancy when complications began to arise. At one stage during a routine heart monitor/ movement check when I was about 36 weeks pregnant, this OB put his hands on my belly and shook it (without permission) to try and get my baby to “wake up”, this made me feel violated and I was already weary of him, but when he then became involved in my labour I found my stress response kicking in every time he would enter the room (and let me tell you, having your flight and fight response activated will do 0 to help your labour progress) .
I had to do a lot of work around healing this trauma (albeit I recall my birth being very empowering once I asked for this OB to no longer be involved).
For me this healing work looked like:
· Having a postnatal session with my birth doula a day after giving birth to Sofia, along with a guided meditation. This was a major highlight of my stay in hospital.
· Speaking to a perinatal psychologist over a number of months to debrief and discuss ways to move forward. I found I only needed a few sessions with her as she is someone I did a lot of work with in my third trimester around feelings of anxiety. I am very lucky to have an amazing Perinatal Psychologist in my area but there are also other amazing support networks such as the Gidget Foundation Gidget Foundation - Perinatal Anxiety and Depression and PANDA PANDA - Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. Please be open with your GP or child and family health nurse as well if you are struggling because they will be able to talk you through the right kind of support for you (and in some cases this may mean working with a psychologist and a psychiatrist).
· Having a few postnatal massages to help with my physical recovery.
· Having lots of skin to skin contact with Sofia which helped to release oxytocin and helped me to bond with her.
· Resting as much as I needed to and as much as was possible, even if this meant doing a short meditation while Sofia slept on my chest.
· Listening to other people’s birth stories via Podcasts to feel more connected. My favourite Podcasts during my Fourth Trimester were: The Australian Birth Stories Podcast and Tales From the Fourth Trimester. I also found writing out my own birth story and then later recording my birth story as part of The Mother Space Podcast really therapeutic.
· Going for short and slow walks in nature and mentally listing all of the things I was grateful for. Also beginning a postnatal Pilates class at 13 weeks postpartum helped me to reconnect with my body and feel more like myself.
Sometimes breath practices are too overstimulating for someone dealing with birth trauma, depending on the level of trauma, but the best breath practices for new mothers are:
· Simple breath awareness starting with elongating exhale
· Alternate nostril breathing
· Ratio breathing (4 count breath in, 4 count breath out)
(Any breath holds should be avoided as they can be overly stimulating.)
The following are meditation practices that I have personally used to bring my nervous system back into balance and are practices that have been proven to be useful for Trauma Survivors:
Meditation Practices for Trauma Survivors ( from Yoga Therapist Linda Karl):
1. Mindfulness Meditation. This practice helps students to bring their awareness to the present- moment internal experience with the intention of simply observing rather than trying to change anything. I encourage them to come out of any past- or future- centres mental situations in order to observe their experience without judgment or blame. Especially important is the use of Metta (loving-kindness) meditation where they repeat silent, “May I be well and happy and peaceful, May I be safe”.
2. Nyasam (a Sanskrit word meaning placement). A simple practice using the fingers that gives a tangible reference for people whose minds are so scattered they can’t feel the breath in their bodies. The slow movements are very calming.
3. According to the Integrative Restoration Unit, yoga nidra practices have been found to be effective with those suffering from PTSD. Because so many suffering from PTSD are “switched on” at all times, the feeling of deep relaxation that yoga nidra brings is beneficial. It is important to note that if a PTSD survivor was told to “be quiet and don’t move” during the traumatic experience, deep stillness may be a trigger.
Of course, there are many other somatic healing practices that can help to release big emotions around the trauma involved. These can be helpful when talk therapy isn’t enough.
Wherever you are on your healing journey, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you will grow in unimaginable ways from this experience and you are so much stronger than you know.
“The wound is the place where light enters you” – Rumi
Sending love to you xx