I am excited to share with you aÂ guest postÂ written by Kristie de Jong a Clinical Counsellor who completed her MA at Trinity Western University. Â Kristie works extensively with families, mothers, and children who have experienced trauma.
As a birth and postpartum doula I often have clients hiring me due to a previously traumatic birth experience. Â Through education prenatally, empowerment in the birthing room, attentive support postpartum – doulas aim to make this crucial time a positive memory. Â For mothers that have had previous birth trauma, counselling is an imperative part ofÂ the healing process.
Life After Birthâ€¦..Trauma
Birth can be such a wonderful experience and thatâ€™s how it should be. However, as more and more couples are encountering struggles in their desire for children, birth and birthing is becoming more and more of a traumatic event. Trauma is defined as an unexpected event that leaves us powerless, helpless and out of control. Â So, if there are unexpected difficulties during any stage of the conception, pregnancy, labour or delivery, our brains will in all likelihood register what should be a joy-filled time as a traumatic event.
The time during the birthing process and the immediately afterward should be one of bonding between mother and child as well as between parents and child. If there are any unexpected issues that arise, that can lead a mother to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from trauma that occurred during labour, delivery or birth. This, unfortunately, can impact how a mother bonds with her child.
I recall one mother who had a textbook delivery and things went completely as anticipated. The labour, delivery and birth were all completely normal with no complications. She was all set to take her baby home a few days later, when she woke up with a very ill baby. Her son was immediately rushed to the isolation room in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit where a number of tests were performed and repeated on her infant. Because of the severity of her childâ€™s illness, she was separated from her infant son during this time period. In her specific situation, there wasnâ€™t a doctor who could identify what her son was ill with. Therefore, her son had to undergo numerous procedures and they were not able to assure her that her son would live.
Now, all is well that ends well and the doctors were able to identify what her son was ill with and treat it accordingly. However, this experience forever altered how this mother parented her son, especially in the early years.Â
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. The exposure must result from one or more of the following scenarios in which the individual:
- directly experiences the traumatic event;
- witnesses the traumatic event in person;
- learns that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or close friend (with the actual
Â Â or threatened death being either violent or accidental); or
- experiences first-hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event (not
Â Â through media, pictures, television or movies unless work-related).
The event then causes distress or impairment in the individualâ€™s social interactions, capacity to work or other important areas of functioning. Behavioural symptoms include re-experiencing the event through memories, dreams or flashbacks; Â avoidance of the memories, thought or feelings of the event, negative cognitions including blaming self, isolation and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities; and mood, and arousal including the flight, fight or freeze response.
For this mother, she had trouble allowing her child to be out of her sight. She would not leave him with babysitters or alternate care-givers and insisted on being in attendance every minute of his life. In addition, she retained such guilt and self-blame over what had happened that her entire world centered on attempting to mitigate every real and anticipated need that he had. In todayâ€™s terminology she would been seen as a helicopter parent but for her it was simply the manifestation of PTSD symptoms related to the birth trauma. She didnâ€™t trust anyone to with her child, she centred on trying to ensure he had the best of everything that he needed, she would cease social activities in order to be with her son as she attempted to ensure his safety and assuage the guilt that she felt. Â She became overprotective, she rushed him to the doctor for every little sniffle as she anticipated the worst for his health, she became depressed but chalked it up to post-partum depression, she blamed herself for his illness and she believed her body failed them. Sher interpreted her bodyâ€™s failure as a betrayal. This caused more feelings of having failed as a mother causing her to further blamer herself. The constant cycle caused a negative spiral of PTSD.
This constant need that drove her, in turn, negatively affected her relationship and bonding with her son. Initially, it appeared that she had a strong, secure attachment with her son but as time passed, it became evident that the behaviours that manifested from her PTSD caused a disconnect between her and her child.
And she is but one example of birth trauma. She is one story. Â There are many more struggles that occur during pregnancy and delivery that manifest in the same outcome-PTSD. However, there is hope. PTSD from birth trauma can be processed with the appropriate therapy. In order to ensure that we parent to the best of our abilities, we need to ensure that we have done our necessary work to turn us into the healthiest individualâ€™s that we can be. Far too often, we dismiss events that occur to us a just a normal part of living and we tell ourselves that we will â€śget over it,â€ť and that we donâ€™t need any professional help. Additionally, we often see getting therapy as a failure or a weakness within ourselves. Unfortunately, trauma is not something that we can just â€śget overâ€ť and it will continue to haunt us and affect our relationships and overall health if we donâ€™t pay attention to it.
If you suspect that you have been impacted by birth trauma, I urge you to seek appropriate counsel. By doing so, not only will you be setting yourself up for success but you will be giving your child the best you can give them: a whole and healthy parent!
Kristie de Jong
Phoenix Soars Counselling