Bringing a new life into the world is described as a magical and life changing experience for thousands of parents.
Yet sadly around 30,000 women a year in the UK describe the experience as ‘out of control and traumatic’.
Now factor in soon to be parents who have had their birthing plans denied due to Covid 19. Wonderful, calm and natural home and water births being be scrapped with women now having to give birth in high risk Covid 19 hospital environments instead, and the combination is set to see rates of birth trauma soar in 2020.
Current estimates indicate that 50,000 women a year in the UK develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to birth trauma. And that’s just the women, a staggering number of fathers also experience high levels of birth trauma from watching their partners go through the experience of giving birth.
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
There is often a big confusion, and mis diagnosis, between postnatal depression and PTSD because the two have similar symptoms.
Postnatal depression is linked with long periods of low mood, lack of energy, feeling disassociated from life and even the baby. PTSD on the other hand is a direct result of the trauma experienced during childbirth.
PTSD is commonly associated with soldiers returning from war, witnessing a traumatic event, accidents, sexual or physical abuse. Yet the truth is that around 1 in ten women and 1 in 20 men experience PTSD at any one time during their life.
PTSD occurs when the memory of an event is not fully processed in the brain, making the experience remain very ‘live’ when in fact the event could have taken place many years before.
Due to the firing of the bodies fight and flight response, and the surge of the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline, high levels of emotional arousal such as fear are experienced. In the case of birth trauma, even when a baby is finally delivered in the world, the experience of event can hold the body in a high state of ‘emergency alert’.
The signs of PTSD
The signs of PTSD in both Mums and Dads can include flashbacks of the birth, nightmares, recurring thoughts about the birth, waking up in the night sweating, anxiety about the baby, hyper vigilance, thinking worse-case scenario, a fear of something bad happening, especially to the baby, and feeling overwhelmed.
Certain words and what is being shown on TV such as a birth, or being in hospital can also trigger the fight and flight response and remind the Mother or Father of their own birthing trauma, causing physical reactions in the body. Other signs and difficulties also include a loss of confidence in parenting skills, struggling with breast feeding, feeling a failure as a parent, shame and avoidance of sex.
The link between childbirth and PTSD
Lots of expectant parents can and do have their birthing plans changed at the last minute, lead to feelings of anxiety and loss of control during the actual birth. Even ‘normal’ births can lead to PTSD as both parents are left feeling helpless, particularly in hospital environments when surrounded by machines, IVs and people, bright lights and noise.
In light of Covid 19, there is a greater risk of both men and women developing PTSD due to concerns about giving birth in hospital and the risk of contracting Coronavirus.
What can be done to clear PTSD?
On the positive side, PTSD can be cleared successfully with the right therapeutic intervention. While these treatments are not yet available on the NHS, therapists trained in Emotional Freedom Technique and Hypnotherapy can often clear PTSD in under 5 sessions. In both cases, powerful techniques are used to process the original birthing memory and experience through the brain, releasing the trauma and restoring the link to the frontal lobes, allowing calm rationale thinking. The impact of such modalities is instant even in high level cases of PTSD. Furthermore, these approaches can be used without the new Mum or Dad having to recount the experience verbally, which only serves to re traumatise the individual.
Jenni had planned for a homebirth; however, her baby wasn’t in the right position to allow her to give birth and ended up going into hospital halfway through the birth. In hospital Jenni had forceps and vontuse delivery. At the time of the birth she recalls feeling that total control was taken away from her and a sense that no one was talking or listening to her. Following the birth of her baby Jenni proceeded to feel like she was on an emotional roller coaster and experienced constant feelings of anxiety, unable to make decisions or tune into her instincts.
“I went to see the doctor and he prescribed me anti depressants straight away and diagnosed me with post natal depression. I took one of the tablets, it made me physically sick, gave me a headache and a panic attack. Thankfully my sister recommended Sara Maude, a hypnotherapist. Over Skype, Sara began by asking a few introductory questions and I recognised how raw I was still feeling about the actual birth and how scary it had felt to have control taken away from me. Sara explained why I was feeling the way I was which felt hugely reassuring.
Within a day of the session I felt better and felt like I could finally sleep. My son is now 5 months old and I finally feel like me again. I’d never have thought that hypnotherapy would help me the way it did but I’m so glad I gave it a go”
Taking the next step
Recognising that you may be suffering from PTSD is the first step in acknowledging you are not alone and whether you are Mum or Dad, there is no need to suffer in silence.
If you are due to give birth in hospital and are at all worried or anxious about Covid 19, access to these highly effective treatments are still available privately over Zoom or Skype, and can go a long way to ensuring your birth is the magical experience you deserve.
If you are a new Mum or Dad and resonate with this article and feel you may be suffering from birth trauma and PTSD, relax, help again is at hand. You don’t have to worry about waiting to see an experienced therapist in person to find the inner freedom and calm you desire to really experience your babies new life.