Sometimes, giving birth can be a traumatic experience. This is one of the reasons why woman turn to doulas for nurturing care to help them achieve the birth experience they envision. The problem with previous traumatic experiences is that it is having realistic expectations, especially when things don’t go according to plan. But, what happens when there is a existing trauma, or after a previous traumatic birth?
What causes ongoing anxiety around birth?
There are many reasons why women experience anxiety around birth. Sometimes, especially in a first pregnancy, I see women who have heard scary stories and have fears about their upcoming birth, or, in the case of a second (or more) birth, there are unresolved challenges or trauma that took place previously. If this is the case, your experiences can leave you feeling fearful, anxious or even terrified. It is so important to pay attention to emotional pain (as well as the physical pain) after a trauma in order to prevent long-term effects. This doesn’t have to be done alone.
Unfortunately we hear of traumas where doctors or staff are unsympathetic or bullies, or procedures which regrettably don’t go according to plan or result in tragic outcomes. Trauma can begin before birth with forced inductions or can be experienced as distress during or after the birth. You could be left feeling disregarded, helpless and unheard. The traumas might also have been physical in nature which takes time to heal and can result in emotional or psychological after effects. If you notice that you are feeling shock, numbness, guilt, panic attacks or anxiety after your birth, this could indicate signs of trauma.
What can help?
While time might have passed since your challenging experience, the nervous system is often left overwhelmed. The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay this way.
Somatic Experiencing is an effective healing method for the treatment of PTSD. It is a body (somatic, which includes the nervous system) approach to trauma. In a session we focus not only on thoughts, emotions and memories of the event but also on the bodily response as well. This is done slowly and in a safe environment, and is where the healing begins. It was developed by Peter A Levine, PhD, to help people resolve traumatic events where they might be stuck, and return to a more regulated, balanced nervous system.
“Trauma is not what happens to you, it is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you” Dr Gabor Mate
Examples of birth traumas
Here are some examples of traumatic birth cases that I have worked with that will give you an idea of how gentle the SE process is in restoring calm where overwhelm, panic or trauma once ruled. There is no need to carry these traumas from the past into your future or upcoming birth:
Case 1 – Termination resulting in trauma:
At 15 weeks my patient received news that there were severe defects with her foetus and her doctor recommended termination. Tremendous guilt filled her as she went through the termination and in the process, unexpected complications arose and she almost died from excessive haemorrhaging. As a result of this, she was plagued with guilt that she was punished by the foetus, as well as G-d because of the abortion. Her shame became all-consuming afterwards as she lost her joy in life, in her husband and other children. She came to me a year later when she was pregnant again, overwhelmed with the fear of dying during her upcoming birth. There were so many traumas along the way, and the beauty of SE is that as each one got discharged, and resources were reinforced, her healing vortex/container strengthened, which gave her a greater ability to go deeper and discharge more. By the end of the sessions her experience became one which was deeply sad, which she could speak about without breaking down. Through the sessions she was able to re-establish her connection with G-d which had been a resource for her before the trauma, as well as go into her new birth with excitement and healthy anticipation.
Case 2 – Anxiety at birth without her husband:
During her first pregnancy, my client suffered from anxiety which increased when she was put on bed rest from week 18 with placenta previa. At 38 weeks she arrived for her scheduled C-section and at the last moment her husband wasn’t allowed in (which was agreed on by her Dr before) and she went in to give birth petrified and alone. After the birth she experienced panic and anxiety, crying a lot and unsure of herself. In an imagery session combined with somatic experience we did a correctional experience which helped her feel more in control of her experience. We also worked on her anxiety and discharging the trauma of the experience from her nervous system.
Case 3 – Trauma from first birth still unresolved in second pregnancy:
Two years after a traumatic birth leaving permanent damage to the anus area, my client was pregnant and felt anxious about the upcoming birth as memories of her previous traumatic birth overwhelmed her. She went for counseling after her birth, but was feeling residual anxiety. Using SE, we titrated (gently discharged) the anxiety and did a correctional experience which allowed her nervous system to experience what she would have needed at the time of her birth that she didn’t receive. Even although this was not the way her birth went, having experienced a new reality allowed her nervous system to calm down and discharge the residual trauma from the event.
Case 4 – Anxiety from hearing trauma related birth stories:
Newly first time pregnant mom who is scared how her baby will be able to come out and the fact that women can die in childbirth. We went into the origin of her anxiety and sure enough she had heard a horrific birthing story 10 years earlier which got stuck in her nervous system. She was able to discharge this from her nervous system. The session ended where she visualized the immense space within her, even seeing her skin as elastic and the knowing that she could give birth peacefully. The following week she reported feeling calm about giving birth and even excited.