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Many Mothers Struggle With PTSD After a Traumatic Childbirth

Beautiful female laying in bedroom and crying

Some women experience labor so challenging that the experience results in postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. This usually occurs from a real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum.

Types of trauma includes:

  • Prolapsed cord
  • Unplanned C-section
  • Use of vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver the baby
  • Baby going to NICU
  • Feelings of powerlessness,
  • Lack of support and reassurance during the delivery

One article mentions the story of Sierra* whose name was changed for privacy. Sierra was only 23 when she experienced the birth of her first daughter.  Unfortunately, the birth was far from an easy process. The labor lasted 21 hours, and the epidural only somewhat worked. After the delivery, she was so exhausted, she could barely hold her baby when she was born.

“It’s really not the story I wanted to tell,” she stated.

Fortunately, her four-month daughter was perfectly healthy. Sierra described how her newborn is playful and rarely cries. Still, she suffers from PTSD thinking about the delivery process. The one memory that haunts her is when the nurse stretched an oxygen mask on her face.

“That really freaked me out, because I was like: Am I not breathing? I couldn’t even think why they would be putting it on me. Is something about to happen that’s going to stop me breathing?” she said. “What is going on? Am I OK, is my baby OK?”

The fear Sierra had continued weeks after. She had obsessive thoughts that something bad would happen to her baby. The fear made Sierra cry unless her baby was right by her side.

Fortunately, Sierra is now  receiving counseling at a Philadelphia treatment program called Mother-Baby Connections at Drexel University. The pilot programs implement different therapies to help new mothers. While many mothers have postpartum depression, others have what is informally called “birth PTSD.”

Symptoms of “birth PTSD” might include:

  • Re-experiencing of past traumatic events (in this case, the childbirth itself)
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Feeling a sense of unreality and detachment

Mothers may have a vision of how their delivery will be like. When the delivery does not go according to plan, it can be hard to move past the disappointment. Another mother in the article describes the trauma she felt when her baby was rushed away from her. She watched as the staff resuscitated her limp, lifeless son and took him away from her.

It took four hours before the mother knew her son was fine. By the point, she has already imagined her baby dead or brain dead. The experience was traumatic, to say the least.  Programs like the one recently established at Drexel University are established to help new mothers who’ve endured these types of childbirths to move on. Mothers are welcome to bring their babies to therapy too. The program is free and babysitters are onsite to watch the infants.

One of the techniques used is dance movement therapy.  At the beginning of class, mothers are told to stand in front of the mirror. They then turn to the side, push their shoulder back and pooch out their post-baby bellies. This helps to break any nervous energies or insecurities the group may have. What follows is a series of guided movements that are wild and playful. Other times, moms lie quietly stretched out on blankets. The theory is that emotional problems are held in the body, in the muscles. A therapist can see that and bring it out.

Dance therapist Elizabeth Templeton, leads the class at Drexel. She stated that  the idea is to use sounds, lights, and vibrations to target one part of the brain, and use talk therapy to work on the memory of trauma.

Healing After Childbirth

Ultimately, many women find labor to be  a traumatic experience. While having a baby is a joy for most women, childbirth is not always the case.  Therefore, there needs to be a conversation about those who experience a disheartening experience in the birthing process. In recovery from addiction, it is necessary to address any mental health issues you may have so that unhealthy coping mechanisms are not used to numb the pain.

Having a baby can be a wonderful experience, however if you find you are in a very difficult place after the birth of your baby, it may be time to get help. Do not feel alone in your struggle.  If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.

Author: Shernide Delva

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