Updated: Sep 4, 2021
One reason we changed our group name (which used to include the word positive) was that we support people who have had many different life and birth experiences and we want to make sure people know everyone is welcome in our group. We're still positive about birth and supporting people to have the information they need to prepare for birth. But we're also here to support people who don't feel positive about birth for any reason.
Birth is unpredictable, many things are out of our control. Sometimes, however much planning you've done, things happen during your labour and birth which are scary or upsetting or disappointing.
You may find that when you express these feelings people react by telling you not to worry about it because you have a healthy baby and that's what matters. Of course, we all care about our baby's health but you are important too and it's okay to need support to process your feelings and memories. In fact, it might even be vital to your mental health to have that support.
We really want you to know that you can recover from traumatic birth experiences and to help you access the way that feels best for you to do that. This blog doesn't have all the answers but it has some links and ideas and we're always happy to chat through your individual experiences and help you find what you're looking for.
Need support to recover from a traumatic birth?
Sometimes birth experiences are so difficult that people can develop post-traumatic stress. This can sometimes be miss diagnosed as (as well as often happening alongside) postnatal depression. Often people don’t know they can seek help for it even though the symptoms such as panic attacks and flashbacks can be really overwhelming. But just as with postnatal depression it’s time we change the stigma that prevents people from seeking help.
If your birth felt traumatic to you for any reason reach out and talk about it. Talk to your midwife if you’re still seeing her or to your health visitor or GP. Alternatively refer yourself to your local support service such as italk in much of Hampshire, Talking change in Portsmouth and Steps2wellbeing in Southampton. There’s also a list of resources on the make birth better website.
Also available locally is our team member Sinead who is a counsellor and Kirsteen who is a birth trauma specialist offering a specific Birth Trauma Resolution Therapy There are lots of options for support and treatment explore your options and pick the one that works for you and please don’t be reluctant to try something else if the first thing you try isn’t helpful.
What can I do if I just feel a bit sad or disappointed?
Some people find it helpful to book a debrief with a midwife at their local hospital who can go through their notes and help them understand what happened and why.
Other professionals such as doulas, counsellors and independent midwives will be able to provide a birth story listening service where you can talk through your experiences with a sympathetic and understanding person.
You might find it helpful to complete a birth story writing exercise either with professional support or with a sympathetic friend. The idea of this is not to just write it out although that in itself can be cathartic but to write it and then re-frame it in a way that helps you appreciate how brilliant you are. More information on doing this can be found at the end of the page.
Another practical exercise that a lot of people find really helpful when their birth hasn't gone as they hoped or expected it to is to get back skin to skin with baby. We know about how important skin to skin can be after birth but the benefits don't stop when the first few hours are over. Skin to skin raises oxytocin for everyone and helps with bonding and recovery. Taking a bath with your baby is one way to do this. More practical details on how to do this can be found here.
What if my caregivers really let me down?
If looking back at when you gave birth you can see that the way you were cared for, or not cared for by the medical professionals who were responsible for your well being in labour while birthing or postnatally there are ways you can pass on that feedback and seek resolution for yourself and/or review of practice that will help prevent others from having the same lack of care in future. One of these ways is through the hospital debrief with a midwife. Another is through the maternity service voices partnership at your local hospital you should be able to find the details here. If you have a specific complaint you want to make in a formal way you can also use your hospital's patient advice and liaison service (this is the link for Portsmouth which is local to us but you should be able to find the right one for you with a simple web search of pals and your hospital name.) If you need practical or emotional support doing this please do feel free to contact us.
Birth story writing exercise.
This exercise can be done alone but it’s much easier if you do it alongside a supportive friend or partner (or if you find it brings up very overwhelming feelings a therapist).
First of all, write your birth story with all the details in. Add how you felt when all the things happened, don’t worry if you can’t remember what order things happened exactly writing the feelings is the most important part. This can be hard going and you might need to take it gently, take breaks when you need and have a really good cry. Next imagine it’s been written by a good friend and read it through thinking what would you say to encourage and support them. Ideally get someone who is your good friend or sister or partner (etc.) and who is positive about birth to read through and do this with or for you (a doula is another person who can help you with this). Then rewrite the story. This time write things you are proud of yourself for and use positive language about all of your decisions through the story recognising that you made the best decision for you at the time.
For example, if your first story says “I’d been having contractions for 6 hours and only got to 4cm dilated I couldn’t stand any more I gave up and asked for an epidural I feel like I really failed as I always wanted to avoid an epidural.” You might look back and re-frame the story to say “I did an amazing job of breathing through really strong contractions for six hours. Then when my midwife checked and gave me the information I had made it to 4cm dilated and completely effaced which Ishould be proud of. But I also knew I probably had quite a few more hours of work ahead of me so I took the decision to make use of an epidural to allow myself to rest and regroup my strength.”
Always remember not to brush aside or diminish the way you feel; your feelings are what they are. But they are feelings not facts, the facts are that you are an amazing person and a loving parent and that you deserve love and respect not just from those around you but also from yourself. Feel the feelings and then allow yourself to keep on going and be proud of everything you have been through in life and the person you are now allowing yourself to become.