While there is certainly alot of success for couples (meaning that many women do end up with the births that they had hoped for), there are also the very common realities that take many women off guard:
These things can happen, no matter how “prepared” or with what intentions well-meaning couples and medical providers hold on to.
Often, women present weeks, months, even years after experiencing a birth that was in someway “traumatic” for them. One of the key things we now know is that it is not the specifics of the birth events that can lead to a mum being traumatized, but her PERCEPTION of these events. In other words, what looks like a “perfect birth” on paper, in reality for that woman, she may be walking away with some significant post traumatic stress. Doctors, Midwives, Doulas, partners and family members, may assume that all is fine for a mum after she delivers a healthy newborn, but in reality, her perception is very, very different.
When looking at the probable “causes” of postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, this is what we know may contribute to risk:
The reality is that postpartum PTSD is not that uncommon. Statistics vary, but currently we sit at around the 9% mark of women who deliver a baby who will go on to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress after birth.
In a recent study published in Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care (38:3 September 2011) the symptoms of Postnatal PTSD were broken down into three categories.
And there can be significant consequences for mums with postpartum PTSD if support isn’t put into place.
Mums who suffer from Postpartum PTSD are more likely to also suffer from depression.
We know that risk factors such as antenatal depression, lacking social support, previous trauma histories, breast feeding challenges, and physical challenges following childbirth can heighten a woman’s reaction to trauma. But we also know that preventive measures such as well-established stress management strategies, “health promoting behavior” such as healthy sleep, nutrition, and exercise, and opportunities to debrief birth experiences can reduce a mum’s risk for PTSD. In other words, with effort, some of these postpartum PTSD stories can be lessened.
A mum with Postpartum PTSD needs support in re-processing the experiences that led her there; in understanding why she developed the reaction that she did; in understanding the role of old and new beliefs that may have led her to her reaction to her birth or that have been created due to her experience in birth. These women benefit greatly from having an opportunity to re-frame and better understand their birth experience for what it was—to them. For many women, specific work around trauma is necessary.