Traumatic Childbirth: The Importance Of Talking About It

Last updated by Rosie Harlow

Giving birth went really well for me, I have fond memories of it, but I also remember one of my friends who was really sorry she couldn’t come and meet my baby at the maternity ward. She was so traumatized by her experience giving birth that she couldn’t set foot in the maternity hospital where her daughter had been born more than a year earlier. I remember her calling me from the car park, tears in her voice and shaking: “I can’t go in, it’s too hard... don’t be upset with me.” I knew that giving birth had gone badly for her, but I didn’t understand just how traumatized she had been by this event.

Traumatic Childbirth: The Importance Of Talking About It

1 in 3 women find childbirth traumatic

Childbirth is an important event, rich in emotions, but one that’s often idealized. When nothing goes to plan, of course, it’s disappointment that prevails, but when you fear for your life, for your child’s life, when you’re powerless and inaudible, it’s true that childbirth becomes a trauma. And according to data from PATTCH (Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth, an Australian organization working on the issue of perinatal trauma), 24 to 35% of births are traumatic. So these aren’t just a few horror stories to scare women who haven’t given birth. No, these are stories of women who suffer profoundly, who suffer from the very beginning of motherhood, who doubt their femininity, themselves, and their ability to be a good mother and to have a strong bond with their children. A traumatic birth has a strong impact on the future of the mother and the child, and that’s why it’s important to talk about it. Many suffer in silence, some are even reduced to silence and others downplay their trauma because it’s “just giving birth”, many have been there before. I used to say that pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood were banal and personally exceptional events. Many experience them, but each woman experiences them in her own way. A traumatic birth should therefore never be kept silent.

Childbirth and feelings: it counts!

A baby that doesn’t want to come out. Suction, forceps. Blood. A fainting spell. Waking up in the operating theater. Blurred vision, dry throat, and nothing left in your stomach. Anxiety, panic. Where’s my baby? What’s happened? Sometimes it’s also a loss of control, the feeling that we’re not being listened to because the busy medical team forgets to tell us what’s going on, and the awful feeling that everything is happening without us, when really it’s all about us, our pain, our body, our baby.

And then the whole relationship with the baby seems to be distorted. Missing the first look, the first skin-to-skin contact, the smell, the latching on. How do you get back on your feet? How do you rebuild yourself? How do you feel yourself entering into your role as a mother when you haven’t been able to be there for your baby’s first hours? How do you get over this frustration? Many psychologists even recognize that it’s sometimes difficult to form a bond when birth was particularly complicated. But what counts above all are your feelings. One woman’s trauma is not necessarily another woman’s trauma. A woman who wanted to give birth without an epidural felt as if her body had been sawn in two and that she had been torn apart as her baby came out. She experienced this in a traumatic way. All childbirth-related traumas must be told and heard, whatever their nature, you mustn’t ignore them and let them build up inside of you.

My childbirth, my war: postnatal PTSD

Pregnancy-related trauma triggers symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some women. These are characterized by anxiety disorders: waking up at night, nightmares, flashbacks, recurrent and overwhelming thoughts and memories, anxiety attacks, and panic. These disorders are often linked to a stressful, frightening or distressing event: a war, or giving birth.

In 2021, according to a survey conducted between 2013 and 2015, suicide is the second-highest cause of maternal death after heart problems. Indeed, 13% of maternal deaths are caused by suicide up to one year after childbirth.

Getting help

Baby blues that never end, or even turn into depression, mulling over the birth, trouble enjoying your baby, sleep, and eating disorders are all signs that a woman is suffering from a traumatic birth. As soon as you’re in the maternity hospital, you can turn to a psychologist or psychiatrist. When you get home, you shouldn’t hesitate to talk to the midwife who will visit you. You can also go and see your GP, hypnosis also works very well on trauma, but the best thing is still therapy, which will allow you to put your experiences and your feelings into words and help you to feel less guilty in order to reconnect with yourself, your body, your motherhood, and your baby. In any case, it’s important to talk about it as soon as possible. 

Editor’s note – The important thing is that the baby is well

No! Well yes, of course, the important thing is that the baby is well. But if that’s all you have to offer a mother who has just experienced a traumatic birth, then you’re reducing her to silence. She’s told to shut up and remember that she’s alive and that her baby is fine. Her feelings would then be inappropriate. This isn’t true! In order to recover from perinatal trauma, you need to acknowledge and accept your feelings. It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious and bad after such an experience, even if the baby is fine. A mother counts too.

🤗 Understand yourself, accept yourself, be happy... Let’s do it here and now!


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Article presented by Rosie Harlow

Writing has always been a form of therapy for me. For as long as I can remember, I have always used paper as a punching bag. Get to know me, I am Rosie Harlow.

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