by Beccy from The Beautiful Birth Club and Trauma Recovery Gloucestershire
As I sit and write this blog post for the lovely Leanne I am reflecting on the many poignant
awareness days we have observed across social media recently. Most recently
#rainbowbabyday supported by @tommys the largest charity funding research into the
prevention of baby loss. Also #birthtraumaawarenessweek led by
@birth_trauma_association_uk who work to support people who have been through a traumatic perinatal event.
I am going to put a trigger warning here as this article is going to cover some difficult topics.
There’s no doubt that the perinatal/parental trauma problem has been exasperated by the Covid pandemic but really it’s always been there; trauma carried for years and passed down by
generations of people who have been taught to put up and shut up. These days the struggles we face are being talked about more openly and are becoming less and less of a taboo subject.
This is partly due to some incredibly articulate people on social media who speak out and share
their stories so bravely about heart breaking topics relating to their birth and their babies. It’s
wonderful that we are getting these stories and experiences out there to raise awareness and to help other people through the dark days that follow a perinatal traumatic event.
However, my experience both personally and professionally is that it’s still really hard to find appropriate support following a traumatic experience. Heart breaking fertility journeys, recurrent miscarriage, ectopic/molar pregnancy, TFMR, neonatal loss, traumatic birth, post birth difficulties (incontinence/intimacy), challenging feeding journeys, reflux, allergies, poor hospital experiences, chronic sleep deprivation. All of these issues can be absolutely crippling and make
your early years of parenthood a real struggle.
I trained as a hypnobirthing teacher with The Calm Birth School after the birth of my second child and subsequently qualified as a Traumatic Birth Recovery (3 step rewind treatment for the symptoms of PTSD) practitioner a couple of years later. I absolutely love working with pregnant people and their birth partners to prepare for the birth of their baby and for the fourth trimester. My hypnobirthing course is down to earth, fully adaptable to your individual circumstances and of course trauma sensitive. A large amount of my hypnobirthing clients are second/third time parents who are looking to tip the balance in their favour for a much more positive birth experience. Actually you may be surprised to learn that a lot of birth trauma I have worked with hasn’t been as a result of physical trauma at all (although this is all too common) but from feelings of being unsupported, uncared for, feelings of abandonment, not being listened to and not feeling safe. Just the way we are spoken to during birth can be incredibly damaging to
someone’s experience. There have recently been reports of birthing people being denied pain relief and I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of people not being believed when they said their baby was imminent!
Sadly 1 in 5 parents report struggling with anxiety, 1 in 7 couples experience difficulties conceiving, 10-20% (under reported) of parents experience perinatal depression, 30% of parents describe their birth as traumatic (under reported) and heartbreakingly 14 babies die every day in the UK (2018 stat).
These experiences stay with us and the often crippling symptoms we can experience severely and negatively impact our journey through parenthood and our day to day lives. You may experience flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, hyper-vigilance, avoiding thoughts or conversations about the traumatic event, difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability, anger, loss of memory about parts of the event, increased startle reflex (jumpy), difficulty concentrating. These are just some of the symptoms of PTSD and can be very often brushed off as things a new parent experiences, particularly the symptoms associated with sleep and mood.
You may find yourself being triggered by many things around you. Things you can’t get away from. The beeping on a household appliance reminding you of the various machines used in NICU. Certain smells that take you right back to that traumatic experience and all the feelings you felt at the time. I couldn’t use lavender in my second pregnancy following the birth trauma I suffered with my first born. These are just a couple of examples, there are of course many more specific to your own memory.
These symptoms are a normal/natural response to a traumatic event. Your brains way of protecting you. Alex Heath (TBR College) describes these symptoms as a mental health injury rather than an illness.
Left untreated or incorrectly treated these symptoms can develop into a long term mental health illness which can be more complex to treat and take longer to recover from. You do not need a clinical diagnosis of PTSD to get help. The 3 step rewind treatment that I offer is quick, effective and gentle. All details are on my social media pages or please get in touch to find out more. A huge trigger to a previous traumatic perinatal event can of course be pregnancy.
Navigating a subsequent pregnancy while still processing trauma can be incredibly difficult. So whether you are preparing for the arrival of your rainbow baby, already have a little one who’s going to be a big sister/brother or have sustained some other trauma in your life; I am going to detail some hints and tips to help you through the next stage in your parenting journey.
Request continuity of care from your care providers i.e. The same midwife (or two) for the entirety of your pregnancy. This will mean not having to explain your circumstances more than necessary thus reducing the risk of re-traumatising/being triggered. Continuity of care can lead to a better birth experience as you are surrounded by people you know and trust. There has been some research to show that continuity of care can lead to better birth outcomes. For anyone local there is a wonderful team in Cheltenham @glos_gardnerslane_midwifery This service was created in 2021 and they have had huge success in working with women and their families through pregnancy, birth and postnatally. Their services are post code dependant.
Request trauma informed care. When scheduling any appointments you can request that the health care professional provides trauma informed care. This applies to any appointments antenatally, scans, treatments, during birth and postnatally. Being visited by a health care professional after giving birth and being asked (or it being assumed) if this is your first baby when you’ve lost a child is absolutely harrowing for the parent. So this is just another way of protecting yourself from these situations and minimising the chances of them happening. The Birth Trauma Association UK have recently launched their wristbands to increase awareness that some people will need a more individualised approach in their maternity care.
“The red and white colours along with the BTA name and logo will either immediately alert staff or can be used to trigger a conversation about your requirement for trauma informed care “.
Now this one may sound a bit harsh but trust me it’s a really important one; HEAVILY curate who you are spending time with, where you are putting your energy, what/who you are listening to, and what you are watching on the tv. This may even mean spending less time with family members or some of your closest friends. They may have good intentions but maybe they’re a little tactless in terms of the language they use and run the risk of planting a seed in your mind that could go on to grow negativity within you. There have been some really insensitive things on the tv recently (BBC ‘This is going to hurt’ and HBO ‘House of Dragons’ to name a couple) and you might think “oh I’m fine to watch that” but what you don’t know is the effect it’s having on your subconscious and in turn your emotional health. And we all know our mind health is linked to physical health. In fact this little tip should be taken on by anyone growing a new life not just people who have had a previous traumatic experience.
Regularly practice the concept of self compassion. If you are experiencing feelings of sadness, guilt or shame this practice will help bring feelings of love, forgiveness and compassion to yourself. Think about how you would respond if a friend told you that they were feeling these difficult emotions. You would say things to encourage them and make them realise that actually they’re doing their best etc I do have further guidelines to help you practice this effectively; if you would like to learn more just get in touch.
Affirmations. A short positive message that can be oh so powerful! Even if, when you look at them you don’t believe the words (by the way this is just your conscious brain getting in the way and it’s totally normal to experience resistance). You will still be exposing yourself to this positive messaging and your subconscious will absorb them and do good things with them. Affirmations are incredibly personal but some examples;
I am enough
I love and am love
I forgive the people that hurt m
I am doing my best
Today I go at my own pace
I know when to ask for help
I let go of things that are out of my control
This feeling will pass
I move away from people and things which do not serve me
I take time to connect with the ground and with my breath
You can write your own and stick them around your house. Practice saying them out loud/in your head or writing them out for 5 minutes every day
Hand on Heart Anchor. If you notice you feel upset, sad, angry, anxious or scared, place your hand on your heart and just imagine that you are able to feel safe just from putting your hand there. Breathe deeply into your belly. Say to yourself ‘I am calm, I am safe’ Stay there as long as you need. This can be extra effective if you also plant your feet on the ground outside. Being outside in the big world and the fresh air can really help shrink those feelings right down or imagine you are breathing the feelings out into the atmosphere.
Practice Fear Release. This is about releasing the negative feelings that may be swimming around in your head effecting many aspects of your day to day. I read somewhere that if you say something out loud it strips it of it’s power. This is a good thing to do during pregnancy anyway but particularly if you are expecting a rainbow baby or if you suffered a previous birth trauma. Speak your fears out loud (choose very wisely if you decide to talk to someone about it or write them down. Again I have further guidelines on this if you would like to learn more just get in touch.
Invest in simple rest. You may not be getting a lot of sleep. You may have a wakeful toddler/child, you may be finding it difficult to get comfortable at night or you may be struggling with dreams/nightmares. Using appropriate essential oils along with low lighting (candles) to promote melatonin, an eye mask/earplugs and perhaps a guided meditation or even a white noise track can help encourage a more restorative sleep or help you to relax and nap during the day if the opportunity presents itself. And I would really encourage you to put it at the top of your to do list.
That’s unkind, delete, delete. This is a wonderful little trick I learned from Sophie Burch of ‘Beyond Birth’. We all have unwanted thoughts/intrusive thoughts but these can be a real problem if you have experienced a traumatic perinatal event. If you hear something horrible in your head, simply say “that’s unkind, delete, delete”. You may feel a little silly at first, your conscious mind will try to resist it, this is normal. But keep going and soon you’ll find yourself responding more neutrally to the unwanted negative thought.
Let the tears come. Crying is how our heart speaks. Don’t resist it. Release it
Pregnancy Yoga/Hypnobirthing/Belly Breathing. These wonderful things have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and help you relax and even enjoy your pregnancy. Just 20 minutes a day to deepen and slow down your breath, do some simple yoga stretches (specific for your stage of pregnancy) and practice hypnobirthing techniques can make a real difference to your well-being and have really positive effects on your labour and birth.
Plan thoroughly for your fourth trimester. Lots of thought goes into so many thing surrounding pregnancy and birth but the fourth trimester is also a period of huge emotional sensitivity and vulnerability particularly if you suffered a trauma. Talk to your partner (if you have one) about how you are going to manage the early days. When you are sore from birth (even the most straightforward birth requires a period of healing) and totally exhausted. What can they do to support you through those hazy early days with a newborn. Part of your fourth trimester plan may be pulling up that drawbridge and minimising visitors or maybe it’s having lots of people around you; you (and your partner) can orchestrate things so that you aren’t in a position where you are feeling overwhelmed. And when you are ready to accept visitors make sure they don’t come empty handed! Homemade yummy things are compulsory, as is filling the kettle, getting everyone a cuppa and taking the initiative to unload your dishwasher!!
I hope you find some of those tips helpful. I will end this blog post by sending you all a huge hug of solidarity. Parenting isn’t easy. Parenting whilst navigating trauma can feel impossible but with the right support and the right people around you; you can get better and make it through the dark to brighter, joyful days ahead.
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