Recovering from a Traumatic Birth

Woman embracing another women in a therapy group, recovering after a traumatic birth experience

Childbirth is a powerful and transformative event, but sometimes the experience can be traumatic. Things don’t always go as planned and the feelings you have during and after the birth can be emotionally challenging.  On a personal level my first baby’s birth was very difficult and I experienced a degree of PTSD afterwards. I worked through that difficult time and went on to have a very healing birth experience with my 2nd child. As a doula I’ve also supported other families through similar situations. Here are some things to keep in mind that may help you recover after a traumatic birth: 

1. It’s Not Your Fault. 

Sometimes these things just happen. You didn’t cause this and you are not to blame. Life can take an unexpected turn and you are dealt cards you never expected or hoped to see. Any feelings of anger, sadness or grief that you have are understandable considering what you have been through. But, it is not your fault. Be gentle on yourself. The outcome of your birth experience is not a reflection of who you are as a person or as a parent. Although you probably don’t feel this way right now, you actually deserve to be proud of yourself for surviving this distressing experience. 

2. Seek out physical support. 

If you have experienced physical trauma or are recovering from a cesarean section you may need hands-on support in your home and with your baby. Let family and friends help out with everyday tasks: laundry, cleaning, meal preparation, dishes, changing diapers, shopping, running errands and more. If you are able to hire a postpartum doula, she may also help in this role with light housekeeping, newborn care and more. 

3. Talk about your traumatic birth experience to somebody who will really listen. 

Some people isolate themselves, avoid dealing with or suppress their feelings. This can prolong the healing process. However, talking about what happened and how you feel helps you understand yourself better, and helps you to let go of the pain. Most of us benefit from talking to somebody who will listen patiently, nonjudgmentally and empathically, and who shows that they understand on a deep level. Find the right person to talk to for you: a family member, friend, your doula, or perhaps a counselor. Give yourself the time and space to let it all out which can help you find a sense of peace. 

4. Surround yourself with emotional support for as long as needed. 

The journey to feeling better takes time. Surround yourself with people who are empathic, who care for and nurture you. Avoid people and groups that do not. Other parents who have been through similar experiences can be a source of comfort, and strength. Moms groups, support groups and online forums may offer a space for this connection and help you to feel less alone. 

5. Learn more about what happened during the birth.

Sometimes you are left with questions or a mystery as to why the events took place the way they did. This can contribute to your dissatisfaction with the birth experience. Obtaining copies of your medical records or operating report can shed some light.

You may even consider scheduling a time to speak with the medical professionals that provided your care to ask them questions about what took place and why. I personally took this step and scheduled a meeting with the OBGYN who performed my surgery and it was eye-opening. This may not be an easy conversation to have, and you may not see eye to eye with the health care professional. Nevertheless, hearing the details and perspective you are missing may help you to find clarity, and closure. Another option is to take your medical records to get a 2nd opinion or input from a different health care provider who may be able to explain things to you. 

6. Give yourself time. 

In the early stages of coping with this situation you may be hurt and grieving. You may be coming to conclusions about how this experience will affect your future in relation to having more children. However, with time you might feel differently. With time, you can fully recover from the traumatic birth and move forward joyfully. There is no deadline. Take your time and be easy on yourself. 

7. Reach out to a mental health professional if needed. 

Some of the causes of emotional trauma in childbirth include: a difficult labor, emergency procedures, medical complications, feelings of loss of control or unexpected outcomes. Postpartum PTSD can develop after a traumatic birth. Symptoms of trauma can manifest as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, depression, feelings of guilt, shame, sleep disturbances, or avoidance of reminders of the birth. For instance, I experienced this as nightmares the first few nights after giving birth. I had a very hard time sleeping and would wake up frightened. If you are experiencing symptoms of emotional trauma or P-PTSD, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional or a mental health specialist. They can provide the support and guidance you need while you are recovering from a traumatic birth.

Some local resources include: 

Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Your journey to healing is important, and there’s a whole community here in Tampa Bay ready to support you every step of the way. 

About Christie Collbran

Christie believes in helping women recognize their own inner wisdom, strength and power. Having served as President of the Tampa Bay Birth Network for six years and with ten years serving families as a birth doula, she has a reputation for leadership, dedication and compassion. A childbirth educator, certified lactation counselor as well as a certified doula, she makes a point of ensuring mothers and their partners understand all their birthing options and what to expect on their journey.> keep reading