Suddenly, you’re whisked away from the peace and serenity of the birthing room. As nurses push your bed at breakneck speed down a brightly lit, sterile hallway, one sternly barks out, “Your baby is in distress. We must prepare you for a C-section.” What occurs afterward is a blur of panic distorted by the effects of anesthesia. A year later, you’re still having trouble sleeping because of the nightmares.
Research about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of traumatic birth is beginning to surface in medical literature. Unexpected, intrusive medical procedures during pregnancy or during the birthing process can go against a woman’s expectation of being a mother.
The DSM-IV does not directly list childbirth as an example of an extreme traumatic event. However, a traumatic childbirth can clearly qualify as a traumatic stressor. Mothers diagnosed with PTSD after childbirth “struggle to survive each day while battling terrifying nightmares and flashbacks of the birth, anger, anxiety, depression, and painful isolation from the world of motherhood,” remarks Cheryl Beck in a Nursing Research article highlighting her 2004 study of the subject.
Katrina Neff, (CD)DONA, is a Certified Doula in Tacoma, who helps coach mothers and fathers through the pregnancy and birthing process. “PTSD doesn’t just occur with abuse. I’ve seen it often in women who have had traumatic birth experiences, miscarriages, or unplanned cesareans,” says Katrina.
There have been even fewer studies revealing the impact of witnessing a traumatic birth; however, considering the deep emotional and relational connection between mother and father, it would be hard to imagine that witnessing such an event would not be traumatizing. And what about the nursing staff?
“When it comes to traumatic birth experiences, the father is just as traumatized, if not more than the mother. When a father sees the mother of their child dealing with such a powerful experience, it’s sometimes difficult even if there is nothing going wrong. Then, when something does go wrong, the partners see it all happening, and they feel helpless,” remarks Katrina. “In those situations, it seems like our society tells men to just deal with it.”
Although Katrina is not a counselor or therapist, she is usually the first person mothers share their concerns with. Her job is to provide physical, emotional, and informational support to pregnant mothers. Katrina feels that, “Going into motherhood (or fatherhood) feeling incapable and defeated from the beginning, I think these kinds of feelings can cause a downward spiral into a very dark place.” A dark place that could be avoided with a little preparation.
Preparing for a new baby is always a joyous occasion! If you are pregnant, consider mentally preparing for that exciting day in addition to painting the baby’s room and collecting boxes of diapers. For mother and father, a little mental preparation can go a long way toward ensuring a good start for your family.
Check out these resources:
- PTSD: Sexual Abuse Survivors and Pregnancy
- Rebounding from Childbirth by Lynn Madsen
- Psychological Debriefing – an online article
- Katrina Neff (CD)Donna
- Watch the video below of a mother’s journey to overcome PTSD as a result of an unplanned C-section