Many women, particularly sufferers of pre-eclampsia, may find this period in life more difficult than the labor and delivery of childbirth. Do you find yourself reliving the childbirth experience with nightmares? Find yourself avoiding anything that reminds you of the experience? Are you having sleep difficulties, heightened irritability, loss of libido, or outbursts of anger? These difficulties are a few of the symptoms of possible Childbirth Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (*C-PTSD) or Birth Trauma.1 Information in this article will show you there is help and there is hope for recovery from C-PTSD. By reading this PETS (The Pre-Eclampsia Society) newsletter, you are already taking steps towards recovery from Traumatic Birth Stress. Perhaps you will recognize C-PTSD in a spouse, friend, or family member.
Recently, C-PTSD has been put into the world spotlight through the heroic efforts of TABS (Trauma and Birth Stress). TABS is a Charitable Trust, originating in New Zealand and founded by mothers who have had traumatic birth experiences. Their agenda is to make Childbirth PTSD known as a mental condition different from Baby Blues, Post Natal Depression, and Post Natal Psychosis. These founding mothers experienced months or years of the negative effects of traumatic birth stress. Their informative website is www.tabs.org.nz.
*For this article Childbirth Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is written C-PTSD.
What is C-PTSD?
Your eye color is unique and so is your view of the world you see around you. The mother’s perception of the childbirth events can be traumatic with feelings of extreme fear, hopelessness, and helplessness. The same event may seem routine to a medical person who is familiar with the medical environment and the extreme human trauma encountered daily on the medical stage. It is important to note that others attending the birth, such as a spouse, can also have the trauma perception.1
When the mother’s ‘fight or flight’ response to her traumatic event is activated, a type of coping tactic occurs as a possible result of the release of abnormally high, toxic levels of adrenalin and noradrenalin into the mother’s blood stream. This process is not completely understood. Characteristics of this trauma coping mechanism include depersonalization, derealizsation, hallucinations, and amnesia, all of which contribute to a disabling form of Childbirth PTSD.1
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Childbirth by Judy Crompton, BA, RM is an excellent article found at the TABS website www.tabs.org.nz article collection. Please take time to read this super article. Among many important aspects of Childbirth PTSD, Ms. Crompton states: “In time, the sensation of the adrenaline surge (for whatever reason) acts as a memory and as a cognitive cue for the sufferer to relive the original trauma in intrusive recollections (known as ‘flashbacks’).” To prevent a flashback or panic attack, a woman might avoid anything that reminds her of the traumatic event. She may even refuse to go for post-natal medical care, avoid sexual activity with her partner, avoid associating with other mothers, i.e. her ante- natal group, or have other relationship difficulties.
TABS states the definition of PTSD linking it to the childbirth experience:
(by permission of Sue Watson, Chairperson of TABS) “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the psychological term for a set of reactions anyone may experience when something traumatic, scary, or bad happens. It is a normal reaction to an event that involves the threat of death or injury to self or others.
Only recently has it been recognized that PTSD may be suffered as a result of a traumatic birth experience.
First identified in soldiers during the Vietnam War, and previously known as Shell Shock during World War I, it is common for rape or road accident victims. Frequently we hear of events likely to result in people possibly suffering PTSD, eg bombings, hostage taking, shipwrecks, armed hold-ups, disasters like the Hillsborough Stadium crush, as well as natural disasters. . . Having a baby, also, can be such an event.”
Are You at Risk for C-PTSD?
According to TABS, some of the main factors of C- PTSD are listed below. How many of the Common Risk Factors could affect a mother with pre-eclampsia? From my own experience with pre-eclampsia and the resulting emergency c-section, I could recognize at least twenty-one of the twenty-nine following risk factors. It is fitting that the Chairperson of TABS said “Pre-eclampsia is Tailor Made for PTSD.”
Note: Please see the website www.tabs.org.nz for a complete list and cautions.
Help for C-PTSD
Stop suffering! C-PTSD can be helped to avoid the long term affects of untreated
PTSD such as increased physical morbidity from chronic stress.1 Women and their partners, who may also be suffering, have found relief with professional help, great self-care, and debriefing.2
Debriefing, or birth reviewing, helped me immensely. It is the process of telling your story over and over again to empathetic listeners who can understand what you are going through, perhaps because they have gone through it themselves. You can find help and clarity in sorting your memories of the birth trauma as you tell your story and find answers to your questions and uncertainties. PETS is perfect for the debriefing process vital for C-PTSD recovery. The Need to Debrief is stated nicely by TABS:
After any highly emotional event, good or bad, there is a strong need to share the experience and to have one's emotions acknowledged. Having a baby is a monumental experience in any woman's life.
Every woman needs to debrief; even after the most normal of births. Those who had a stressful experience will need to talk it through many times. Friends and family may be initially sympathetic but may not understand the continuing need to talk.
Debriefing has been shown to reduce the occurrence of PND. It is also effective in reducing the severity of PTSD.
We believe all women should have the chance to talk over their birth experience in the early postnatal days, preferably with a health professional who was present for the labour and the birth.
I lived through pre-eclampsia and a traumatic birth experience resulting in an emergency c-section. A few months later, my infant son suffered a severe pediatric stroke. Physicians do not know the exact cause of the stroke. They do not believe the birth event nor the pre-eclampsia caused the stroke directly, but rather set the stage for a stroke to occur a few months later.
In my efforts to help others and myself understand the effects of the traumatic birth experience, I embarked on a healing journey of research. I am grateful to Dawn James and to PETS members for the opportunity to share my research. As part of my research on PTSD and childbirth, I contacted Sue Watson, Chairperson of TABS. She is friendly and eager to help others with the wealth of TABS.
Refer Your Healthcare Providers and Family to View:
PETS Online-- http://home.clara.net/dawnjames/
TABS Online--www.tabs.org.nz Speaking exclusively on my own experience, I found the peace and relief I needed by debriefing through PETS, select friends, and through a process known as TFT or EFT—but only after I acknowledged, as a result of my research with organizations such as TABS and PETS, I had suffered trauma and birth stress. My experience is written in the Spring 2004 issue of PETS in the article titled “One Baby is Born.” I no longer feel nausea or want to turn the other way when I see an expectant mother! My deepest thanks to PETS Founder Dawn James for her caring support, and to TABS Chairperson Sue Watson, Judy Crompton, BA, RM, and to all those whom have tread the path before me and stand as comforting hands and guideposts.
Knowledge about C-PTSD from traumatic birth stress will make early detection of C-PTSD possible. The suffering of many women and their families can be alleviated through education and treatment of C-PTSD before it becomes severe and potentially debilitating.
Best wishes for a Childbirth PTSD-free future!
Anne Wheeler, BS, LSC
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Childbirth, Judy Crompton, BA, RM. Article located at www.tabs.org.nz under “Articles.”
TABS website: www.tabs.org.nz. Information used by permission from