You are not alone
We’ve all heard those birth horror stories. It seems as if each of them is trying to out-do the other with how awful their birth was. Sadly, we dismiss these stories as being nothing more than “war stories” and tell these mothers to be quiet and to stop scaring new parents-to-be. The trouble is, their births were awful. In fact, one in three birthing parents says that their birth experience was traumatic. When we silence these stories, we stop hearing what birthing parents are actually experiencing. And we deny their reality and lose the opportunity to make changes to ensure the epidemic of birth trauma is ended.
It isn’t up to anyone but you to decide if the experience was traumatic and how you feel about it. It doesn’t matter if someone had a ‘worse’ experience. If you would like to connect with other mothers who understand, you can request to join our closed facebook forum. This is limited to mothers-of-trauma only as this is for peer support.
Hope for healing
The symptoms of trauma – flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, sweats, tremors, forgetfulness, increased pain, and more – can last from month to years. For almost half of sufferers, their symptoms go away in time without treatment. However, there are therapies that can help.
EMDR (eye movement desensitization & reprocessing) – this type of treatment is offered by a trained therapist. Many mothers-of-trauma find that it helps them get their life back as the symptoms lessen. It’s a proven strategy for recovery from trauma. You can look for a therapist near you here.
CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) – this is often a short-term therapy that helps the individual learn new ways of thinking about the experience. This is an evidence-based approach to working through trauma. You can look for a certified CBT therapist here.
Music therapy applies the science of healing through targeted musical interventions that bring healing to a trauma-injured brain. The evidence for this therapy is growing daily and offers many benefits. You can look for a licensed music therapist here.
Pelvic floor physiotherapy offers hope and healing for issues connected to the pelvic floor, including incontinence, pain, sexual dysfunction, and trauma. This is a specialised branch of physiotherapy that carefully respects your dignity and your trauma. You can look for a specialised physiotherapist here.
There are many more trauma-informed and trauma-specialsed therapists that can help you recover. You can search online in your area, ask other parents who have been through this, or consult your care provider.
Learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD Association of Canada.
Understanding if you are at risk
Not everyone who has a traumatic experience develops post-traumatic stress disorder. There are certain events that may increase your risk. And once you know about them, you can take steps to help lessen the possibility.
Prior sexual violation. If you’ve been sexually violated, you are not alone. It happens everywhere, but it’s more common if you have a female presenting body, and especially if you are part of a marginalised group, such as being indigenous or aboriginal, having a disability, or being a member of the LGBTQA+ community. It’s not up to you to disclose all the parts of your past in order to be treated with careful dignity; it’s up to your care providers to extend careful services. You may insist that you are provided with trauma-informed services for your pregnancy and birthing experience. You may also choose non-medical, culturally-appropriate support for your family’s needs.
An abusive or traumatic past. When people have a difficult childhood, we say they have experienced “adverse childhood experiences”. This could mean the child was abused (physically, sexually, emotionally) or neglected (not cared for, left alone, not fed, not educated), or grew up with family dysfunction (there was alcohol or drug abuse, domestic violence, a parent who was in jail, or had mental health issues). When a child grows up with traumatic events, it affects their health. It also means that they learn different ways of coping that don’t seem “healthy”, such as smoking or drinking or using drugs, not being able to stay in school, running away to escape abuse, having unhealthy relationships, and such. When there’s a history of abuse, it makes it harder to have a healthy pregnancy and birth. And it means that your care providers might not understand your coping strategies and may be harsh and unkind to you. Finding support for your pregnancy and birth means you may look for a doula in addition to requesting a trauma-informed care provider. You can also join online forums where other parents will understand and encourage you in your path towards growing from your past.
Missing key nutrients. Whether it’s because of prior abuse, current living conditions, health issues, or poverty, many people are now missing some key nutrients that help to ensure their brains are operating at the highest level of health. Trauma causes changes in the brain’s structure and how it functions, and it’s really more like a brain injury. When someone has a low level of some key nutrients, it means that their brain doesn’t have everything it needs to resist trauma in the same way that someone who has all the nutrients does. Here are some key nutrients to think about as you are making sure you are protected against trauma:
Vitamin D. This is the “sunshine vitamin”. Many people are very low in vitamin D because of needing to work indoors and using sunscreen to prevent sunburn. However, our brains need vitamin D for optimal health.
Magnesium. This mineral is required for over 300 enzyme systems. Magnesium is so important, that when it’s too low it contributes to anxiety, agitation, confusion, memory loss, hyperexcitability, insomnia, sleep disorders, suicidal ideation, restless leg syndrome, muscle weakness, heart arrhythmias, migraines and headaches, and IQ loss. This sounds a lot like the symptoms of trauma! It’s been suggested that magnesium deficiency could be a part of most major depression and related mental health illnesses, including postpartum depression.
Omega-3. This essential (meaning it must come from the food we eat) fat is needed to keep our brains healthy and to reduce inflammation. It mostly comes from fish and seafood. Most Canadians are very low in omega-3 intake and this affect their health, including depression and other mood disorders, and thoughts of suicide.
Reducing foods that add to inflammation and increasing healthy colourful foods can help protect and heal our wonderful brains from trauma.
Knowing your rights
The greatest predictor of whether a birth is traumatic or not is how the birthing parent was treated by her care team. When talking about a traumatic experience most parents identify the following behaviours:
- threatening the parents with a “dead baby” if they didn’t agree to the suggestion of the staff
- performing procedures without the parent’s consent or knowledge
- not stopping a procedure when the parents told them to stop
- using coercion to get the parents to agree to something
- belittling, insulting, dismissive, or disrespectful language or words
The Health Care Consent Act is a law that protects patients that are receiving medical services. When the patient is “capable”, it means that they are able to understand the information given to them about the the treatment offered, and they can appreciate the possible consequences of the decision (or no decision) that they make.
This law says that no treatment shall be given to a capable person without their consent. Consent means that the individual understands what is being offered to them and agrees with the treatment.
1. The consent must relate to the treatment.
2. The consent must be informed. A patient must be given more information if they ask.
3. The consent must be given voluntarily.
4. The consent must not be obtained through misrepresentation or fraud.
Consent may be withdrawn at any time. This means you can change your mind at any point for any reason. You cannot be threatened with Child Protective Services, Children’s Aid Society, Family and Children’s Services, or any other form of harassment for not agreeing with a suggested treatment.
Registering a complaint
If you have been the recipient of non-consenting, disrespectful, abusive, or violating treatment, you have the option of registering a complaint. You can contact the hospital where this took place to inform them. Note that the hospital will have a vested interest in ensuring your complaint does not escalate to legal action or to negative public relations in the community. This may or may not impact how your complaint is treated.
You may also register a complaint with the regulatory body of your care providers.
Make a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
Make a complaint with the College of Nurses of Ontario.
Make a complaint with the College of Midwives of Ontario.
Make a complaint with the Ontario Patient Ombudsman regarding hospital services.
You can review the references for the above information here.