We are in the midst of a global health crisis
Around the world, about one in three birthing parents reports that their birth was traumatic. Further, about one in ten enters parenthood with post-traumatic stress disorder from the experience. Sadly, many more will have some, but not all, of the symptoms of trauma. At a vulnerable time in these new parents lives, when they are learning to care for their baby and are adjusting their family to accommodate this precious new life, they are also grappling with flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, chronic pain, memory loss, rage, anxiety attacks, and more. These parents are now at risk for health problems, including postpartum depression and anxiety, cardiac, respiratory, and digestive illnesses, and musculoskeletal problems. They face more obstetrical problems in the future, if they choose to have another baby. Their relationships suffer, their jobs suffer, and their children suffer. And most terribly, these suffering parents are at higher risk of suicide. Birth Trauma Ontario exists in response to this health crisis as a resource for parents and professionals.
Parents need an advocate
Research from around the world has informed us that the primary precipator of a traumatic birth experience is a breakdown in the relationship between the birthing client and her care providers. She felt abandoned, abused, violated, manipulated, and unsupported. When a new parent has been traumatised by their birth experience, they are grappling with profound effects that impact their wellbeing. In some situations, these new parents have just enough energy left to register a complaint. However, since this is a global issue, these individual complaints are not changing entrenched systems of hierarchical power and unbalanced dynamics between clients and clinicians.
Birth Trauma Ontario serves as an advocate for birthing families and professionals that are working for systemic change. We serve to elevate the voices of parents when they are unable to have their voices heard. We act to bring awareness to this global health crisis by giving a platform for parents to share their experiences and to offer resources for parents and professionals to better understand the causes and the solutions for birth trauma.
Professionals need good information
Professionals know that when a client receives disrespectful or traumatic services, they are more likely to decline future health care services for themselves and their children, possibly adding to the burden of trauma-related illness. Misinformation has prolonged this health crisis and birth professionals are seeking accurate and evidence-based information in order provide skilled trauma-informed services. Caring professionals no more want to see one in ten mothers enter parenthood with PTSD than their clients do, and they are loathe to think that perhaps one third of their clients experienced their births as traumatic. Not everyone that has a traumatic birth will develop PTSD as there are defined risk factors along with resilience-based strategies that skilled professionals can employ to ensure that their clients’ health care interactions are positive and therapeutic. Birth Trauma Ontario endorses the world’s first science-based certification course for becoming a trauma informed perinatal professional.
Parents need connection
One of the consequences of trauma is that the new parent becomes isolated and avoids interactions with parents who had a healthy experience. Too often they are told that their experience just wasn’t that bad, that all that matters is a healthy baby, that they are being dramatic, that women used to die, that they should be grateful for what happened, or that they put their experience ahead of their baby. All these messages remind them that they don’t matter. In spite of all these negative messages, research confirms that trauma is not due to mothers’ unrealistic expectations. In fact, mothers today have fairly low expectations for their births. They just wanted to be treated with dignity.
These negative messages also contribute to secondary wounding. Secondary wounding is much like “adding insult to injury” and can be just as painful, if not more so, than the original traumatic event. Birth Trauma Ontario offers a place for birth parents to connect in our online closed mothers forum. It’s a place for peers to offer their support for one another, without ever suggesting that her experience wasn’t that bad or telling her what she should do. It’s a place for finding compassion and strength for the long road of recovery ahead. You can request to join the group here. We also offer monthly in-person meetings in select cities.
Birth Trauma Ontario was birthed in Waterloo Region, Ontario in 2013 in response to the experiences of birthing families. Parents were struggling with the memories and the effects of their traumatic birth experience and were looking for connection, validation, and a way forward. This organisation was created to help traumatised mothers to connect with one another so that their journey to wellness wasn’t so lonely. It was an opportunity for mothers to gain insight into their circumstances and learn new options for wellness and for birthing after trauma. These parents asked for an advocate to help raise awareness regarding the issue of disrespectful care in maternity services and the lack of postpartum support for struggling parents.
In due time, our focus turned to the research about birth trauma, obstetric violence, and postpartum PTSD. We now strive to provide parents and professionals with resources to help stem the global tide of traumatic births and postpartum PTSD.
Billie Harrigan is the founding director of Birth Trauma Ontario. She has been serving birthing families for 35 years in various capacities. Billie teaches parents and professionals the science of birth throughout the world and authors continuing education for birth professionals. Billie is the author of the world’s first science-based certification course for becoming a trauma-informed professional which is available online through Childbirth International
Birth Trauma Ontario is supported by all the members of our online closed mothers forum. Our members have generously and graciously shared their stories and given us permission to publish their words to help others understand the depth of this health crisis.
We are fortunate to have facilitators that host monthly meetings where birth parents can find connection, compassion, and care. Our facilitator team includes
Kathy Burbridge-Herbertson (Windsor)
Caitlin Cull, Tracy Gorrie, Lily Schumacher (Waterloo)
Tina-Sue Chamberlain, Jen Thrall (Burlington)