We are in the midst of a global health crisis
Around the world, about one in three women reports that her birth was traumatic. Further, about one in eight 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 influence in a traumatic birth experience is a breakdown in the relationship between the woman and her care providers. She felt abandoned, abused, violated, manipulated, threatened and helpless. When a new parent has been traumatised by their birth experience, they are grappling with profound effects that impact their well-being. 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, patriarchy, and unbalanced dynamics between clients and clinicians, and women and medicine.
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 women 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 training and skills development
Care providers no more want to see 1 in 8 of their clients grappling with postpartum PTSD or to lose a client to suicide than the client and their loved ones do. They understand that when a client perceives their care as disrespectful or traumatic, 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 to provide skilled trauma-informed services. Birth Trauma Ontario provides maternity care providers and allied birth professionals with highly researched, evidence-based education and skills development in trauma-informed care that is proven to reduce the potential for the client experiencing trauma, reduces professional burnout, improves clinical accuracy, increases healthcare uptake, and improves both the client's and the clinician's well-being.
Parents need connection
One of the consequences of trauma is that the new mother becomes isolated and avoids interactions with others 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, women 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 women 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.
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 mothers 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.
Quickly thereafter, our focus turned to the research about birth trauma, obstetric violence, and postpartum PTSD. We now provide continuing education to maternity providers, clinics, wards, and allied birth professionals on the skills of trauma-informed care as a proven measure to limit the potential for trauma in both birthing families and healthcare providers.
Birth and Beyond: Preventing and healing from trauma. 2020
Billie Harrigan is the founding director and owner of Birth Trauma Ontario.
She has been serving birthing families for almost 40 years. She’s the mother of 7 adults and 5 grandchildren. Her journey began with the birth of her first baby that was a medical mess, landing her baby in the NICU with a prognosis of likely death or severe disability, and herself with some epic PTSD. The baby survived and eventually thrived. The OB said it was her faulty body as a woman that caused the dire outcome. After some time spent investigating this situation, it became ridiculously clear it was merely the induction and the medicalisation of a healthy pregnancy and birth that created this havoc.
And so, it began.
Billie has primarily served families as a Traditional Birth Companion (what we used to call the community midwife) throughout her long career. She certified as a birth and postpartum doula, a childbirth educator, and a lactation counsellor and briefly tried to companion with families within the medicalised birth services industry, to a quick and disappointing end. Her years serving as a lay pastoral counsellor laid the foundation for her work as a trauma-informed specialist knowing how easily our technocratic medicalised birth services industry wounds and cripples healthy families.
She is the former Director of Education for Childbirth International where she supervised the education of over 7000 students in over 130 countries, as well as training and mentoring their elite team of trainers. She is the author of the world’s first and only comprehensive online course for becoming trained in the skills of trauma-informed care specific to the perinatal client and has authored and edited accredited (ANCC) continuing education for maternity service providers, nurses, midwives, physicians, doulas, lactation counsellors and more.
Billie has taught midwives in 125 countries in the skills of physiological birth and trauma-informed care and is well-versed in the policy and politics of midwifery around the world. Billie is a subject matter expert on obstetric violence and birth-related trauma along with their causes, consequences, and solutions. She has served on the PhD committee for a perinatal therapist and was a critical reviewer for Rachel Reed’s extraordinary book ‘Reclaiming Childbirth as a Rite of Passage’.
Billie is the Founder and Director of Birth Trauma Ontario, an agency for advocacy and education on the global issues of obstetric violence and birth related trauma. Birth Trauma Ontario now offers her exceptionally comprehensive course The Trauma Informed Professional, providing 65 hours of professional development. This course has been taken by students on 4 continents (so far) to universal praise.
After a long career of attending births as a Traditional Birth Companion, an academic, and an educator, Billie has now turned her attention to training new Traditional Birth Companions to provide parents with an alternative to the technocratic medicalised birth services industry and its astounding rates of abuse and trauma.
You can join her community of sojourners learning to birth outside the system at www.harriganhive.com.