** Please note: this article refers to birth trauma & PTSD**
The word birth can mean so much to so many. How do we feel when you’re asked if it was ‘natural’ and whats the inference of the term? Did we use our birth plans or were they left in the bag, unopened? Did it go as planned? Did we receive the care that we needed or that we didn’t know we needed? Did we feel respected and were we listened to? How do we feel now?
The concept of birth vary from straightforward to highly traumatic. We discussed birthing in a pandemic, the absence of partners, the restricted visiting hours, the online post-natal healthcare zooms, spontaneous vaginal delivery with emergency or elective c-sections, the pre-pandemic care we received and the changes we are experiencing. In a report by BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, respondents stated that there was ‘significant stress and anxiety being reported in relation to both the fluctuating guidance and lack of certainty regarding the presence of birthing partners at the birth. The sentiment analysis revealed that participant experiences of giving birth during the pandemic were predominately negative (46.9%) particularly in relation to the first national lockdown, with a smaller proportion of positive (33.2%) and neutral responses (19.9%).’
Whilst, in most cases, hospital births and NHS services have resumed their previous protocols and procedures, we talked about the reflections we now have, whether we birthed in a pandemic or not.
Our discussion centered around 3 areas; the positives, the negatives and the wish we had knowns. Amongst the positives were the quality of midwife care, meeting our babies, breastfeeding support and advice, the end of pregnancy, the drugs (!), our powerful experiences and the realisation of our own strength and resilience. The negatives included unsupportive midwives, lack of support in the NHS and our own networks, misinformation, feeling out of control, the uncertainty and fear, recovery time in hospital and previous miscarriage or stillbirth anxieties. We felt it was important to discuss what we wished we had known, the questions we have and what we’d do differently which varied from information about breastfeeding, the likelihood of a Caesarian, wishing we’d been less polite, that epidurals are not necessarily a given and how our bodies will change (during and after). For some of us, we were experiencing or had experienced moderate to severe PTSD and we discussed the help that's offered and whether it's helped.
For many of us there were questions we had that we were working to address, either amongst ourself or with the people who were there with us. Did we feel supported and cared for by staff but also our birth partners? Were our needs looked after and have we had critical conversations in order to remedy that? On reflection, do you think you’d like to discuss your birth with someone? You can access The Birth Trauma Association for free here to find out more. Whatever your experience, there are services to support, listen and help if you want or need it.
You can find local information below, if you’d like to take your experience further.
- Royal Berkshire Hospital
Birth Reflections is a specialist clinic which offers women and their families a chance to reflect on their birth experience with an experienced midwife, from any time from 4-6 weeks after birth. It is available to all women who have given birth in the Trust. Please speak to your health visitor or GP if you are feeling that your distress is severely impacting on your emotional wellbeing. It may be that a referral to the Perinatal Mental Health Service (PMHS), is required prior to de-briefing a traumatic experience as this process can worsen symptoms.’
Appointments can be made by emailing [email protected], including your full name, date of birth and contact telephone number. Please be aware that wait times can be long as we are a small team working part time for the service. We will endeavour to contact you as soon as possible.
- Reading Maternity Voices
We are a multidisciplinary team listening to and representing women and families; working to improve and develop local maternity and neonatal services. Our members are local parents, birth workers such as antenatal teachers and doulas, NHS staff including midwives, doctors and health visitor as well as the commissioners of the maternity and neonatal services.
Our volunteer Parent Reps gather feedback from the community and look for themes in people’s experience of the care they receive – right from their antenatal booking appointment through to their discharge from the maternity or neonatal service. We then work with our NHS colleagues to improve and maintain those services.
- Talking Therapies
Talking therapies, or psychological therapies, are effective and confidential treatments delivered by fully trained and accredited NHS practitioners. They can help with common mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression. You can access talking therapies for free on the NHS. You can refer yourself directly to an NHS talking therapies service without a referral from a GP, or a GP can refer you. NHS talking therapies services are also known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.
- Home Start
Home-Start’s volunteers work alongside families to give compassionate and confidential support.
They help people to regain the confidence to be the parents they want to be.
The support Home-Start volunteers give is not judgemental, it’s just compassionate, confidential and as an individual, as you are.
We work with you to build on your strengths and give you the support that you tell us that you need.
Other useful websites