PTSD following childbirth – is that even possible?

When you work in a field, any field, you can find yourself watching the news and see something published that you have known about FOR... EVER !!!

This is how it was for me today when I heard Anna Simpsons story on BBC News. Anna had been hoping for a normal birth but describes having an emergency c-section as the most frightening experience of her life. She went on to have treatment for PTSD and described her journey.

It is no surprise to me that Dr Rebecca Moore, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, went on camera to say that many women who experienced PTSD were being "failed by the current provision".

Anna is not alone. In my 30 years of working with women and families I have met countless women whose experiences around childbirth have left them with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I even worked with a midwife who felt unable to have a second baby due to undiagnosed perinatal PTSD which was still affecting her 25 years later.

And it is not just the women. Partners and Maternity staff have often come to me for help dealing with the symptoms of PTSD. Childbirth can be the most wonderful experience a human can go through but very occasionally it can also be the most terrifying time of your life.

If you are concerned that you or someone close to you has PTSD read on and I will summarise the symptoms and experiences that can occur.

You might have PTSD (relating to childbirth) if you were exposed to a traumatic event around childbirth in which both of the following were present:

  1. You experienced, an event where there was actual or threatened death or serious injury to Mum and/or Baby.

  2. You felt intense fear helplessness or horror.

Do you experience (one or more of) the following?

    • Uncontrollable memories of the trauma.
    • Recurrent distressing dreams of the event.
    • Flashbacks to the event.
    • Overwhelming emotional reactions to associated people/places/things.
    • Physical symptoms (sweating, racing heart, abdominal symptoms) when encountering people/places/things that remind you of the event.

Do you try to avoid things or feel ‘numb’ especially (three or more of the following)?

    • When people talk about childbirth.
    • When you come across activities, places or people that remind you of the trauma.
    • You find you cannot remember an important aspect of the trauma.
    • You don’t want to do things that you used to enjoy.
    • You feel isolated and detached from others.
    • You feel unable to have loving feelings, or to laugh and cry as before.
    • You have an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and feel scared that there is no future.

Do you have (two or more of the following)?

    • Difficulty falling or staying asleep (even when the baby allows it).
    • Irritability or outbursts of anger.
    • Difficulty in concentrating.
    • Hyper-vigilance - looking out for danger everywhere.
    • An exaggerated startle response - jumping to the slightest sound/movement.

Has this gone on for more than one month?

Do you have significant difficulty in work and/or social situations because of this?

If you have read through this and have been answering “yes” to lots of the questions it might not mean that you ‘have PTSD’ but it does mean that you are struggling with life and are not able to enjoy it as much as you would like to. Maybe it is time to find a way to let go of the overwhelm and anxiety and to start feeling more like the ‘you’ you used to be and the ‘you’ you want to be for yourself and your family.

So please, If you are concerned that you may have PTSD and want help please talk to your health professional or get in touch with me. There are fast and effective ways of overcoming this debilitating condition.

Perinatal PTSD does not only affect Mothers but it can go on to affect the whole family. If you are still experiencing the above symptoms more than 3 months after the birth it is time to talk.

Some questions:

Q: If I say I am not coping will ‘they’ take my baby away?

A: NO! You are asking for help and you may well be surprised by how much help will be offered. 

Q: I don’t think I could talk to anyone about the birth - can you still help?

A: Fortunately (with many therapies including human givens therapy) you do not have to talk about the events that caused the trauma (as this reliving can further embed the trauma).

Q: People will think me weak - I should be happy that I have a family, I have no reason to feel like this do I?

A: Why some people get PTSD while others don’t is not fully understood but may occur because some people ‘freeze’ at the moment of trauma. This freezing is a normal human response to extreme danger.

Q: I think I have had PTSD for 20-30 years is it too late for help?

A: No, it is never too late. I have helped people many, many years after trauma.

Q: If I have another baby will the PTSD come back?

A: If you have treatment for PTSD and can talk about the birth and go back to the hospital without feeling the symptoms then there is no reason that the PTSD symptoms will  return with a subsequent birth.

Q: Can you definitely diagnose whether I have PTSD or not?

A: I am a fully qualified psychotherapist, but I am not  Doctor or a Psychologist so I am unable to give you a diagnosis. I am however experienced in helping people overcome the symptoms that I have described above. I spend my time and yours helping you to feel better rather than examining the detail of each of the symptoms in order to give you a label.

If you have any other questions at all don’t hesitate to get in touch.  

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