Few joys compare with that of welcoming a new life into the world. Children are, as the Scripture puts it, “a heritage from the Lord…a reward from Him” (Psalm 127:3, NIV). However, even when circumstances are good and there are no complications with the birth, giving birth to a child can be emotionally, mentally, and physically challenging. Each woman’s reaction to and experience of childbirth will differ.

These words from Scripture are thus true: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world” (John 16:21, NIV). However, for many women, it’s difficult to move past the anguish that accompanies the birth of their child. When that happens, she needs the compassionate and empathetic support of the loved ones in her life.

Understanding the trauma of childbirth

Trauma is the emotional and physiological response one has to a situation that is difficult to cope with and is highly stressful, frightening, or distressing. Each woman’s birth story will differ, including the fears that she carries with her into the delivery room. If there were complications in past pregnancies, or if the birth is attended with issues for either mom, baby, or both, that can lead to trauma as the process can be frightening.

During childbirth, the physiological processes that allow for the baby to be born carry on even if the mother feels tired and wants it to stop. When the labor is long and exhausting, it can add to feelings of being out of control, because there’s little to nothing you can do to stop labor once it has begun. One has simply to see it through, and the fact of having no choice in this heavy moment can be overwhelming and distressing.

Often, interventions need to be undertaken to help mom and baby out during delivery. In some instances, an emergency cesarean (c-section) is needed to facilitate a faster delivery when the baby or the mother is in distress. In many situations, an episiotomy may be performed by an obstetrician to allow the baby to pass through easier. Where surgery is required, that can add an element of stress to the birth process.

Another source of trauma during childbirth is when the mom doesn’t have sufficient support or reassurance during the delivery process. Giving birth can feel overwhelming, and support is needed to retain a sense of confidence that everything will be okay.

Lastly, if the birth process is exhausting, or if surgical interventions are required, it can make for a longer recovery time for mom and baby. In some instances, a mom can end up missing some initial bonding time with her child, and it can take some time to process the whole experience, especially if things do go according to plan. As such, the birth experience, while resulting in a healthy child being born, can nonetheless be difficult and emotionally distressing.

Supporting a loved one who’s undergone a traumatic childbirth experience

When your loved one goes through a traumatic childbirth experience, how can you best come alongside them in support? One of the things that can be helpful for the process of recovery is to have someone from the medical team who helped to manage the birth explain what happened. If the new mom is ready to hear explanations of what happened, it can help her to process what she just went through, and it can also feel validating.

One of the ways you can also look out for a loved one who just gave birth is to be aware of the symptoms of postpartum trauma and postpartum depression. If a mom has a traumatic birth experience, she likely experiences symptoms of postpartum depression. Keeping an eye out for these symptoms and urging her to seek out counseling or other mental health services will be a huge help for her.

Some of the signs of postpartum depression to look out for include anger, anxiety, having a poor appetite, feeling overwhelmed, experiencing negative feelings about yourself or your ability to care for your child, struggling to fall asleep, and having suicidal thoughts. Postpartum trauma can have some symptoms that overlap with postpartum depression. The signs of postpartum trauma to look out for include the following:

  • Having difficulty sleeping.
  • Avoidance of people, places, or situations associated with the trauma, and that might include the hospital where the birth took place.
  • Being hyper-vigilant.
  • Having anxiety or panic attacks.
  • Experiencing worsening depression.
  • Re-experiencing the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks.

If you have a new mom in your life who’s undergone a traumatic childbirth experience (and even if she hasn’t had a negative childbirth experience) allow her the space to talk about her experience. Too often, because of the expectations around childbirth, women suffer in silence after a traumatic childbirth experience. They may feel they have failed as a mother or feel ashamed for feeling sad after the birth of their child.

When a child is born, most people are hyper-focused on the baby, but few stop to ask how the new mom is doing or what she may need. Loving the new mom in your life may look like asking her how she is doing and giving her room to speak candidly about her experience. Supporting her may also look like directing her toward counseling for postpartum trauma so that she gets the tools she needs to cope.

If you know of a mom who has experienced a traumatic childbirth or you have had that experience yourself and need help navigating that trauma, please call our offices to set up an appointment with a counselor today.

“Sunset”, Courtesy of OC Gonzalez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License