When most people think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) they may think of soldiers who have been in battle and seen horrific scenes that have stayed with them. This is a very real issue for many soldiers, but it is not only them that can develop PTSD. In fact, anyone can if they have experienced a traumatic event.
Some women’s experiences of pregnancy and childbirth could be traumatic, and trauma could also be triggered by feelings of loss of control and/or dignity, hostility from those around, and from feelings of not being heard. Characteristics of PTSD include flashbacks, repetitive and distressing memories, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, feeling hyper vigilant (on guard at all times) and avoiding usual activities. It is common in cases of PTSD that the individual may feel anxious and distressed when exposed to certain situations that remind them of the traumatic event, which can include discussion around the topic or revisiting a specific place.
Unexpected events during childbirth may be traumatic to a woman. Everyone experiences events differently and everyone’s coping mechanisms are not the same. It is important to express how you’re feeling following birth to either your friends and family and/or to your midwife, health visitor and GP. This may help manage difficult emotions and to not feel as isolated, remember PTSD is a normal response to a traumatic event. It is easy to get frustrated with the symptoms of PTSD but recovering from trauma can take time. Putting pressure on yourself can make you feel worse, it takes time to recover and loved ones can help to remind you of this when times may feel hard.
Not every birth will be perfect. As a student midwife myself, I always try and ensure that the woman and her birthing partner feel as comfortable and supported as I can, because sometimes even when things do not go to plan, a bit of support and empathy can go a long way. Remember to be kind to others, as you do not know what they may be feeling and try to understand that even the most seemingly perfect birth could still have been traumatic for the woman involved and that the most seemingly traumatic birth may not have been perceived that way by the woman. Every birth is different, and every woman is different.