Healing From A Difficult Childbirth: Understanding Childbirth Trauma

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Most women set out to get prepared emotionally and physically for the birth of their baby in some way, imagining what the experience will be like and even writing out detailed birth plans. So when things don't go as expected, what's supposed to be the happiest day of your life can lead to disappointment or crisis, and in some cases even traumatic stress.

What is Childbirth Trauma?

Birth trauma results from experiencing some part of childbirth as scary, frightening, distressing or life threatening. Simply put, if it felt traumatic to you, it was traumatic.

Post-traumatic stress disorder following childbirth is caused by real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum, resulting in feeling that you are not in control of what's happening while also fearing for your life or your baby's life. Traumas that can lead to postpartum post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include:

  • Unplanned C-section

  • Feeling powerless, out of control during childbirth

  • Not having your wishes respected

  • Lack of support and reassurance during/after delivery

  • Poor communication during/after delivery

  • Other emergency interventions( use of forceps/extractor)

  • Your baby had to go to the NICU

  • Prolapsed cord

  • Previous traumas, such as rape or sexual abuse, traumatic losses, previous medical trauma

  • Severe physical complication or injury related to pregnancy or childbirth(for example, 3rd or 4th degree tears, pre-eclampsia/emclampsia, hyperemisis, postpartum hemorrhage)

According to Postpartum Support International, about 9% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder following childbirth. Women with a previous trauma, including childhood abuse, rape or sexual abuse, are at a higher risk for experiencing postpartum PTSD.

Common Symptoms of PTSD Following Childbirth:

  • Intrusive re-experiencing/replaying of a past traumatic event(of childbirth, or previous traumas)

  • Flashbacks or nightmares(replaying the birth in your dreams)

  • Avoidance of reminders connected to the event, including thoughts, feelings/emotions, people, places and details (for example hospitals, doctors, any reminders of childbirth including babies and other new moms, hearing other women's birth stories)

  • Feeling on edge, unable to relax

  • Anxiety/panic attacks

  • Feeling detached, “things don't seem real”

  • Easily startled

  • Hypervigilant

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Irritable or angry mood

  • Excessive worry about the baby/checking on the baby

Emotionally Traumatic Aspects of Childbirth

For many women, the most traumatic aspects of childbirth are caused by something other than a medical emergency. The way that women are treated or spoken to during labor and delivery can cause extreme distress--lack of communication, not feeling supported or reassured, or feeling pressured into making critical, complex decisions quickly during labor or immediately following the birth. Measures that are seen as routine or medically necessary to a medical professional may feel overwhelming to a new mom, and just intensify the feeling that you're out of control and helpless to help yourself or your baby-even when you and your baby are now “fine”.

If childbirth was difficult for you, it's important not to dismiss or minimize this part of your experience, especially when your distress or fears continue longer than the first month after your baby is born.  Postpartum depression, anxiety and PTSD are treatable. If you'd like to learn more about how I can help, please contact me for a free phone consultation at (626) 808-5463 or write to me at hollyaevansmft@gmail.com

Postpartum Anxiety: Learning to Listen to Your Instincts Without Letting Fear Take Over

All the noise and distraction that anxiety creates can drown out what you know about yourself—- your strengths and good instincts about how to be the mom you want to be.
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When you were anticipating getting pregnant and having a baby, it's likely that you expected yourself to feel happy, excited. Maybe even confident and in charge of the situation. You probably didn't imagine feeling consumed with worry that keeps you up at night, or terrified at moments when certain thoughts cross your mind. Yet this is how many women experience their first months or years of motherhood. Feeling out of control, overwhelmed, and helpless. This kind of anxiety is like a thief, robbing you of the ability to enjoy the time you have with your brand new baby.

Most new moms experience a certain amount of fear and anxiety. However, some women become overwhelmed, preoccupied, and ruled by their fears. According to Postpartum Support International, 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety- sometimes alone, and sometimes with depression. When anxiety and fear begin to change your behavior and inform your decision making, it can become very hard to trust yourself, and hard to ask for help from people who might be able to support you. Moms with a history of trauma or abuse may be especially vulnerable to anxiety and constant worry about the safety of your own children. Unwanted thoughts, fears of something bad happening or disturbing memories make it difficult to think clearly and make good decisions for yourself and your baby. Relationships can become strained, and sleep deprivation makes everything worse.

All the noise and distraction that anxiety creates can drown out what you know about yourself--- your strengths and good instincts about how to be the mom you want to be. When anxiety takes over, it takes a lot of work to remind yourself of the parts of you that are strong and resilient and to listen to your own voice. If you're struggling with anxiety, here are some things to think about:

Arm yourself With Information About Postpartum Anxiety

If you're struggling with postpartum anxiety, it's important to know that it's not your fault and you didn't cause this to happen. Anxiety is treatable and with help you'll feel better. Getting support to help you manage anxiety is an important step to take. Learning to recognize and cope with your symptoms so that you can get to the root of what's causing your anxiety is a good starting point. Every woman's anxiety is experienced differently, but there are some common symptoms that you can begin to identify for yourself. Some good resources to educate yourself are:

Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts: Breaking The Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel

The Pregnancy & Postpartum Anxiety Workbook by Pamela S. Weigartz and Kevin L. Gyerkoe

Postpartum Support International Website postpartum.net

Carefully Consider Your Expectations of Yourself

One of the most common things women express to me is the belief that they're a bad mom because of how their anxiety is affecting them. Even if you've felt capable, competent, accomplished and in charge in other areas of your life, having a baby can lead to feelings of doubt, overwhelm, even a sense of failure. In Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts(by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel, 2011), the authors write:“The period following the birth of a child is a transitional time that can challenge a woman in profound ways. She is deprived of precious sleep, she is hormonally compromised, and sometimes she is thinking things she cannot believe are crossing her mind. If a new mother experiences thoughts that are uncomfortable to her during a time when her family, friends, and society expect her to feel blissful, she is likely to be overcome by guilt and a crushing sense of failure.”

Learning how to quiet your anxiety and tune into your own instincts about how to be a mom is no easy feat. Moms are bombarded with all kinds of messages about the “right” way to parent, and how you’re supposed to feel about being a mom. There is no shortage of judgment, real and perceived. Becoming a mother changes your sense of who you are, and it's important to allow yourself explore how you're changing, growing—and how you're struggling. You've taken on the role of “mom”, and you may feel like there's no room for you to be anything else right now. It's important to acknowledge aspects of yourself and your life that feel lost or out of reach, and to make room for yourself to feel whatever you feel about how much your life has changed. Your values and beliefs, your hopes and dreams, and your most important life experiences can help you find your way to being the mom you want to be.

Getting Help For Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety are treatable. Opening up a conversation about how you're feeling can be difficult, but remaining silent or trying keep up the appearance that everything is okay usually just prolongs the problem. The sooner you get help, the more quickly you'll find relief and get back to feeling more like yourself. If you'd like to learn more about how I can help, please contact me for a free phone consultation at (626) 808-5463 or write to me at hollyaevansmft@gmail.com

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Recognizing When You Need Support

Having a baby is to supposed to be one of the happiest times of your life. But what if it isn't?

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If you've recently had a baby and aren't feeling like yourself, you're not alone. As many as 15 to 20% of new moms experience changes in mood that make taking care themselves and their new babies a struggle. Bringing a new baby home-whether it's your first or your third child-will naturally create some upheaval and stress, even in the best of circumstances. But if you're noticing significant changes in your mood past the first several weeks postpartum, it could be more than the “baby blues”.

Postpartum depression and anxiety is experienced differently for every woman, but here are some good things to know:

You're Not Alone: Postpartum Depression and Anxiety is Common

One of the things I make sure new moms know is that postpartum depression and anxiety is one of the most common complications of delivering a baby. They're often surprised and relieved, because they feel so alone in their experience. It can seem like every new mom is so together, handling new motherhood with confidence and joy. But appearances can be deceiving, as many women struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety are really good at masking what they're going through.

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Don't Discriminate

Any woman can be susceptible to postpartum depression and anxiety, regardless of age, income, ethnicity, how much support you have in your life, or how well your pregnancy and delivery went. According to the American Psychological Association, for half of women diagnosed with postpartum depression, it's their first depressive episode. It's common to hear new moms say that it doesn't make sense that they're experiencing problems with mood and anxiety when things in their lives are going well. This confusion can fuel guilt and cause women to stay quiet about what they're going through, ultimately preventing them from getting help.

Having Postpartum Depression Doesn't Mean You're a Bad Mom

Depression and anxiety can make just getting through the day exhausting-emotionally and physically. Many women feel wracked with guilt when they have thoughts and feelings about their babies and motherhood that aren't happy ones. Postpartum depression is treatable, and with support you can feel better. Reaching out for help from family and friends, support groups, or seeking therapy is important. Postpartum depression doesn't usually just go away on it's own. Understanding what you're going through and that it isn't your fault is an important part of finding your way back to feeling more like yourself and living a healthy, happy life with your new baby.

If you or a mom in your life is struggling with the adjustment to motherhood, getting informed is a good first step to take.  To learn more, here are some good resources:

Postpartum Support International

www.postpartum.net

American Psychological Association

http://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/reports/postpartum-depression.aspx

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety are treatable. Opening up a conversation about how you're feeling can be difficult, but remaining silent or trying keep up the appearance that everything is okay usually just prolongs the problem. The sooner you get help, the more quickly you'll find relief and get back to feeling more like yourself. If you'd like to learn more about how I can help, please contact me for a free phone consultation at (626) 808-5463 or hollyaevansmft@gmail.com

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

When you venture into motherhood, it's natural and expected to struggle with some level of anxiety. So how do you know when your anxiety has become a problem?

Will I be a good mom? Will my baby be healthy? What if something bad happens? Most moms can relate to anxiety producing questions like these because there are so many unknowns when you have a baby. 

But for many women, anxiety can get in the way of enjoying your new baby. If worry, fear or panic begin to take hold and overwhelm your ability to take care of yourself and your family, it may be time to get help.

Here are some things to know if you're struggling with anxiety:

Your experience is not unusual. Anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum is common. Due to so many changes during and after pregnancy, women become more vulnerable to serious problems with anxiety during pregnancy and after delivery. According to Postpartum Support International 6 - 10% of women will develop problems with anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum(including panic, OCD, generalized anxiety, post traumatic stress), and even more will experience anxiety along with depression.

Anxiety is experienced differently for each woman. Symptoms of anxiety can be felt in your body, your mind and often result in changes in how you go about your day. Learning to effectively manage anxiety usually involves recognizing how anxiety is affecting you -how it shows up in your daily life and impacts your ability to take care of yourself and your baby. Common signs of problematic anxiety are:

  • physical tension, racing heart, nausea/stomach distress, shallow breathing, tight chest

  • avoiding daily activities due to fear, like driving, going out of the house with the baby

  • relentless worry and obsessing, imagining worst case scenarios

  • panic

  • scary/disturbing intrusive thoughts, usually about harm coming to the baby

  • sleep disturbance due to worried thoughts or behaviors, such as frequently feeling the need to check on the baby throughout the night

  • feeling nervous, on edge for most of the day

  • avoiding certain situations or activities, such as driving or leaving the house

  • concern about being alone with the baby

Anxiety is treatable. Getting the right kind of support can help you learn to effectively manage anxiety and find relief. Opening up a conversation about how anxiety is affecting you can be difficult, and many women believe that they should be able to handle problems on their own. But remaining silent or trying keep up the appearance that everything is okay usually just prolongs the problem. The sooner you get help, the more quickly you'll find relief and get back to feeling more like yourself.

Call (626) 808-5463 for a free 15 minute phone consultation.  I would love to talk to you about how I can help.