You may have missed it, but July 7-14, 2019, was Birth Trauma Awareness Week.
When most people hear that someone has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they typically think of combat veterans. While PTSD first became a diagnosis in the wake of identified symptoms present in veterans of the Vietnam War, the idea of who may present with these symptoms has expanded; yet, the general public rarely considers PTSD to be something that affects new parents.
The reality is that PTSD is among a group of diagnoses collectively known as Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), which occur during and in the period following pregnancy. As its name implies, PTSD and its symptoms occur when someone has endured an event that involved “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence,” whether that event happened directly to the person experiencing these symptoms or whether they were a witness to the event. One important factor to consider is that events do not need to be considered traumatic by any or all observers; trauma is subjective and a birth judged by observers as “routine” may still be experienced traumatic by the birthing person. According to a study completed in the United States in 2011 by Cheryl Tatano Beck et al., about 9% of the respondents met the full criteria for a diagnosis of birth-related PTSD, whereas 18% of respondents were experiencing some symptoms of the disorder.
Symptoms to watch for include:
- Intrusive thoughts/memories of the birth, nightmares, or a sense that aspects of the birth are happening again
- Hyperarousal/hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, irritability, trouble concentrating, sleep disruption
- Avoidance of reminders of the experience, which may include not returning to the hospital and hesitance to interact with medical professionals
- Difficulty remembering parts of the experience
- Negative thoughts about self, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and difficulty connecting/bonding with infant
These symptoms can impact both the birthing and non-birthing partner and are highly treatable by mental health professionals specially trained in the treatment of PMADs. Early intervention by a qualified mental health professional can help you process the trauma and attain your prior level of functioning. If you are experiencing symptoms that you suspect may be related to birth trauma, don’t hesitate to reach out for help today.