by Erin Newton, LCPC
Hi there, mamas! How are you holding up? It’s been a really crazy year for everyone, but especially if you’ve given birth during almost any of 2020. If you have, you’re certainly not alone: an estimated 116 million women have given birth during this weird pandemic time. We know from previous data on birth trauma that up to ⅓ of all women consider their births to be traumatic; out of 116 million, that’s an awful lot of trauma!
In a recent study completed between March and July of 2020 where 885 women participated, 33% reported anxiety during their birth experience, 22% reported high blood pressure, 18% reported depression, 20% reported not feeling safe delivering in the hospital, and 60% (that’s 531 women!!) reported having inadequate support during their birth experience.
What does all of this mean? This means that if you had a baby in 2020, there’s a pretty good chance you might have experienced birth trauma during it. Read on for some other signs that this might be you!
We’ve said it before and we will keep saying it – among the research relating to birth trauma we know that having support lessens the trauma response. Even if you feel prepared, having a baby for the first time is a brand new experience. New things often feel scary, but new things with support feel less scary. Thanks to covid, maybe you were forced to give birth with only one support person, and in some cases, maybe you were forced to give birth alone.
How long did you get to stay after you gave birth? Many hospitals were limiting the length of time that a woman could stay afterwards, meaning moms who would normally get two days to learn to breastfeed, get some rest, and adjust to their new baby, now only got one day before they were sent home. Did you feel like you had enough support from the hospital before you left? Or did you feel alone?
Maintaining control where you can is vitally important to mitigating birth trauma. We’ve talked before about how learning all you can about labor, vaginal birth and c-sections can help to make your experience less scary. Developing a birth plan with a supportive person, asking questions of your medical staff and making sure you are included in the process of your treatment are also important steps.
But what happens when there’s a pandemic and the policies change? Some hospitals in certain states were limiting the amount of time that a woman could labor in order to limit the length of time they were in the hospital altogether, meaning they were likely given drugs to speed up their labor or subjected to c-sections that were mainly “failure to wait.” This could mean your birth plan was thrown out the window in a way that left you feeling completely out of control.
I’ve said this a lot – as a birthing woman, it is important to know what you have a right to ask for and expect as a patient. We’ve already stated that you have a right to consent or not to consent to anything. You also have the right to ask for a second opinion, to leave the hospital at any time, or to ask that things be explained to you in a way that you understand. You have the right to ask questions and to be included in your care. A lot of trauma comes from women feeling as if their birth was something done to them, not something they actively participated in.
But how did this play out for you this time? COVID-19 changed a lot of hospital policies, and the directions from the CDC changed frequently as well. Did you feel able to advocate for yourself in the middle of a global crisis? When you were alone? When everyone has a mask on? When you’re afraid you or your baby might get sick? Were you separated from your baby even if you asked not to be? The power dynamic certainly feels stronger here than it normally does.
If you didn’t have the support you needed when you gave birth, felt unable to advocate for yourself, felt like you were not included in the process of your treatment due to new hospital policies and were afraid of getting of sick…it’s pretty safe to say you might have felt unsafe and scared.
Many women say that birthing alone is their greatest fear – did you have to do that? Was everyone around you in a mask, making it hard to see smiles or friendly faces, even that of your partner? Were you laboring while wearing a mask? Were you laboring sick with COVID-19 or was your partner? So many things that were different here and might have felt scary or weird in a situation that can already be scary and weird!
Ok, is this a hard and fast rule? No, it isn’t (pretty much nothing is!). I’ve met with moms recently who had what they consider to be really positive birth experience, even during this crazy time. But what about you? Was the experience of birthing during a pandemic enough to be traumatic for you? Did things go the way you wanted? Were you afraid and uncomfortable? Did you go home without adequate support? It’s certainly a lonely and scary time to have a new baby and maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed and alone in a way you never imagined.
If you experienced any or all of these things and you now find yourself trying to avoid thoughts, feelings or places associated with your birth, having frequent negative moods or feelings, or anything else described here, you may be experiencing birth trauma and you deserve to get help.
The REBIRTH therapy group could be the place for you! The REBIRTH group is a birth trauma group designed to help facilitate a conversation about birth trauma, postpartum depression (PPD), and postpartum anxiety by exploring topics such as anger, depression, isolation, guilt, and shame.
The ideal audience for this group includes mothers who feel they have experienced trauma and/or who feel that they exhibit signs of PPD or postpartum anxiety as a result of their birth experience. Through a blend of psychoeduation, mindfullness exercises, journaling, experiential exercises and talk therapy within the group, group members can begin the healing process of their traumatic birth experiences.
The Rebirth group is led by Erin Newton, a licensed clinical counselor, a survivor of birth trauma, and a candidate for PMH-C certification, a standardization of training and experience for perinatal mental health specialists.
The group meets virtually on Tuesdays from 7:00 – 8:30 and begins February 2nd. The group will run for ten weeks, ending on Tuesday, April 6th. Contact Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-689-8130 to register.