Gabor Maté describes trauma as “not what happens to you, it’s what happens inside of you as a result of what happened to you.” Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of one of my most cherished books – The Body Keeps the Score – defines trauma as “an experience that basically leaves people stuck in a state of helplessness and terror. Trauma starts with the feeling of “Oh my god, my life is over.” Mind and brain become overwhelmed, resulting in a change over how you perceive danger, and what you consider relevant and irrelevant to your survival.”
It makes sense then that birth trauma does not necessarily come from a birth with birth injuries or emergency situations. Birth trauma refers to the distress experienced by a birthing person or birth partner during or after childbirth. Condensing the definitions by Gabor Mate and Bessel Van Der Kolk, Trauma happens when one feels out of control of a situation in which they perceive their life to be at risk. The helplessness and terror felt in this situation causes trauma. Research tells us that around 30,000 women each year experience birth trauma. It is common for most people to automatically assume physical damage when hearing the phrase birth trauma. This is not always the case.
Feeling In Control Reduces Birth Trauma
I remember many years ago working with a couple who felt very excited for the birth of their baby. They were possibly slightly unrealistic in terms of the physical feelings that most people feel when giving birth however I felt happy to enjoy their enthusiasm with them.
They threw themselves into the hypnobirthing course, following all my preparation instructions in the weeks before birth. In fact, they were the only couple that in 11 years of doing this work caused my partner to come out looking for me because I’d been at their house for so long. Way longer than expected and he felt worried! On reflection, it’s the only time in our sixteen-year relationship that has happened! That was a slight diversion!
They are a great family whom I still have contact with. However, their birth did not go to plan at all. She hoped for a natural home birth. The birth started ideally but before long they transferred to hospital via ambulance because the birth did not progress typically. She asked for an epidural and the doctor used forceps to pull out the baby. There are so many parts of a birth like that which might cause trauma. However, both the birthing mum and her husband said afterwards that they felt good about their experience.
Whilst it did not follow their dream birth plan, they felt in control at all points and felt that everything that happened was their choice. They put this down to the hypnobirthing preparation. It was lovely to watch them go on and have a natural home birth with their second baby.
A “Good” Birth?
The other side of that coin is a client that had actually taken a hypnobirthing course with a different course provider. A course I know well. I’ll mention no names, but whilst the course is mostly as brilliant as any other hypnobirthing course there is one piece of advice in the hypnobirthing programme that I’ve heard cause a few problems. This hypnobirthing course suggests people breath their baby out rather than push. Any of you that have given birth before know that the pushing is much like a reflex and you cannot control it with your conscious mind. I think there was a slight miscommunication or misunderstanding for this woman as her first birth caused her to suffer huge trauma.
The birth, on paper would read as a nice birth. However, when she spoke to me about it the trauma was evident. She said – and I quote “I spent 5 hours trying to stop myself doing a great big shit”. Bowel movement. She didn’t think she should allow her body to push, she felt out of control of herself, she felt helpless and terrified of allowing her body to do what it needed to do. This woman was one of my earliest clients, I worked with her and her husband over ten years ago yet the terror in her face and the tears on her cheeks as she relayed that story to me, I still remember as clearly as the day she told me.
Sadly she didn’t receive the support from the midwives that she needed in that moment. Perhaps she was so out of touch with her body’s natural responses in every day life that she just couldn’t find the intuition in the moment and used her conscious mind to fight her primal instincts and reactions.
I also remember the couple that I worked with who used hypnobirthing to slow down birth. It was their third child, the first was a hospital birth that happened from start to finish in 45 mins. With most birth horror stories revolving around the duration of birth this might sound pretty cool. However, in reality this is not a long time to recognise the physical feelings as birth, get to the hospital, get checked in at the hospital and taken to a room! The birthing mum felt quite traumatised by the entire experience. The second birth was at home, and she found the ability herself to use her mind to feel in control, she took a bath and used the power of her mind to maintain a steady pace. The birth was still fast but controlled.
For the third baby I was there as doula and we had hypnobirthing sessions in the lead up. The birth was beautiful, slower again but still quicker than most. She birthed the baby in her new huge bath and I believe she finally got her perfect birth experience.
Hypnobirthing to Avoid Birth Trauma
Many people incorrectly believe hypnobirthing is always about making birth faster and free of physical feeling. This is not the case. I hope you are beginning to appreciate that hypnobirthing is – in addition to the general antenatal aspect – helping birthing people and their birth partners to feel in control of their experience rather than finding themselves in a situation that they do not know how they got into and do not understand. With no confidence or power to ask. The effect of this will be that the body is able to function efficiently and optimally.
The Birth might not be a typical birth but there will not be unnecessary pain or interventions. Any birth injuries, physical trauma or emergency situations are easier to manage physically and psychologically without emotional trauma. Birth trauma happens to birth partners too and leaves people with symptoms such as flashbacks, anxiety, avoidant behaviour, and difficulties bonding with the baby. Because of this I am a huge advocate of anything that helps prevent it.
Get your ticket for Hypno Summit 2021 here
Read more about Juliet here.
Hypnobirthing experiences are found here.