We have exciting news–Happy as a Mother has evolved into The Momwell Podcast! The podcast is staying the same–same great experts, same mission, same format. But we’re now operating under a new name–Momwell.
What You'll Learn
- The Difference Between Trauma Response and a Typical Postpartum Experience
- The Importance of Support After a Traumatic Birth
- Practical Tips to Prepare for Labor After a Traumatic Birth
- How Your Partner Can Help Prepare for Labor After a Traumatic Birth
Facing a subsequent pregnancy after a traumatic birth can feel overwhelming and scary. You can’t predict what will come next, but you can heal from your past trauma and prepare a strong support system.
Today, clinical social worker Kayleigh Summers, founder of The Birth Trauma Mama, joins us for part 2 of our conversation about birth trauma. Last week, we talked about how trauma can impact our decision to expand our family. Today, we’re discussing how to prepare for a subsequent birth after a traumatic experience.
When You’re Unprepared for a Subsequent Birth
The decision to continue or not continue growing a family can be so difficult, even if birth trauma is not in the mix. But when you’ve experienced a traumatic birth, you face a slew of other emotions, grief, and barriers.
I remember working with a client who had faced a traumatic pregnancy and birth, enduring genetic testing for a rare disease, and a lot of pain and grief on her journey. After considering whether or not to pursue IVF and add another baby to her family, she ultimately decided not to.
We worked on processing her grief and coming to a place of acceptance. Then, she ended up becoming spontaneously pregnant. And, after deciding to continue with the pregnancy, she had to reface the fear, the worries, the testing, and the complexities that she had encountered during her first pregnancy.
Whether moms find themselves pregnant or intentionally choose to expand their family, facing a subsequent birth after trauma comes with a lot of fear, uncertainty, and emotion.
Facing a subsequent birth after trauma comes with a lot of fear, uncertainty, and emotion.
In Kayleigh’s case, she was no longer physically able to have children. So, within six months, she found herself pursuing a surrogate birth. In retrospect, she identifies this as a trauma response.
When her husband put the pause button on the surrogacy and she began considering all of the emotions, the trauma, and the thought of watching someone else carry her baby, she moved to a place of acceptance that she was most likely done growing her family.
Everyone’s journey is different, but the good news is that trauma is treatable. If you are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant and are still struggling with trauma, there are ways to cope, including birth trauma therapy. I was excited to continue our conversation about traumatic birth, this time focusing on the journey toward a subsequent labor.
The Difference Between Trauma Response and a Typical Postpartum Experience
As Kayleigh shared her experience, I related to it in some ways. While I didn’t experience traumatic births, I felt a similar grief process when deciding to not grow my family and accepting that I would never have a daughter.
Kayleigh pointed out that some of the grief, uncertainty, and fear around subsequent births or postpartum experiences after birth are typical for anybody. Part of birth trauma therapy is working out the differences between trauma response and those typical emotions.
When moms find themselves pregnant again after a traumatic birth, they likely experience a wide range of emotions, depending on where their trauma stems from and what the triggers are.
It’s typical to have fear—and that won’t necessarily go away.
It’s typical to have fear—and that won’t necessarily go away. But if our fear of another birth experience or postpartum period is disrupting our daily function, it may be a trauma response that needs treatment.
Kayleigh also pointed out that it doesn’t have to impair our daily lives for us to seek treatment. If it’s painful or uncomfortable, even if we can function, we can seek help for our trauma.
It’s often comforting to know that we’re not alone. We can lean on our support systems and feel as close to okay as possible. We can also take practical steps to prepare for our subsequent birth as best we can.
The Importance of Support After a Traumatic Birth
When facing a subsequent pregnancy, it’s important to prepare from two angles—planning with your care team and healing emotionally. These two angles will help you face the birth with as much confidence as possible.
Kayleigh recommended asking your care team questions, discussing your past trauma, and being open with your needs and triggers. If they are not responsive or reassuring, it’s absolutely okay to find someone else. You want to ensure that the people caring for you will support you in the way you need.
On the emotional side, birth trauma therapy can be extremely valuable. Trauma is very treatable. It won’t erase your fears, but it can reduce the hypervigilance, anxiety, and trauma symptoms.
If you had a traumatic birth, we want you to get therapy treatment because we know it’s effective.
Kayleigh pointed out that trauma approaches such as EMDR are safe for pregnancy and have been proven effective. Birth trauma therapy can alleviate trauma before you walk into what will likely be your biggest trigger—it’s important to process our trauma before we enter the experience again.
Seeking out support groups online of moms who have come through similar journeys can also be comforting. Hearing stories of positive subsequent birth experiences, and even hearing from those who endured trauma again and navigated it, can help.
It’s also valuable to build coping and grounding skills to support yourself during labor, such as naming five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Kayleigh also recommended bringing oils, ice packs, or peppermint candy (if you’re allowed to) that can help bring you back into the room and ground you.
Practical Tips to Prepare for Labor After a Traumatic Birth
We can also create logistic support for labor or the postpartum period. Who will be in the delivery room? Who do you need nearby? Would a doula be helpful?
It’s also important to consider what the postpartum period will look like, if our subsequent birth is traumatic or if it isn’t. Creating a plan for postpartum sleep and support can help us feel prepared and avoid the need to make decisions when we’re in the thick of it.
Kayleigh also said that considering our expectations is important. In some circles, people believe in lowering expectations around subsequent births, but Kayleigh doesn’t think that’s the best approach.
She said that when we encourage moms to just put their expectations on the floor, it’s unrealistic, and it also takes away the onus from medical professionals who might be causing or contributing to the trauma. We can’t just blame moms for their expectations.
It’s okay to have expectations, to envision what you want your birth to be, and to grieve if it goes a different way. However, we also have to prepare for a range of possibilities and be flexible for whatever happens.
The goal of preparing isn’t to erase our fear or to keep trauma from occurring. (Kayleigh pointed out that even if she knew every detail of what would happen to her, it would still have been traumatic.) The ultimate goal is to be able to cope and manage effectively in the face of a triggering situation. We can’t predict the experience, but we can predict the system we build around the experience.
How Your Partner Can Help Prepare for Labor After a Traumatic Birth
Kayleigh also pointed out that your partner can be a valuable support member when preparing for a subsequent birth.
Have conversations about what you want and need in a range of situations. Discuss things like:
What do you want to happen if you are unconscious?
If you need to be separated from your baby, who do you want to stay with the baby, and who do you want to stay with you?
What do you want done or not done to your newborn?
Talking these scenarios out can help you and your partner be on the same page and feel prepared for whatever happens. You want your partner to be able to advocate for you if your voice isn’t being heard.
It’s also helpful to discuss your triggers, fears, and desires with your partner. Tell them what you want from this experience and how they can help support you.
Your partner might also need to heal after a traumatic birth in preparation for another. Partners often experience trauma responses, but carry additional stigma or hesitate to seek help. This can be a tricky situation if you’re both processing trauma. It’s important to work through our trauma and be as healed as possible before entering into the experience again.
If you are coping with perinatal trauma or need support on your journey, we’re here to help! Our maternal mental health specialists offer virtual therapy support. Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today!