Q: “I feel a sense of panic and anxiety every time I think about the birth of my second baby three months ago. I just can’t seem to shake off the trauma of the experience – even though it was not a particularly horrific one! I am not depressed generally. What can I do to put things in perspective and get over this?”
A: The feelings you describe are very common.It makes no difference that the birth was
“not a particularly horrific one”. Many women are distressed by their birth experiences, and too many are fobbed off by other people intent on dismissing these feelings. “Pull-yourself-together” comments are not appropriate – neither are reminders that “at least you have a healthy baby” or “think what some people go through!”
Even non-horrific births can make women feel powerless and frightened. Maybe your wishes were not heeded, or things were not explained – or events didn’t happen as you planned and hoped. Second births can sometimes be horribly fast and furious – or they may be slow and painful (hard to accept when you’ve been told that second births are “easier”).
With a toddler to care for at home, women may approach the birth of their second child feeling physically worn out. Emotions can be very mixed, and may include guilt – for leaving your older child in the care of somebody else, or for having another baby.
Partners may be less supportive and emotionally moved by the second birth. Then, when you get home with your new baby, maybe there was little chance of simply resting and getting to know him or her. There may not even be time to think about what happened, and make sense of it. Instead, you’re usually quickly embroiled in caring for two children – a vulnerable baby plus an older child who may also be feeling insecure and jealous.
These are just ideas – the point I’m trying to make is that anxious feelings following birth (second or first) are not at all abnormal.
I feel you may have several options. Can you talk with the midwife who cared for you during the pregnancy and/or labour? Did you develop a rapport with her? I’m sure she would be very happy to talk through events. She could explain why things happened, if that is what you need to know. Or she could simply listen whilst you re-live events. Or maybe there is another midwife you met who you feel you could talk with? You can contact individual midwives by writing to the Director of Midwifery Services at the maternity unit where you gave birth.
Midwives are becoming more and more aware of women’s need to “debrief” their birth experiences. A request to do so would not be taken as criticism. Indeed, some hospitals have now formalised this service. The John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, for example, offers women who delivered there the chance to talk about their experiences with a midwife who has access to their maternity notes. They call this service Birth
Afterthoughts. Your local hospital may have similar provision. Some areas even run Birth
Trauma clinics. (Remember that trauma can be emotional or mental as well as physical.)
Or is there another person that you can talk things through with? Preferably somebody who knows a bit about maternity care – a GP or health visitor, maybe? Is there a local branch of the National Childbirth Trust? Many branches have volunteer “post-natal supporters” to offer just this kind of help. Or do you have a good friend you can talk with – somebody who you can trust to sit down and just listen? She or he may not even need to say anything. It is surprising how often “a trouble shared” can be a ” trouble halved”.
If these options are not appropriate, there is now a telephone helpline available. The service, which is free, is called the Birth Crisis Network. The Network is staffed by trained and highly motivated volunteers around the country. You phone a central number, and are usually put in touch with a local counsellor. The central number is 01865 300266.
You’ve already done a hard thing by admitting that you have these feelings of anxiety.
Well done for that. I hope you can now get to speak with somebody about your birth experience – because I feel that simply doing that will help you get things into perspective. You are not at all unusual in experiencing these feelings – and need not be alone!
Hannah Hulme Hunter, Babyworld Midwife.