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Why raising awareness of perinatal trauma is important for healing



I’ve spent a lot of time recently talking about why it can be so hard to recognise perinatal trauma. I do this because recognising perinatal trauma is an important first hurdle to overcome on your road to recovery. When you acknowledge a perinatal trauma, it can help you to heal as it validates what you’ve been feeling. It can also help you to start taking steps towards recovery.


What is perinatal trauma?

Perinatal trauma can be any intensely distressing, threatening or horrific experience on your journey to parenthood. Perinatal trauma can include experiences during your fertility journey, pregnancy, labour or birth. You can also experience perinatal trauma after your baby is born. For example, if your baby is unwell, if they have colic or if they have difficulties with feeding.


When thinking about threatening experiences, these might be perceived threats as well as actual threats. For example, you can experience trauma if you think that your or your baby’s life is being threatened. This can happen even if there wasn’t an actual risk to either of you. Studies focusing on birth trauma have also found that feeling a loss of control or how you are treated during labour and birth can also potentially cause perinatal trauma.


You can also experience symptoms of trauma without having a full diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And symptoms can have a massive impact on your life.


Why is it hard to recognise perinatal trauma?

Many people have never heard of perinatal trauma

People know a lot more about birth trauma now than they did when I first learned about it 15 years ago. But not everyone is aware of birth trauma. Even fewer people are aware of perinatal trauma that is caused by experiences during pregnancy or after your baby is born. Because of this lack of awareness, some people might not know that it’s possible that they are experiencing perinatal trauma.


Additionally, trauma is usually associated with being in a war zone, a disaster, an attack or an accident but not with becoming a parent.


Perinatal trauma experiences are often seen as being normal

Traumatic experiences during labour, birth and other parts of your journey to parenthood can often be seen as normal. This includes the way we think and talk about the parenting journey. For example, people often say things like “Of course birth is traumatic!” or “Having a new baby or breastfeeding is always extremely difficult”.


Perinatal trauma can also occur in situations that are unexpected. For example, when someone experiences birth trauma even though they appear to have had a really straightforward natural birth.

Additionally, two people can have a very similar experience. But one person can feel okay or quite positive about their experience, while another person might find it traumatic. This is because their experiences can be affected by a number of factors such as:

  • their preferences

  • whether or not they felt in control in the situation

  • how they were treated by other people

  • the support available to them during and around the time of what happened

  • and how the situation or the people in that situation made them feel.

On top of all of this, TV shows and movies like One Born Every Minute often show things being done to parents as normal. This includes things that can be traumatic for some parents.


Symptoms of perinatal trauma might be explained as being something else

Some of the symptoms of perinatal trauma can often be explained away as being normal parts of parenting. This includes feeling rage, being on edge or having problems with sleep which are less obvious symptoms than panic attacks or flashbacks.


Because there is less awareness of perinatal trauma, it can also be misdiagnosed as postnatal depression. This diagnosis or explanation of how you’re feeling might not feel quite right to you. But it can be hard to tell as people aren’t always talking about perinatal trauma and you might not be sure of what you are experiencing.


Some people find it hard to talk about or acknowledge perinatal trauma

It can be hard for some people to acknowledge perinatal trauma. For example, some health care providers don’t want to think that their practices or the system that they work in can cause perinatal trauma. Most healthcare providers go into their profession because they want to help people.

People who have had their own perinatal trauma experience might find it hard to talk about your experience. As a result, they might try to shut down what you’re saying to try and protect themselves.


What if it takes a long time to recognise your perinatal trauma?

If you’ve been living with the effects of perinatal trauma for a long time, you might be wondering if it’s too late to get help. If you find that your traumatic perinatal experience is still affecting your daily life, there is help available for you. It doesn’t matter if your experience was more recent or many years ago.


One of my clients talked about this really clearly in her feedback to me:


“As there is still work to be done around raising awareness for perinatal trauma, it took me a while to figure out that was what was effecting me and it took a bit longer to find the right type of support. The process & support Amanda offers helped me reflect on my experience within a safe space and I can now look back on my birth experience and remember the good things as well as the challenges. I would say to anyone who thinks they are still living with the effects of trauma that it is too late to seek support. I was certainly glad I did.”


Support is available to help you recover from perinatal trauma

Your perinatal trauma symptoms may get better with time – particularly if your experience was very recent. However, you might not feel like these symptoms are going away. You may also find that they seem to have gone away but they pop up from time to time. Or they may become really strong again if you are reminded of what happened. These feelings might be even more intense if you become pregnant again. Alternatively, you might want another child and decide not to have one because of what happened.


If you’re identifying with any of these experiences, there is support available for you.


If you speak to your healthcare provider, they will usually offer you a debrief. This is often aimed at helping you to understand what happened. Some people find their debrief really helpful – particularly if their feelings about the experience are validated. However, other people have poor experiences. For example, if their feelings aren’t validated or if they feel like they’re not being heard.

You might also seek support from a therapist, counsellor or coach. This can be really helpful but it’s important that the person has a good understanding of perinatal trauma and that you feel able to trust them.


You might also want to speak to a TBR 3 Step Rewind practitioner to find out if this support might be right for you. TBR 3 Step Rewind is offered over three sessions to help you lift any heavy or difficult emotions relating to your perinatal trauma experience and focus on what you want for your recovery.

If you want to hear more about how I can support you, please email me at amanda@youhavegotthis.co.uk or visit my website at https://youhavegotthis.co.uk


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