22 Jun 3 things not to say after someone has experienced a difficult birth and a few words that might just help…
I am always astounded when I hear from the mums and dads I work with in recovery from birth trauma how common it is for others to give ‘well meaning’ words of ‘advice’ or ‘comfort’ to them that are actually at best not appropriate and at worse can exacerbate the feelings of guilt, anger, sadness and confusion that parents are often already experiencing.
The most common offering is ‘at least you have a healthy baby’ if indeed their baby is healthy following a difficult birth. The inference of this comment is that parents should be grateful in spite of their traumatic birth experience. This comment is inappropriate and deeply unhelpful because a mother’s health may have been compromised, both physically and mentally, as a result of the birth and so placing a higher value on the baby’s wellbeing is pointless and unfair if mum and dad are left too traumatised to function well or care for their baby.
Another comment that also misses the point is ‘it’s a shame but there is always next time’. Often for parents who have endured a difficult birth another birth is the last thing on their minds. And if it does cross their mind the next thought is often ‘never ever again!’
And last but not least: ‘At least you had a natural/vaginal delivery’. This again infers that a natural, vaginal delivery is to be prized ahead of a good birth experience. It is also a mistaken belief that a vaginal delivery is always preferred or better in some way. But if the cost of such a delivery is a traumatised mum and dad or injury to mum or baby or damage to their long term health then why do we place such a high value on it? In my humble opinion it is often our dogged pursuit of this ‘optimum’ natural birth that is the cause of trauma and making any comments about it’s value in these cases can be hurtful.
I often wonder why people (and often those who are closest) feel the need to try and sooth those who have suffered with such trite, throw away comments. I think that for many people they feel uncomfortable being around someone’s distress (especially someone close) and they want to resolve their unhappiness instantly with words. This can come across as dismissive and uncaring and is ultimately counter productive as a helping technique. Sometimes a person may want to talk about what happened but often they won’t and it’s important to remember that the re-telling of any trauma has the potential to re-traumatise.
Here are a few things that I have found helpful to those who have experienced a difficult birth and are struggling to come to terms with it.
- Encourage a person to say how they feel about it and validate those feelings. Do not be afraid to sit with those strong feelings. Our fear of strong feelings only makes them stronger and encourages shame and guilt around unvoiced emotions. Often we are afraid of upsetting someone by acknowledging how they feel or discussing the strength of those feelings but often this is an important aspect of the healing process.
- Reassure them that with time they will hopefully begin to feel better, more themselves and less traumatised. But also be clear that if this doesn’t happen then there are effective therapeutic routes out there. Sites such a traumaticbirthrecovery.com offers this reassurance. No one should have to tolerate the symptoms of PTSD beyond 3 months of suffering.
- Encourage self care; plenty of rest (hiring a doula to facilitate this if necessary), good nutrition, allowing time and space to heal in a way that is appropriate for them. If a mum or dad has high expectations about what they think they should be doing for their baby or as parents I would also encourage them to lower their expectations and to be ‘good enough’ at this stage whilst they recover, renew and heal.
To learn more about PTSD following a traumatic birth and recovery from it go to www.traumaticbirthrecovery.com The next birth trauma workshop for practitioners working with mums and dads both in the ante and perinatal periods can also be found here. This workshop teaches an effective technique to lift the symptoms of PTSD.