Childbirth can be a magical moment, a stressful situation, a spiritual engagement, or even a traumatic experience. How it is perceived lies in the eyes of the beholder, and what one partner may see as a beautiful event, another may experience it in a completely different manner.
Birth trauma can be something that physically happened to the mother, or even a partner in some cases, and emotionally that has created overwhelming feelings since being a part of the birth.
Up to 45% of new parents experience childbirth as a traumatic event.
This is a staggering number considering the overall image of bringing a newborn into this world as being a beautiful, memorable moment. The fact of the matter is childbirth can bring about many unplanned things that even though from a medical perspective can be smooth, from a partner’s perspective can be challenging and form a traumatic experience in their eyes.
No matter what type of birth or plan there is in place, a partner may never feel completely prepared for the actual event of childbirth creating a landscape for trauma to unfold.
This article is aimed at highlighting the importance of identifying, seeking help, and overcoming the stigma of birth trauma in partners. YOU ARE NOT ALONE, and it is ok to feel the way you do even if the birth of your child went “perfect” and everybody is healthy and well. It is not until you are thrust into the moment will you know how you will react and handle the situation.
Birth Trauma for Partners
Birth trauma can be different for both parents. Here’s how
Maternal Birth Trauma
Mothers will experience a different birth than fathers will, for obvious reasons that she is the one going through the physical, emotional, and psychological challenges of delivering a baby. Birth trauma in moms can range from birthing complications such as an emergency c-section, large loss of blood, or extended periods of labor. It can also present itself emotionally in cases with severe injury or death of the baby.
The mom may have felt unattended during the birth due to lack of medical attention which could create a traumatic experience resulting in birth trauma.
Paternal Birth Trauma
A father’s experience will differ greatly from that of the mother in the sense of sometimes feeling helpless that he is unable to help his partner out through the difficulties that labor and birth carry.
They may also feel abandoned, lost, and confused as to what just happened.
As prepared as a father may feel going into childbirth, nothing can truly prepare one for the actual experience of it happening live.
The aftermath of these feelings can create emotions of shock, disappointment, anger, stress, and anxiety, leading to a more traumatic reaction to what happened.
About 17% of postpartum parents develop birth related PTSD from a traumatic experience.
This can especially go unnoticed when a birth may not be considered “traumatic” from a medical perspective but the parents had a much different experience.
Some common triggers and causes of birth trauma can be a
- History of mental health issues
- Previous traumatic experience,
- An unplanned birthing plan
- Even a completely unexpected experience of what happened.
This will be looked at deeper later on throughout the article.
Signs and Symptoms of Birth Trauma in Partners
Here is a list of the most common signs and symptoms of birth trauma in partners, with a brief description of how they apply:
- Emotional challenges: Partners can be overwhelmed with a range of feelings ranging from anger, anxiety, fear, hopelessness, or guilt. This can exacerbate the trauma even in their minds making it difficult to cope with what happened.
- Powerlessness: During the traumatic experience, a partner may not be able to help support the mother, creating a strong feeling of helplessness. This can cause a lot of stress with feeling guilty or inadequate for being there for the mom.
- Physical symptoms: The overwhelming sensations experienced from witnessing a traumatic birth can develop into serious headaches, lack of sleep, nerve issues, and digestive complications.
- Flashbacks: Not being able to shake the memories of what just happened can have a significant impact on impeding daily activities.
- Hyperarousal: Having a sudden increase in anxiety, irritability, or startled response is a common symptom of experiencing a traumatic event. This can also lead to loss of sleep as you may always feel like you are on alert for something bad to happen.
- Anxiety for future pregnancies: After experiencing a traumatic childbirth, it can be very difficult to get over when preparing for another child. The feeling of the same event or something terrible happening again can create very stressful and anxious emotions for a partner.
- Social withdrawal: A lack of desire to be with friends, or even family, due to not relating to what you may experience can seclude you from seeking the social support you may need to help work through your traumatic story.
Factors Influencing Birth Trauma in Partners
Heading into the birthing room with everything planned and the mindset of what is going to happen can be a wonderful feeling. You feel prepared, ready, and supportive to take care of the mom as she goes through the laboring challenge of bearing a child.
Regardless if everything goes according to this plan or not, there is nothing that can prepare a partner for what they are going to experience with witnessing the birth of their child.
I wish that was told to me and something that should be preached on the top of the mountain. As many classes you educate yourself on, videos you watch, and people you talk to, just understand that anything can happen and to be as flexible and open minded for it.
The feeling of helplessness and not being in control is one of the main factors that contribute to birth trauma in partners.
As much love, support, and being the rock for your partner as you have been throughout pregnancy, you may have everything stripped from you in a matter of minutes without you being able to do anything.
Things may be going great one minute and all of sudden the mood shifts and there needs to be an immediate change to help right the course of your partner giving birth. This happens and sometimes you have to step aside for the time being and leave it in the hands of the professionals whom you can hopefully trust.
The unexpected complications, which carry a long list of things that can happen during childbirth are something that should always be kept in the back of a partner’s mind. Educating yourself on what could go wrong, from A to Z will help better prepare you for if anything were to happen.
That is one mistake I made with our first daughter as I had little education on what an epidural was, let alone the near-fatal incredibly low percentage of what a misplaced one could do to my wife.
Education on some of these matters can also help you as a couple make better-judged decisions on behalf of your partner and unborn child’s life.
Coping Strategies for Partners
If you feel like you have witnessed a traumatic birth and are experiencing some of the symptoms listed in this article, YOU ARE NOT ALONE and what you are feeling is normal and does not define you.
Remember, that story that happened at a moment in time does not define who you are and with some of these coping strategies you can work through and become the best version of yourself you know you were meant to be.
Reach out to friends, family, or even support groups to talk about your experience so that you can better process what happened in working through the overwhelming emotions you may be experiencing.
If you feel uncomfortable talking to family or friends, support groups are an incredible place to start as there are like-minded individuals who have gone through similar experiences and can offer advice and help throughout your journey.
Talking to a therapist, counsellor, or psychologist about your experience and symptoms can put you on a positive path toward recovery.
I personally did this with a therapist which helped a lot as talking about it really eased the burden of what I was feeling. One thing I lacked though was a sentimental empathetic connection with my therapist, which was in no way their fault at all.
That is one thing I hope to provide through my coaching program for partners and fathers going through similar experiences and looking to create a compelling future filled with love, joy, and confidence for their families.
I would love to talk to you and see how I can help, whether it be pointing you in a different connection or navigating you through my program on a journey to live the life you were meant to. Take 30 minutes and schedule a connection call with me to see what I can do for you!
I have discussed many times throughout my writing the power of mindfulness, self-awareness, and self-care to help overcome stressful, anxious, and irritable situations.
Breathing techniques are an amazing, quick fix to working through these tough times. Meditation is another powerful tool to start incorporating into your life. Journaling has been a huge saviour for me with being able to process, create plans, and overcome challenging times that life throws at you.
As discussed earlier, preparing for a birth experience is paramount to being as aware and educated as possible about what could happen when things don’t go as planned. I am not here to poo poo going to classes, watching videos, etc as I found that to be very helpful with not just the birth but pregnancy and postpartum as well. However, it is important to maintain an open mind and be flexible to a shift in the plan as sometimes life rarely has a way of going the way it should.
Expectations should be discussed with everyone involved in the birth from family members being there for support to the medical staff. However, it is important to remember that expectations should be held lightly and to understand that with trust in the professionals things will work out the way they should.
As a partner, you may also be involved in birth decisions that the mother is incapable of making. This is a serious, and heavy thing to consider but should be well thought out in the event of something going drastically bad.
The more prepared and educated you can become, the better position you are putting yourself in to be ready for whatever gets thrown your way.
It is important that partners not be forgotten about and pushed aside after the birth of a child.
Even if everything went perfectly, the partner may have experienced something different and should be checked on for their mental well-being.
Missed opportunities like these are what transmute into longer mental health conditions like PPD, PTSD, PPA, or even postpartum psychosis.
It is important to understand, YOU ARE NOT ALONE, and seeking help and support does not make you any lesser of a human being. In fact, coming out and being vulnerable makes you stronger and shows that you are capable of taking matters into your own hands and becoming the best version of yourself.
If you feel like you are in a place where you are not sure where to go, take 30 minutes and schedule a connection call to see how I can help. I have been through a traumatic birthing experience and know your struggles, but I will tell you one thing, they do not define who you are and you can live a compelling future filled with love, gratitude, and confidence for your family!
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