You may see the #TimeToTalk hashtag popping up in your social media feeds this week, as campaigners rally behind Time to Change. The organisation aims to challenge the stigma around mental health and get people talking about how they're really feeling. So this week we're paying particular attention to Birth Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can have a devastating impact on both mums and dads.
Miriam and Gemma run Birth Trauma Scotland. They're both practising NHS midwives and set up the organisation to offer treatment to women, birth partners and healthcare professionals affected by perinatal trauma. They spoke to us about their work.
"We saw there was a real need not only to raise awareness of Birth Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but also to treat the debilitating symptoms effectively. Birth Trauma and PTSD not only affects mothers but fathers, same sex partners, birth partners, midwives and healthcare professionals. With 1 in 3 women reporting having had a traumatic birth and 1 in 20 midwives reporting PTSD symptoms this is an area which needs more research and change. Unfortunately we do not have statistics for fathers but we know from treating them on our clinic that they too can experience birth trauma and PTSD just like mothers. We are passionate about improving services, changing policy and working towards better mental health for all involved in birth, including raising awareness of fathers affected by birth trauma.
Birth Trauma & PTSD
The term Birth Trauma includes all traumatic experiences around pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. This perinatal trauma can include IVF, miscarriage, fetal medicine, birth, obstetric emergencies, intensive care admissions, neonatal unit admissions, stillbirth, breastfeeding and postnatal care. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a set of symptoms that last longer than a month following a traumatic experience where a person perceives extreme danger or threat to life, be it their own, their partners or their baby’s. Parents can be deeply affected by experiencing intrusive distressing memories or flashbacks of their birth, feelings of anxiety and panic when reminded of their birth, avoidance of thoughts, feelings, places and details of the birth, irritability, anger, guilt and fear, difficulty sleeping, hyper vigilance, feeling a sense of unreality and detachment. Parents might experience a few of these following birth anyway with the lack of sleep a new baby brings, however the key is that those feelings are persistent for over a month for a diagnosis of PTSD. We worked with a father whose PTSD symptoms were triggered by hearing his baby cry, as it reminded him of the traumatic birth. This was obviously very distressing for him however once we worked to help him recover from the birth trauma this symptom disappeared overnight.
Dads & Birth Trauma
Birth Trauma and PTSD do not discriminate against anyone. The experience of perinatal trauma is unique to the individual and their perception. Watching a traumatic birth, or an emergency complication, having an unwell baby, or feeling a lack of control can all trigger birth trauma which can lead to PTSD. Trauma happens when the traumatic memory is stuck in one part of the brain, the amygdala (your fight, flight, freeze response) and to protect the person from harm this is triggered again and again subconsciously. We recently worked with a father who had not discussed the traumatic birth of his son with anyone, this trauma manifested as panic attacks at what seemed like unrelated panic attacks at work. In one session Gem treated the traumatic birth experienced and therefore the symptom connected with the panic attacks totally disappeared.
A typical session
We use a number of techniques individualised for the client’s needs including NLP and Birth Trauma Resolution Therapy. After we have treated the trauma we use tools help rebuild their confidence in moving forward with their lives. We see clients for an average of one to two sessions, making this treatment cost and time effective.
Encouraging new dads to seek support
Breaking the silence around Birth Trauma and PTSD is a great start. Knowing PTSD is not a choice but a neurological and normal response to trauma. Birth trauma is not just something you need to ‘get over’ and the right treatment for PTSD is essential. Raising more awareness of the signs and symptoms so that both parents are aware and can support each other will help too. Dads can seek support from their midwives and GPs or Health Visitors and finding out what support is available in their areas. Although we are based in Edinburgh and the Lothians any dad who is worried about Birth Trauma and PTSD for themselves or their partner can get in touch with us.
How Are You Dad?
We are very passionate about encouraging more midwives and health visitors to check on dads’ mental health as well as mums. Partners should absolutely be screened in the same way as mothers. We would like parents to be screened for Birth Trauma and PTSD not just Postnatal Depression. Sadly we see many people who are misdiagnosed with postnatal depression or depression which needs to be treated differently than PTSD. Many have been medicated for this or have been in months of counselling and see no improvement. Once correctly diagnosed most of these people only need 1 or 2 sessions to be symptom free and well again. Over the last year we have been invited to talk and present to a number of health care professionals, from anaesthetists, midwives and counsellors, as well as presenting at conferences and study days. This is a very important part of our work as we feel that health care professionals need to be made aware of the signs and symptoms and correct treatment of perinatal trauma and PTSD, as without this awareness people will not get the correct diagnosis and treatment.