Let’s talk about Birth Trauma.
I think this discussion is really important. There are a lot of women walking around with the effects of birth trauma that don’t even know it. I’ll bet they’re just barely getting by because of what trauma does to your body, your mind, and your spirit.
I was one of those women.
Barely getting by and trying my hardest to keep it together. I’m lucky I kept searching until I found the answers and the help that I needed. It wasn’t until I was doing my course work to become a Certified Birth Healing Specialist with the Institute for Birth Healing under the instruction of Lynn Schulte, PT, that I came to the FULL realization that I had suffered trauma when giving birth to my second daughter.
That was 10 years ago.
I know. It seems a bit weird that a healthcare professional like myself wouldn’t have recognized the effects of trauma. I have been a Physical Therapist for 16 years. Only in the past 5 years have I learned more about the mind-body connection and the effects that trauma has on our physical body.
Let’s back up a bit. I hid my birth trauma well since during my postpartum visits the midwife didn’t really bring it up. I was too proud to admit how I really felt, and there’s no way in hell I would have thought I had trauma. My family unknowingly taught me how to hide any signs of weakness and I was tough.
I knew I was feeling anxious after the birth of my daughter and I just didn’t really feel like myself, but I wasn’t suicidal or anything. Sure, I felt bluesy and sometimes didn’t really want to care for my two daughters; my newborn and her 3-year old older sister. I questioned my mothering skills and I had huge mood swings. However I just chalked it up to being a new mom and feeling a bit overwhelmed and tired from breastfeeding and not getting a good night’s sleep. I got stressed out easily. Luckily I had my husband. He saw me getting worked up and would gently take my shoulders and ask “What can I help you with? I can see you’re stressed out. Let me help.”
I failed to consider the stressful period of time right after Piper was born.
At three days old I took Piper to a pediatrician visit, a 50 min drive from our small rural town in Iowa. She was starting to gain weight, nursing well, and got a clean bill of health. When we got back home, I noticed how hot she felt. Piper was born at the end of June, so the Midwest heat and humidity must have gotten to her, I rationalized. Maybe I had overdressed her. That morning I dressed her in a lightweight sleeper, I chastised myself for not picking a short sleeved shirt and shorts.
I took Piper’s temperature; it was 104° Fahrenheit. I called the Ask-A-Nurse Hotline and they urged me to take my daughter to the nearest Emergency Room immediately. My husband quickly arranged for our older daughter to go to our neighbor’s house. We grabbed the diaper bag and headed together to the ER. Once we got there, Piper’s fever was down, and I felt silly that I had made a big deal out of nothing. I apologized to the doctors and nurses for wasting their time, admitting that I had overdressed her. No, they informed me, even if she were overdressed she should be able to regulate her temperature. It was fluctuating between high and normal and they were concerned.
We had gone to the nearest ER in Waverly, about 30 minutes away from our home. The staff there urged us to take Piper to the hospital where she was born; a bigger hospital about 25 minutes away. They were concerned and wanted to rule out Spinal Meningitis. By the time we arrived at Allen Memorial Hospital it was getting late and my nerves were frazzled. They wanted to do a spinal tap to check for meningitis and mentioned that we may have to stay overnight.
Everything was happening so fast, yet so slow.
It was like we couldn’t get answers quick enough, yet time was slipping through our fingers. All I wanted was to have a doctor come in and say “Just kidding. Go on home. You just overdressed her.” My breasts were getting full, I really needed to pump because Piper wasn’t eating all the milk that my body was producing. I hadn’t brought my breast pump along and I wasn’t even sure we would have enough diapers if we had to stay overnight like they had mentioned.
I was worried about Taryn. Did she go to sleep ok without us saying Night-Night to her? Was she ok? Would she be worried about baby sis if Piper ended up getting admitted?
The doctor told us eventually that they wanted to admit Piper. We finally made it upstairs to the Pediatric Ward after 2:00 am. Not only was I engorged, I was exhausted, scared, and worried what was going to happen to our newborn daughter. We already loved her so much. What was causing her fever?!?
After they started an IV for fluids, hooked Piper up to a heart rate monitor, and put a tiny oxygen tube on her little nose, my husband headed home with a list of things I would need later that day. I settled into the bed right next to Piper in her plastic bassinet and slept the best I could, but it was a restless sleep. Early the next morning we called our parents to tell them what had transpired during the night. My in-laws immediately cancelled their plans to go camping for the holiday weekend. Two hours away was my dad, but I told him to stay put as there was nothing he could do to help. My mom was already on her way to Iowa.
The following week was a whirlwind of emotions.
We waited for results from test, watched as her vitals fluctuated, and just basically sat around watching our newborn fight off whatever was causing the fever. Our parents visited or called, checking in daily on Piper’s progress. Our pastor came by a couple times to pray over her, and I knew there was an army of prayer warriors from our church doing the same thing everyday.
We never did find out what had caused Piper’s fever, but they ruled out bacterial meningitis, the thing they were most worried about at the beginning. During this time I was in awe at how easily our older daughter took everything in stride, she wasn’t bothered by all the wires and cords and tubes that Piper had attached to her, she just climbed up and wanted to hold baby sis.
I was so worried about Piper that I didn’t really have the time or energy to care for myself like I probably would have had we been at home. If you’ve ever breastfed a newborn you may know that it really can be a painful process at first as your nipples get used to the work. Mine were cracked and bleeding by the time I thought to ask for help. Since we were in the pediatric ward I didn’t really think I could ask for help. I finally did, and the hospital lactation consultant met with me and luckily was able to offer me a salve to start the healing process.
Looking back, I chastise myself for neglecting my own needs.
Honestly, that was the mentality I had at that stage of my life. Like many new moms, as soon as the baby was born, all attention was turned to baby. In this instance it was absolutely necessary since she had a medical emergency, and I didn’t feel the need to speak up, hoping instead that she would be discharged soon and we could just go home and all would be better.
Piper ended up staying for a full week until she could regulate all her vitals on her own, without medication, oxygen or monitoring. I spent the 4th of July with her, watching the fireworks from our hospital room after sending my husband home with Taryn to celebrate with our friends. I wanted things to be as normal as possible for Taryn, since so much attention had been shifted to baby sister.
During that week I felt super supported by my in-laws and my dad, but the interactions with my mom caused me a lot of pain . It was nothing new. I was used to her putting herself first so many times before, so her lack of support at this extremely emotional and stressful time really shouldn’t have been any surprise to me. But my heart ached. I was hurt so badly, and it would take months for me to build up the courage to begin to tell her why. Speaking up eventually caused irreparable damage to our relationship, but I don’t regret speaking my truth.
Shortly after we returned home I ended up with mastitis. Over the course of the next 18 months I would have recurring mastitis. This is something I hadn’t experienced – even once – after the birth of our first daughter.
It would take me nine years to begin to unravel the trauma from Piper’s birth.
I guess the unraveling process started long before that when I had a hard conversation with my mom over her behavior and put distance between us for my heart’s sake. Months of counseling allowed me to reconnect to my body and begin to heal the layers of trauma. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Today I am happy to say I no longer need medications to manage my symptoms. It took me nine years to connect recurring mastitis with the grief that had settled into my heart and chest.
It was during a week-long intensive therapy at John Barnes’ Therapy on the Rocks in 2017 that Shiela used her gentle hands and wise intuition to ask me if I would like her to release my breasts. She did so after cradling my head and asking me about my children; something led her to ask about my relationship with my mom. As I wept she gently placed her hands over my left breast. All the trauma and heartache from Piper’s birth came flooding back to my consciousness. Of course! It made complete sense to me that fascial restrictions around my heart could lead to restrictions in the breast tissue and mastitis.
As I let the tears flow and my heart feel the full impact of the hurt, I could feel my breast tissue open. I could feel the hotness seep into my chest and surround my throat and head. Then I remembered the breast cancer scare I had after Piper was born. Well, I thought I had cancer but in fact it was related to the fascial restrictions in my left breast. I just didn’t know the terminology at the time. All the tests were negative, but I knew things weren’t “normal”.
Fast forward to 2018
I was attending the Advanced Postpartum Course with the Institute of Birth Healing. Lynn was lecturing on Birth Trauma and the Birth Field. She described the Birth Field as the unseen energy field surrounding a woman during childbirth. She said it opens up to fill the entire room and during that time mom is 1000x more sensitive to the events going on around her. Small events can seem big, and big events can be huge and overwhelming. She said the birth field can stay open indefinitely if there has been birth trauma.
My whole body perked up when she said birth trauma can include the events AFTER the actual birth. This occurs when there have been medical interventions or mom and baby are separated. I asked her if it could be trauma even if it were a few days after childbirth. Then I remembered that after Piper was born she was not placed immediately on my chest like her older sister. In fact, I remembered Piper didn’t even cry right away. I looked at my husband, Marc, and asked “Why isn’t she crying?!?” as the doctors immediately took her across the room to do whatever they did to her to get her to cry. They told us she had meconium, her first bowel movement, in-utero. She just needed a bit of help to clear things so she could take that first breath.
I want to share what I’ve learned about Birth Trauma, so you can be more informed.
I urge you to seek help if you too feel you may have some trauma stuck in your tissues. Tissues begging to be let go, asking for release, so you can finally feel better and whole again.
According to Lynn Schulte, PT, a traumatic birth experience is where a mother has lost connection to the birth flow, she experienced a sense of loss of control, or where birth was too overwhelming to her system. Unaddressed trauma can interfere with the bonding or connection between mother and child. It can also decrease the mother’s confidence in her mothering ability.
Clearing the birth trauma allows mom to bring her awareness back to present time instead of ruminating on past events. This can be on a conscious or subconscious level. My personal story includes trauma long before I had Piper, as I’ve come to discover, which is not uncommon. It just means I have more layers to heal.
Check out my next post to learn ways to identify your own possible birth trauma along with resources to help.