When a birth experience is traumatic the result can be fear of subsequent pregnancies and births. Sadly many women and/or their partners due to what they have experienced, will feel great anxiety about becoming pregnant again, indeed some will be so affected that they may feel it impossible to even entertain having another baby. Their belief in experiencing a positive birth can feel like holding a beautiful flower and watching it wilt before their eyes.
Other women and/or their partners may feel they have dealt with a previous difficult birth experience, however upon finding they are pregnant again and faced with the approaching birth, may see a return of difficult memories, confusing feelings and anxieties.
For some so strong their fear they may develop ‘tokophobia‘ an intense fear of pregnancy and birth.
If you are considering another pregnancy after a previous difficult birth it can be good to ask;
- What can support you if you are considering another baby?
- What can help you in your journey of another pregnancy?
- How can you protect and support your emotional well-being in a future birth?
‘I really want another baby’
For most couples, the choice to have a baby is usually a happy one and embarked on with much excitement. However if a previous pregnancy or birth has been difficult or traumatic the choice to try for another baby can be thwarted with much anxiety and worry.
Each pregnancy is a unique experience, however, the memories of previous difficulties can be overwhelming, even causing couples to decide that it just isn’t possible.
Considering as a couple the possibility of another pregnancy and birth takes time and communication. It is important that you are able to openly express your feelings to each other, including your worries and anxieties, and be heard. This can be hard especially if perhaps there is a lack of understanding about how each of you has been affected by the previous experience. Openly expressing how you feel can allow for a deeper understanding of what will be needed to support you both during the next pregnancy and birth.
It may be that one, or both of you, may need professional support in the form of counselling or therapy with a trained professional. This can be helpful to help understand and deal with the previous trauma before becoming pregnant again. Leaving trauma unresolved can mean a risk of this returning during another pregnancy or birth causing distress.
Time matters too. Do not rush to have another birth in order to ‘heal’ the previous one. Instead allow time for you both to talk, understand your feelings, seek help and support and enter this new journey having acknowledged the effect of your previous experience.
Some hospital trusts provide debrief/listening sessions that allow you to discuss your previous birth and review your medical notes. This can be helpful in understanding what happened and if, or what, extra support can be put in place in future pregnancies and births to support you physically and emotionally.
Having support for your previous trauma and talking together as a couple can provide a good foundation on which to consider another pregnancy and birth.
Pregnancy after birth Trauma
The line appears, you’re pregnant again. You’re excited, but pangs of anxiety also grip you making you nervous about the birth. You want another baby, you want to enjoy this pregnancy but the memories of a previous traumatic birth are overwhelming and painful, you sometimes think you can’t do this or give birth again.
No matter what the circumstances of your previous birth, you might be left feeling unsafe, physically and/or emotionally. What can support you during this new pregnancy?
- Connect with your partner. Communicate and support each other. Talk about how you feel and what you both need for this pregnancy.
- Research. Educate yourself on birth, what your choices are, and how to support you physiologically and emotionally. Look at the evidence-based information to help you make informed choices about your care.
- Decide what is right for you. Birth is individual. What you need for this birth to be positive is unique for you. Listen to your instincts, consider the evidence, talk to your healthcare provider and know what you need. It may be a care plan that supports you to have a physiological birth, or it may be a well-planned elective C-section. What matters is having the birth that is right for you. Making a birthing guide that includes your wishes can be supportive to both you and those caring for you.
- Seek support. Be honest and open with those who are caring for you. Explain that you are anxious due to your previous experience and ask them to help you. Find healthcare professionals who will support you, respect your choices and respect the birth that you desire. Surround yourself with those who will work with you, acknowledge the experience of your earlier birth, instead of minimising it, and encourage you on this new journey.
- Find the strengths in your previous birth. Even in the most difficult of experiences, some strengths can be found. Exploring this and finding these can help support you in your next birth. This can be done with your partner, a doula or in a support community.
- Be kind to yourself. Recognise and acknowledge that you may have beliefs you carry that can have an impact on this birth. Your previous experience may make you believe you need ‘to be perfect’ or that you are ‘not good enough’ or maybe that your previous experience was ‘your fault’. Challenge these beliefs and build new ones. Don’t expect too much of yourself or let any bad days cause you to doubt your new journey.
- Calming strategies. Finding ways to help you be calm and in control is important. Using breathing techniques, mindfulness, grounding techniques or visualisation etc; are some of the ways to support you emotionally. Find what works for you! Mindfulness in particular can be helpful as it brings us back to the now, leaving the past and the future where is it. Mindfulness can be anything from a walk in nature to yoga or meditation.
- Make a birthing support guide. A birthing support guide that includes your wishes, needs wants and indeed ‘don’t wants’, can be supportive both to you and those caring for you. This can be done with your partner and include their wishes too.
Supporting Your Birth
After a traumatic birth it is understandable to feel scared, worried, anxious and even terrified about giving birth again. There are ways that you can be supported during your birth to help it be a positive and healing experience. There is no one way to do this as every birth is individual, as is every family.
Finding what will support you is important. This can be part of your birth support guide.
- Birthing Support guide. In pregnancy build up with your partner a birthing support guide. This can then be shared and discussed with those in your care. Ask for them to support your choices. Your birthing support guide should be realistic for you and your care providers but also allow for the emotional support you need. Some hospitals have specialist midwives and obstetricians who work with women and their partners who have experienced a previous traumatic birth. Ask at your booking appointment if this is possible for you.
- Things may change. Even when we do all we can to prepare for birth things can change. Being able to accept this and also adapt can support birth after trauma. Having various options and knowing what choices are there to support you can allow you to manage any change that may occur.
- Find your advocate. During your birth have someone with you that can advocate for your wishes. This may be your partner or a doula/birth worker. In your pregnancy have frank open discussions about what you wish and how they can support you. You can even practice how they can advocate for you in different situations. Also, find support from a community that reflects your wishes. This may be a home birth group, a C-section support group or a VBAC Clinic.
- Find your affirmation. Find an affirmation that gives you hope, that provides you with grounding and helps to bring in calm thoughts. Your affirmation is personal to you. You can record it either in your voice or your partner’s to play during labour. An example of an affirmation is ‘Peace lies within me – or I am not afraid’
- Believe that a positive birth is possible for you. One of the hardest things to do following a traumatic birth is to believe that a positive birth is possible. When trust is broken, we feel hurt, anger and disappointment. It is possible to be emotionally supported to have a birth that can be a healing experience. Remember that each birth is different, that you are different, but also that you are more aware of your needs and wishes. A positive birth experience is unique to each person. Being able to put in place a birthing support guide to help you and those caring for you can give you the confidence and belief that it is possible. Also, tell yourself that it is possible and rely on those around you to help make this a possibility. If you find that you wish to birth a certain way and this isn’t being supported then ask again, see someone else till you do find the support you need. Just remember that often it is the little things that matter. Just because you have a c-section does not mean you can’t have soft music or skin-to-skin with your new baby. Regardless of how you birth, there are things you can do it make it positive.
Pregnancy and birth after suffering a previous traumatic experience can be daunting. However with the right help and support you can have a birth that is positive and right for you as you move Beyond Birth Trauma.
You can learn more about supporting pregnancy after birth trauma in my book Here.