Rounding out my series on traumatic birth experiences are some tips on how to best support a friend or loved one after a birth trauma. I also offer some suggestions for OB’s, midwives, and other birth support professionals on how to offer more supportive care. But first, some REAL examples culled from clients (they have given me permission to share their experiences) of things that were said to them by their medical teams and loved ones.
What NOT to SAY/DO
- “Why are you still crying- do we need a psych consult?” – said by an OB who delivered a critically ill baby that was rushed to the NICU. This was said about one hour after the client gave birth.
- “Stop focusing on the birth, at least your baby is OK.”- Every single one of my clients who has experienced a traumatic birth has heard a version of this from friends, family, and medical providers.
- “Stop talking about your birth experiences, its upsetting the other moms.” – Said to a client by the leader of a new moms group.
- “Oh your first birth was a c-section? So you’ve never really given birth before.” – Said to a client by a doula she was interviewing in preparation for a VBAC attempt.
As you can see from these examples, being dismissive, invalidating, and unwilling to listen are extremely hurtful and harmful reactions- and yet these reactions are common. There are many simple ways to be supportive.
How to Support a Friend or Loved One:
- Let her know you are there to listen- that you want to hear her story.
- Tell her it’s OK to not be OK.
- Let her know she can have multiple competing and contradictory feelings about her birth experience, and you can handle them.
- Don’t make assumptions about how she is feeling about her birth and don’t judge her plans or wishes for a subsequent birth experience.
- Look out for signs of a trauma reaction and if you see them, help connect her to support.
- Simply listen and be physically present.
Tips for OBs/Midwives/Birth Professionals on offering compassionate, trauma informed care to patients.
- Thoroughly assess your patient’s risks for a medically complicated birth and/or for PTSD and discuss this with her ahead of time.
- Recognize that the experience of birth matters- and help your patients feel safe and empowered.
- If there is not a medical emergency, take your time, answer questions, and listen to concerns.
- Screen postpartum patients for PTSD symptoms and ask them about their birth experiences- even if you did not feel there was a traumatic element to the birth. Trauma is about perception!
- For a subsequent pregnancy following a trauma, provide extra support. Perhaps let patient’s schedule additional appointments, or reassure your patients that it is OK for them to call with questions.
- Help your patient’s realistically plan for a subsequent birth. This involves managing expectations, talking about fears, and focussing on empowerment.