• Part II – Trauma: Reproductive, Childbirth, and Postpartum

    At some point, I intend to write more on various categories of trauma, however, recently I have been processing the specific area of reproduction, childbirth, and postpartum. The potential for trauma in this realm is significant. Naming specific experiences runs the risk of leaving others out or missing the nuance in people’s stories, but this is a risk I’m willing to take to build awareness and create a framework for understanding and healing. My definition of trauma leaves room for multiple individuals to feel more or less traumatized by similar experiences. And while women are the ones often thought to experience these as trauma, many of them can also be experienced by others (i.e. partners, fathers, family, friends) as traumatic. What I want most to highlight is that the following events are experienced by many as traumatic: infertility, miscarriage, still birth, abortion, death of a child after live birth, adoption, complications in pregnancy, complications in labor & delivery, physically difficult labor & delivery, unexpected C-section, health concerns with baby, NICU experience, the birth of a special needs child, physical health concerns with mother, death of mother, postpartum pain or difficult recovery, colicky baby, difficulty with attachment, mental health concerns for mother (i.e. depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis), significant negative experiences with professionals during any of the above, perceived or actual lack of support or relational distress with those expected to be natural supports during the above mentioned experiences.

    Once we recognize these events can be traumatizing, it is important to watch and listen for how people experience these events as individuals. We want to screen for common traumatic responses which may include any of the following:

    1. Re-experiencing the event in some way (i.e. intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, distress when reminded of the situation, feeling physiologically worked up after triggers)
    2. Avoiding triggers (i.e. avoiding thoughts/feelings/reminders of the situation)
    3. Distressing thoughts or feelings following the situation (i.e. memory loss, negative thoughts about yourself or the world, blame, negative emotion, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, feeling isolated, less positive emotion)
    4. Being reactive (i.e. irritability, risky behavior, hyper-vigilance, startle, difficulty concentrating or sleeping)
    5. Feeling detached from self, others, or reality

    If an individual is experiencing a traumatic response that creates distress or interferes with important aspects of life (i.e. relationships, work, education, desire to live) it is important to seek support. At times, empathetic and supportive friends and family may be able to provide the needed support if they recognize and validate experience as traumatic. However, professional support and treatment may be warranted, especially if the trauma reaction spans a significant time period. Diagnostic criteria for PTSD indicates that symptoms need to last for more than a month for diagnosis.

    If you or someone you know is suffering after a traumatic event, I would encourage you to seek the support of a professional trained in the treatment of trauma. Even if this support is only needed for a short time, it can be beneficial to healing and recovery.

    Ideas for helping others after trauma: 

    • Be a safe person and create a safe place for others by practicing empathy and holding space.*
    • Listen to a person’s story as uniquely theirs, even if it has elements you are familiar with.
    • Seek to understand how individuals view their experience. Validate experience & feelings.
    • Ask about and listen for common trauma symptoms {see list above}.
    • Assess how an individual feels they are currently coping.
    • Ask if they feel adequately supported – by both personal connections and professionals. Offer to be and/or connect them with supports. Follow through!
    • Follow up and offer additional support if needed.
    • Recognize trauma often involves grief and grief is an ongoing process – offer continued support over time and don’t try to rush others through the process.

    *Good article on Holding Space for others here: http://upliftconnect.com/hold-space/ 


    In addition to treating trauma, I also work with people to cope with grief. My working definition is this: Grief is deep sorrow in response to losing something or someone of great significance. In explaining the process and purpose of trauma treatment, I am quick to give the disclaimer that trauma treatment does not reduce the grief associated with traumas when something or someone significant was lost. Rather treatment is focused on decreasing the distress experienced around the memory of the event itself.