As a Mama Coach and Registered Nurse, I have the opportunity to work with women from many different backgrounds and cultures. I have the privilege to be a small part of their journey and I am always excited to learn about new ways I can help and support women.
My personal practice has a mandate to always discuss the mother and father’s perception of their birth experience when I meet them for a home visit. I want to listen to every detail that you feel comfortable telling me, and here is why.
Birth trauma and symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) following birth can make a very real and significant impact on the way a woman or their partner adapts to parenthood. Having someone to validate that an experience is frightening can allow parents to acknowledge appropriate feelings and know that they are worth talking about. Recognizing this is essential for care providers because the resources in our community can’t be used if clients don’t know they exist. And resources don’t exist unless we tell them that they are necessary!
In order to fully incorporate this in to my practice, I wanted to find out more about the topic (yes, my curiosity often keeps me up late at night…). I was graciously connected with Dr. Rebecca Moore, a perinatal psychiatrist and birth trauma specialist in London England. She is an incredible woman who works with various cultures and backgrounds and finds common similarities among their strength and resiliency after experiencing birth trauma. Dr. Moore is an expert in her field, she lectures and holds an annual conference on birth trauma in London every year, and she is the Winston Churchill award recipient for 2017.
The most interesting and useful message I received from Dr. Moore is that you don’t necessarily need experience physical trauma to experience birth trauma and the two should be considered in the same realm of care. Trauma can be mental without having any classic physical presentation—a feeling of loss of control, for example. Or feeling as if staff were working on helping the baby but forgot to explain what was happening to the mother. It could be a traumatic experience with breastfeeding, or dad could have felt too much pressure to ensure his wife and baby were okay, or feel like he was not considered in decision making at all. Trauma can be any time from pregnancy until after birth, or even beyond if the mother has other underlying mental illness concerns. Furthermore, trauma is not the same as postpartum depression. There are many similarities, but often trauma comes with a different set of experiences. PPD (Postpartum Depression) diagnoses are often characterized by low mood, fatigue, and loss of enjoyment. PTSD often has much stronger reactions, for example flashbacks to their birth experience, anger, mood variability and anxiety. Both are treated by a physician in different ways, so it is essential as a care giver to recognize the foundation of where a mom is coming from.
Dr. Moore encourages moms from all backgrounds to reach for help, and living in Canada provides a vast array of communities and cultures. Mood is not necessarily recognized as an illness within some communities, but physical symptoms of depression, PTSD and anxiety are. Headache, fatigue, feeling unwell and muscle pain are physical symptoms of a mother struggling, which may be difficult to notice if health care workers are not assessing for it. If a woman or partner is not comfortable talking about their experience, Moore recommends finding an outlet in another way, such as painting, dancing, singing, or exercise. Asking for help, in any way she can, is so important to a mother’s recovery. Every woman (or partner) finds a different route to recovery and every route is valid. Some heal very quickly and some take years to fully recover, but it is important for the family to be well connected to a team or activity that is working for them.
I like to say that I could write a book about the things my patients have taught me. I have learned compassion, patience, understanding, grieving, acceptance and how to really REALLY laugh through my experience as a pediatric nurse. I asked Dr. Moore what she has learned and she says…
”I am constantly learning from the women I work with and in awe of their resilience, humor and grace. They have taught me so much, but I come back again to the skill of really listening, not interrupting, giving a woman time and space to find her voice. I also think there’s something so powerful in being with a woman and showing her you will bear her distress with her, I have sat with women who have lost their children or had children removed. Sometimes I feel I don’t know what to say that can offer hope or solace at that time but I think the most important thing has been staying in the room and being able to hear and acknowledge their pain”.
And this. This right here, is why I will always ask about your birth story. You matter to me, your experience matters to me, and your baby matters to me.
Cheers to Dr. Moore! It was an absolute pleasure being able to learn from you!
Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions about my blog!
If you would like to contact Dr. Rebecca Moore, you can follow her on twitter @dr_bjm or via her email at Rebecca.Moore@eastlondon.nhs.uk
Sam Kimura, RN, Lactation Counselor, Sleep Coach