In Australia, a third of women will describe their birth experience as traumatic.
You don’t have to look far to find someone who had a bad birth. For some women, this is because of the physical trauma they endured in a birth, while others had births that look perfect on paper but had them feeling completely out of control of what was happening to their body and their baby, or unsupported, disrespected, and alone.
In a bad or traumatic birth, we often hear people describe feelings of fear, disempowerment, a loss of control, and like they haven’t been heard or listened to. This can be alongside them and/or their baby being in actual or perceived danger, but it isn’t always. The impact that a care provider’s words and actions can have to creating or mitigating a bad birth cannot be underestimated.
If someone you know has experienced a bad birth, and you’re wondering what you can do to help, here are a few ideas:
Listen without judgement
Mirror the language they use when you respond (for example, if a mother is referring to her caesarean as “caesarean delivery”, don’t then use the terms “caesarean birth” as she might not feel she can refer to it as a birth)
If you feel yourself about to respond with a comment starting with “at least”, stop. We have a natural instinct to try and fix problems and get people to focus on the positives, but often, this just leads to feeling invalidated. Let people feel and process the feelings they have without asking them (unintentionally) to move them on.
It’s okay to tell them you’re sorry that happened to them
Ask them if there is anything they need
Bring them food, especially when this is a new mother with a new baby. But as a general rule, food never goes astray ;)
Encourage them to write out their story, which can help the brain to process it
Direct them to this post for more resources
Help them to find professional help, if needed
For those that have experienced a bad birth themselves and aren’t sure where to start in trying to deal with it, thankfully there is a lot out there that can help you on your journey to healing, and we are seeing more awareness around birth trauma every day.
One of the most recommended resources out there is the very aptly named “How to Heal a Bad Birth” book by Brujin and Gould. The authors also have a website called birthtalk.org where there are a number of resources for all kinds of things birth and postpartum.
There is also the book “Birth Trauma: A Guide for You, Your Friends and Family to Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Following Birth” by Kim Thomas, who is the CEO of the Birth Trauma Association UK.
“Keep Sane and Parent On” by Sarah Purvey is another that is less geared towards serious postnatal illness but may be a useful resource for those needing a bit of encouragement in the wake of becoming a parent.
There are a bunch of websites dedicated to helping women and their partners process and recover from birth trauma. There are likely many more than just the following, but these are a great place to start:
Many women find comfort in hearing from and sharing with others who have been through similar experiences to them. There are a multitude of Facebook groups that can help fit the bill for this. Some of the most common I can recommend are:
You can also simply search keywords in Facebook to find groups that might align more specifically with your experiences.
Some hospitals will accommodate a birth debrief for you on request, but this may not be with the care providers who were present at your birth.
If you had a private midwife for your birth, you can certainly ask them for an official birth debrief when you are feeling ready for it. Private midwives will also generally assist with a birth debrief for any woman, regardless of whether they support their birth or not, but given the enormous demand on private midwives at this moment in time, it may be difficult to find someone with the availability to do so, so keep that in mind.
There are several incredible and knowledgeable people out there specifically offering birth debriefs, and some are also qualified mental health specialists who can continue to offer additional support if you feel you need it.
These are the people I am aware of offering this service, but there may be many others. If you know of someone great who I could add to the list, please drop me a line and let me know! These people all offer online debriefs, but some can also do in person if you are local to them.
Athena Hammond - The Birth Counsel
Midwife, Researcher & Counsellor
Bernadette Lack (B) - Core and Floor Restore
Midwife & Personal Trainer (PhD Candidate in core and pelvic floor health)
Kristy Levin and Lana Sussman - The Parents Village
Psychologist (Kristy) and Social Worker & Counsellor (Lana), Mothers
Rhea Dempsey - Birthing Wisdom
Childbirth Educator, Birth Attendant & Counsellor
This is not an exhaustive list - just those I am aware of and can either personally recommended or see frequently recommended. If you know of someone amazing who does birth debriefs who you think should be added to this list, feel free to get in touch!
Additional professional help:
Sometimes a bad birth can be much more than a bad birth and can leave women with serious mental illness, including postnatal depression and/or anxiety (PND/A) or even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you are finding that weeks after your birth you are still spending a inordinate amount of time playing the birth over in your head, having flashbacks and/or nightmares, or just feeling emotionally unstable or volatile, it is probably time to seek out professional help.
If you have a trusted GP, that can be a really great place to start, as they can do an initially assessment of your mental health and set you up with mental health action plan which gives you rebates under Medicare for mental health. Depending on the GP and the psychologists in your area, they may even be able to direct you to someone well qualified in your area of trauma.
You can also contact the Centre for Perinatal Psychology or COPE (Centre of Perinatal Excellence) to assist in finding you a psychologist familiar with or even specialising in perinatal psychology, including birth trauma. You will need a GP referral if you are wanting a Medicare rebate, but you can see a psychologist without one – it just may cost a bit more.
To all those out there struggling in the aftermath of their birth, please know that there is help out there, and it is okay not to be okay. You are not alone.
My name is Katelyn Commerford and I am a doula and next birth after caesarean guide who has completed comprehensive doula education, dedicated to continuous learning. If you want to know more about what I do and how I can help you, please visit my website (where you can get your free cheat sheet of my favourite VBAC resources!), or find me on instagram @thenbacguide where I answer commonly asked questions about planning the next birth after caesarean and share loads pregnancy, birth, postpartum and parenting content.
Business Name: Katelyn Commerford - Doula and NBAC Guide
Phone: 0431 369 352