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Understanding Birth Trauma

Tips to understand birth trauma shared by Top OC doulas, Labor of Love Birth Services

Trauma is largely thought of as a major negative event that is deeply stressing and disturbing; an accident, natural disaster, physical attack, or death of a loved one. Events that movies are made of and anyone can recognize the traumatic experience.

We also largely think that trauma is a situation that inflicts physical harm where one might need medical attention like a car accident or heart attack. Within this narrow definition, many of us may feel that we have never experienced trauma because we haven’t had such an experience before.

However, trauma is much more sophisticated and nuanced than that ...

For many of us that work in the trauma healing space, we have come to learn that the above definition is wildly too narrow. As it doesn't encompass the reality of how trauma really works and how it can be inflicted. For those of us doing this work we recognize that the majority of us experience trauma often in our lives (without even recognizing it) and it plays out in multiple ways in our lives. Understanding how trauma works is paramount as trauma often is the root of our unhappiness whether we know it or not.

Being a childbirth educator and doula, I specialize in Birth Trauma recovery and what I know is that birth trauma goes deep. It musters up our deepest fears and unleash past trauma. It can cause an unraveling of sorts as we can get stuck in great anxiety, self-doubt and depression without knowing why. Thankfully, what I also know is that Birth Trauma can be a gate-way to healing the part of us that needs it the most. It can be an opportunity to shed what no longer serves us and step into our most powerful selves.

In order to get there though we must understand the many ways in which birth trauma can effect us:

  • emotional flash backs

  • physical pains

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • inability to take care of ourselves or care

  • constant negative thoughts

  • strained relationships

  • fatigue

  • headaches

  • insomnia

  • GI issues

And these are just a few symptoms of birth trauma.

The ways in which we adapt to birth trauma can keep us sick, unhealthy and in dis-ease.

I have come to believe that trauma can occur with ANY experience that causes a person to feel unsafe and out of control. Such an occurrence typically causes the person to fall into a survival response; fight, flight, freeze or fawn. The person feels like their needs are not being met and they are powerless to control or change the situation; helplessness. This creates a sense that one’s life maybe threatened in some way and a traumatic experience unfolds.

When I speak about Birth Trauma, let me be crystal clear. Birth Trauma, under the define that I laid out, can happen even if one has a relatively uneventful birth. For example, as a doula I have worked with families that needed an emergency cesarean for one reason or another. This can be a scary situation and possibly cause a lot of trauma; however, I have worked with many families that walked this path and felt their cesarean birth was amazing and not a traumatic event what so ever.

On the flip side, I personally had a relatively uneventful first birth with my daughter. It was literally “text book.” I was perfectly safe the entire time and so was my baby; AND, I experienced Birth Trauma. I realized, after becoming a birth worker and doula, that I had PTSD from my birth experience which lasted for about a whole year after my daughter was born.

At the time, I didn’t even realize the trauma I experienced. I knew that the birth was something I felt deeply in my body. I knew that it changed me forever. As I look back, I now understand that I had no way of processing my emotions about what happened and, since I had a healthy baby, vaginal delivery with no major complications or emergencies, I actually felt guilty for not feeling positive about the experience.

How could I possibly feel bad about my birth when so many of my friends and close family members where not able to experience a vaginal delivery. How could I not be happy with my “text book” birth?

That is the thing about trauma, it’s deeply personal. What one person defines as traumatic is very different from the next. Again, this is why it’s essential to recognize and validate that trauma can occur in any birth situation.

With all this in mind, it's important to understand that Birth Trauma happens more than we think and in ways we might not understand.

My Birth Trauma simply came from an experience I was not ready for; and therefore, I was unable to mentally process my experience. Since I was not able to process the trauma it played out in other ways in my life:

  • PTSD

  • flashbacks

  • anxiety

  • constantly feeling insecure about my decisions

  • not trusting myself

  • second guessing my instincts

  • catastrophizing

  • isolating myself

  • obsessive and intrusive thoughts …

My first birth is the reason I become a birth worker and the reason I am now someone that supports and offers Birth Trauma healing sessions. Had I not gone through that experience (neither good nor bad) I would not have opened up an entirely rewarding and wonderful career. I truly believe that trauma can be a guide (or a block) to our authentic selves. The work I do is very much grounded in Post-Traumatic Growth.

While I have been a birth doula, childbirth educator, lactation counselor and supported 1000’s of families in the last 9 years. I have dedicated the last 6 years of my life to understanding how trauma plays out in our lives and how to heal it. I have been on my own self-healing journey and over the last 2 years I have invested in multiple programs and certifications to start offering this support to others.

I personally believe that trauma offers us a major opportunity of Re-Birth. An opportunity to go deeper. To release, to let go, to understand oneself. To become clear on the life we want to live, how we want to be treated, what we desire most, how we want to love and be loved.

By investing in healing our birth trauma we walk into the brave unknown, the shedding of victimhood and codependency. When we release that sad, hard, humiliating, fearful story who knows what will replace it; Joy, Freedom, Wisdom.

While I specialize in Birth Trauma it often goes deeper than that one experience. The opportunity then becomes yours to take. How do you want your story to unfold?

If you are experiencing Birth Trauma and desire relief from the triggers I am here to support that process and offer you tools to move beyond it. Please email Staci Berrey at for more information.


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