Many couples find themselves experiencing relationship troubles over birth trauma. Your perception of trauma and how you feel that your partner "should" react to her birthing circumstances can cause a lot of angst - for both of you. I've suffered from birth trauma so these things are really things that I wish my own partner had known about birth trauma - I hope that you find them handy as well. x
It’s not her fault (and not yours either)
No matter what it was that happened – it is not her fault. And she will likely need you to remind her of this several times. Her expectations were not too high, birth isn’t just meant to be traumatic, she’s not being silly, her body is not faulty or broken. No matter how many times she tells you that it was all her fault – Your job is to keep reminding her that it wasn’t. Even if you know nothing else about birth you know that your partner wanted the best for her baby, her birth and her family and that she did her best to make that happen.
An unfortunate reality of our current obstetric culture is that sometimes men, unwittingly, contribute to birth trauma. It’s important to acknowledge any cultural biases that may have led to the trauma (such as believing that the doctor holds all the power) while also acknowledging that these assumptions, biases and cultural beliefs are not entirely your fault. Society has a lot more to answer for than you do!
Many women feel that they are to blame for their own birth trauma and this can be VERY isolating. Reassure her. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
She’s not going to “just get over it”
Birth trauma doesn’t just “go away”. You don’t just “get over it”. Healing is possible but it usually takes time and work and effort. In order to help the healing process you could ask your partner what she needs, listen to her when she talks about the birth, validate her feelings, hold her when she cries, learn about birth trauma and healing. Encourage her to seek and use support services and to debrief the birth. And remember that just because she hasn’t spoken about it in a while doesn’t mean that it’s gone away – check in with her now and then to see how she’s doing. Trust me – she’ll appreciate knowing that you care.
She needs you
Yes she may need professional help to move through her trauma. But you are her partner – she needs you to walk this path beside her. Regardless of how you feel about the circumstances of the birth you need to hold her hand and remind her of how much you love her.
You need to move forward together. Author's own image.
She needs you to understand and to help her avoid it next time
If you are planning more babies then chances are you are going to have a big job ahead of you. Birthing after trauma can be tough.
If her birth trauma was caused by a completely unexpected medical emergency she may be feeling very anxious about that happening again. Help her to research, go with her to OB and / or midwife appointments and reassure her that she is as safe as possible.
If her birth trauma was caused by obstetric violence or mismanagement of her labour you may have even more work ahead of you. She may be second guessing her previous choices and wanting to make different ones. If you are not comfortable with her booking an elective caesarean or seeking a homebirth this can be challenging for you. Possibly the most important thing for you to know is that she isn’t trying to avoid trauma for her own “selfish, birth experience” reasons. She’s trying to avoid trauma so that your baby has the best start in life with a happy, whole and confident mama. Your role here is to listen, learn, communicate and trust. Your partner isn’t making her choices lightly and your support is paramount.
Men can be traumatised too – you may need to work on this as a couple
It’s really important for you to analyse whether or not YOU are suffering from birth related trauma as well. Many men find it very difficult to move forward – feeling like they failed to protect their partner and baby, feeling helpless and unheard or like they were simply pushed aside and left with no real role in the birth.
So, while your partner is going to support sessions or counselling or debriefing it could be VERY worthwhile for you to be an active participant in these. Share the story from your perspective. Write out the birth story. Acknowledge your feelings. Seek your own healing.
It is also important to remember that it’s okay for you to have found the experience traumatic even if your partner did not. And it’s okay for you not to feel traumatised if your partner is. It’s okay for you to both be traumatised by different aspects of the birth. It’s okay for you to both feel differently about the birth experience because you both experience it differently. But it’s never okay to tell your partner how she “should” feel about the birth or to minimise her feelings.