Birth Trauma Resolution Therapy
Nobody really expects to look back on the birth of their child as a scary experience. But for many people, that's exactly what their baby's birthday feels like. Even those that have what the medical world would constitute as a standard vaginal delivery may look back at her birthing experience with panic, a sense of loss, or even feel permanently emotionally scarred from their interactions.
The aftermath of a traumatic birth can be mentally catastrophic leaving women with life-long psychological wounds, the effects of which spread out to other facets of their life impacting on their bond with their baby, their relationship with their partner, their decision to have another baby or not and even their willingness to engage with future health care.
It was not until somewhat recently that we recognized that what we originally thought of as postpartum depression was actually, in many women, a sub form of PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And their labor or birthing experience was the trigger. Case studies and recent research make it clear that women can and do suffer extreme distress as a consequence of their experiences during childbirth.
Sometimes this is due to a potentially traumatic trigger such as miscarriage, stillbirth, severe complications, or undergoing invasive medical interventions with or without effective pain relief. However, some women may have a seemingly normal birth but feel traumatized by aspects such as loss of control, loss of dignity, or the dismissive, hostile or negative attitudes of the key people around them including staff, providers, ancillary staff, or even their own partners.
How does Birth Trauma work?
Birth Trauma Resolution Therapy (or BTR for short), uses a technique long used on forms of PTSD and Trauma. To understand it's efficacy, you must understand how the brain reacts to traumatic events. During a traumatic event, our brain (specifically your amygdala) is triggered to recognize our situation as 'dangerous'. Your breathing increases, your heart rate shoots up, your palms get sweaty, you might get dizzy or nauseous; you enter into fight-or-flight mode (also known as activation of the sympathetic nervous system). This is GOOD! This is the mode our body enters as a basic protective mechanism. Think of a cavewoman seeing a tiger. This gives her the extra energy and drive to escape.
In 80% of people, in a matter of weeks, this traumatic experience is wrangled in by the hippocampus, and it turns in into 'just a part of the story' in your brain. It's then stored in your brains neocortex (aka the filing cabinet of memories). And it gets stored without a strong emotional response, so you can recall it as part of everyday life without having to revisit the strong emotions you experienced that day.
However, in 20% of people, these memories don't leave the amygdala. Your birth experience is viewed as a possible pertinent everyday threat. These 'birth tigers' wait in the tall grass, and leap out based on seeming innocuous triggers. And let's be honest, they aren't interested in whether or not it's a good time for you. Middle of the grocery store? TIGER. Dropping your older child off at school? TIGER. Family gathering where Aunt Tilda happens to look a little like your surgeon? BIG FREAKING TIGER.
When you've always got Tigers waiting to attack, you might even start to change your life; including avoiding situations that are perceived as dangerous, excessive cleaning, crying, fear, distancing from loved-ones, and much more.
BTR works to rewrite the script. It takes away the excessive emotional attachment and allows it to be converted into a normal memory, to then be stored in the neocortex. Once it is stored in the neocortex, it can then be accessed without it leading to a stress response.
So what can you expect from a BTR session? It's important to understand first that generally speaking most people can feel resolution within 2-4 sessions. Meaning this does not need to be a lifelong treatment plan, or months and months of talk therapy. However, their are times and certain situations that require more than BTR can offer. And in these situations, referrals to a short list of providers trusted with these exact topic are available.
You will first be asked to complete a screening tool to ensure that you need or require intervention. It's important to note that not everyone has overt symptoms. But even in these people, who meet what we call 'sub threshold trauma', treatment is still highly effective and supported. After that is established, the initial session involves information gathering and a thorough consultation. Then we will create a treatment plan together based on your current symptoms, and upcoming needs.
Sessions generally consist of a guided meditation, breathing techniques, and an important intervention tool called "The Rewind Technique". This is designed to draw the negative emotions away from your memory, and allow it to move on to the filing cabinet part of the brain, the neocortex. It is the repetition that can be most beneficial, and this is established throughout the session, through additional sessions (generally 2-3 are enough), and through a recording of your personalized guided meditation if you desire.
Depending on the client’s individual situation, further techniques may be used in preparation for a subsequent birth, to reframe the future, and leave the client feeling calm and in control. Sometimes, the sessions uncover other experiences that have been triggered by the birth experience, such as sexual abuse or domestic violence. This can all be incorporated into a personalized therapy plan.
This is a powerful intervention. And I don't take lightly the impact that I believe this can have on a person's ability to move past a traumatic birthing experience. As a Registered Labor and Delivery Nurse, this has driven my practice to improve the ability birthing people to feel heard, empowered, listened to, and respected. Even
devastating outcomes have the ability to be transformational in a positive way. I also perform outreach and classes to providers and hospital staff to help shape their own practices in a way that can minimize trauma. Working in this field also leaves me in a unique situation to understand that Birth Trauma doesn't stop with the birthing person. These wounds can be found on Partners, Family Members, Staff, Providers, and even other Children in the family. BTR therapy can be beneficial for anyone involved in the birthing process, and I happily work with and treat people other than the birthing person.
Please reach out to Sabbath Schrader, RN for more information, to have a discussion about whether you or your loved one would benefit from BTR, or to discuss trainings or interventions for your staff or providers.