As a Pelvic Health physiotherapist, I have had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful birthing parents who have had the courage to share their birthing stories with me. These stories vary from positive experiences to extremely distressing, negative stories that have left these parents feeling alien to themselves, their bodies and their minds.
The postpartum stage in a birthing parent’s life can be both a mental and physical struggle that makes it difficult for one to function in their daily social life and relationships. They are dealing with hormonal changes, caring for a tiny human that relies heavily on them, and mentally trying to process the traumatic experience that labour and delivery can sometimes create.
Through my experience as a pelvic health physiotherapist, the best way to approach these stories is with a listening ear, empathy and stepping back to look at the person as whole, and what they may need. Trying to understand their traumatic birthing experience is the first step in a pelvic physiotherapy assessment. What is important to highlight here, is that some of the physical symptoms these patients present with in my office, can often be linked to the trauma they have gone through. Although you can gather some information from an internal vaginal exam during an assessment, it is not always the best route to take with patients who have experienced birth trauma or any other trauma for that matter. I rarely will do an internal assessment on an individual who is clearly still processing their emotions about the trauma they have endured. The whole premise of the assessment in these particular cases would be to calm the central nervous system using various breath work techniques that reduce tension in the muscles and develop a trust between you and the patient. At some point an internal examination may be completed only when the patient feels ready and with their consent. During the internal examination, I am making note of any tension or trigger points internally. I am also checking the strength and endurance of the muscle, and how these muscles respond to touch.
In most cases, birthing parents require additional help from other health care professionals, such as a licensed counselor. This may help sort out some of the lasting effects of the trauma they have experienced and help these patients move forward in the healthiest way possible. I often will refer my patients to a trauma counselor and work alongside them in order to provide the best patient centered care.
Every birth trauma story is very different and perceived differently by the individual. It is important to listen carefully to the story, the language used to describe their birth story and their current mental state in order to help accordingly.
If you are someone who has continued to struggle to mentally process your traumatic experience during birth, remember that you are not alone and that there is help out there!