The perinatal period generally means anything during pregnancy and up to a year after birth. It covers pregnancy, birth, infant feeding and the early postpartum days and weeks with your baby. Perinatal trauma is anything traumatic that you associate with these events. It could be pregnancy complications like hyperemesis, premature birth and NICU stays, birth trauma, birth injury, breastfeeding trauma, miscarriage, still birth and baby death.
The experience of trauma is really personal. Events can be experienced as traumatic whether it’s happening to you directly or whether you’re observing it. For something to be traumatic, you believe that you or someone very close to you (for example your baby or your partner) is in imminent danger of serious harm or death. It doesn't matter if this is an objective fact. It’s all about how you perceive it.
No one can know if you are traumatised by an event just by hearing the nuts and bolts of what happened. Trauma is all about how you felt at the time, how stressed your nervous system was and whether you had the opportunity to stand it down fully after the event ended and you knew you were safe again. Loads of different elements can play into whether you or I experience something as traumatic; the same event could happen to different people and one person may experience it as traumatic when the other doesn’t. This can be problematic when you turn it on yourself and feel that your trauma wasn’t bad enough, it happened to so-and-so and they are fine, and you feel shame for not being able to let it go and move on.
Trauma is like a psychological injury, rather than an illness. It’s a specific response your mind and body has to something awful that happened to you. It is not a flaw or a weakness. It’s your mind doing its best to keep you safe, so that the same thing never ever happens again.
How can trauma show up in day to day life?
Trauma can show up in many, many different ways. It can look like uncontrolled flashbacks or nightmares about the event.
It can be avoiding people or places that remind you of the event.
It can be feeling irritable, short tempered and distant from loved ones.
It can stop you from wanting to go through another pregnancy and birth, even if you’d like more children.
It can be feeling let down by your partner to the point you can’t stand them touching you - or being in the same room as you.
It can be feeling ashamed that you didn’t stand up for yourself, froze, became super compliant with things in a way you didn’t think that you would.
It can be feeling triggered hearing other people’s stories or news items in the media.
Feeling this way is totally understandable from a nervous system point of view. When we feel threatened - whether that threat is real or perceived - our nervous system responds to preserve our life. A cocktail of hormones is released that prepares us for Fight or Flight - fighting off and aggressor or fleeing to remove ourselves from the situation. A less widely talked about response is the Freeze response. This is damage limitation mode, when we shut down, maybe to the point of dissociating, become super compliant with those in power around us and just get through it. When you’re in a situation where you’re having a baby, or having a medical procedure, the freeze response is usually the one that happens as we know we can’t fight or run away. But this behaviour can be really confusing and unsettling when it’s not how you see yourself in day to day life.
You don't have to feel this way forever
However understandable these feelings are, you do not have to be stuck with them forever.
You do not have to be defined by them.
There are ways to detach the strong negative emotions from the event that lead to you to being retriggered, feeling as if you are Right Back There.
Working on this does not reduce or minimise what happened to you - you’ll still remember everything but it will be a part of your past, not controlling your present and therefore directing your future. By removing the strong emotional link, you can make decisions based on what you really truly want, put things in place to nurture and heal yourself, build resilience and emerge into the life that you want to be living.
If you'd like to hear about how I may be able to help with this, please get get in touch.