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4th Annual Birth Trauma Event

I attended the 4th Annual Birth Trauma Event in London on 9 January 2019. It was a fascinating day packed with speakers covering topics such as Pelvic health, Paternal Postnatal depression, Nutrition and Yoga for birth trauma. There were deeply moving personal experiences of birth trauma shared in the conference, and a wonderfully insightful and hilarious new theatre piece called “Wild” performed by The Birth Project.

The thing that stood out to me the most in the day was one slide from by Sakina Ballard, now a hypnobirthing teacher, whilst sharing her story of recovering from Birth Trauma. The title of the slide was 'Healing is not Linear'. Underneath she had listed the many things that had supported and helped her along her healing journey.

With 1 in 3 women experiencing at least part of their birth as traumatic, and 1 in 25 women developing PTSD post birth, if you are teaching classes to postnatal women, there will be women with birth trauma in your class. You may not know who they are, they may never speak to you about it, or write it on a form. It may be very clear to you who they are. They may talk to you about it, or you may simply see it in their eyes, in their gait, their energy.

The Birthlight postnatal and Baby classes that we teach are part of the solution. As many of you will have experienced yourself, yoga aids your ability to heal.
From a physiological point of view we know that yoga practices help us develop the ability to self regulate  through greater heart rate variability (HRV). Yoga practices can be grounding, providing a feeling of safety and stability. Breath work can assist in regulating the nervous system, providing a balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic twins.
When we add in the Birthlight practices of building community through the circular shape of our classes and the room for initial chats and introductions, we create safety, a feeling of belonging and the chance to be heard.
When we create regular moments for mothers to connect to their babies, to gaze into their eyes and to smell them, we create opportunities to find the attunement needed to navigate the intensity of child rearing, which can be a part of the healing journey.
When we teach postnatal breathing (reverse breathing) we not only strengthen and heal the abdominal and pelvic region but we also draws the focus into the site of pregnancy and birth. We breath deeply revisiting sensations in the pelvic bowl and pelvic floor. When done in a safe and gentle manner, it is possible to create a sense of healing and moving forward from any difficult associations in this part of the body that remain from physical or emotional trauma.
When we use trauma sensitive language such as “ You might like to...” “If it feels useful you could...” we allow women to reattune to themselves, to their needs, to their ability to hold boundaries and love openly in safety.

From my own professional experience, I find many women benefit from the combination of regular mother and baby classes, more dedicated postnatal workshops, debriefing, some form of postnatal massage/therapeutic touch and the Rewind technique.

Several times a year I run Postnatal workshops with no more than 8 women, two and a half hours long without babies present. Some of these workshops are specific to caesarean birth. There is a chance to tell your birth story, to be heard, to work through a series of Birthlight postnatal yoga practices and a 20 minute yoga nidra. Not everyone who comes is bringing birth trauma. But many are. Many have never heard the term. Many have no idea because they have been so busy just trying to get on with their lives. Tears abound. The atmosphere can be intense. In all my classes, but particularly in these workshops I hold kindness at the top of my priorities. Kindness, has in fact, been shown to be key in both the prevention of trauma in the moment it happens and key in recovery after the fact. Birth trauma that doesn't process easily is not just about what happened, it is often about how we felt in the moment, especially how safe and cared for we felt.
Sometimes, doing a Rewind will be part of the healing journey. Rewind is a quick, effective hypnosis technique that allows women to revisit the experience with a feeling of safety and calm, giving the brain the opportunity to process the experience so the emotions feeding the trauma no long feel current, or alive. The process feels similar to a led meditation, and therefore sits very comfortably alongside yoga classes. It can be done in person, or over video call. It is very powerful and I highly recommend it.

I believe that when we are working with pregnant and postnatal women, we can be a part of the healing journey whether we are teaching classes or working in other ways. Sometimes we will never know the results of our work, as we plant seeds that will grow in time without ever seeing the fruit born. Sometimes we will see the dark clouds lift and the blossom emerge before our very eyes. Sometimes an email or letter will arrive months or even years later to thank us for the role we played in supporting their healing.

Bryony Vickers
Perinatal and womens' yoga teacher, Birthlight baby yoga tutor, Doula, Rewind Practitioner.  

If you are interested in the issues raised in this article, you may like to explore the resources below.

The Body keeps the Score by Bessel Van de Kolk
The Body Remembers by Babette Rothchild
How to heal a Bad Birth: Making sense, making peace and moving on by Melissa J Bruijn and Debby A Gould
Birth Trauma: A Guide for You, Your Friends and Family to Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Following Birth by Kim Thomas

When birth is trauma
Ford E, Ayers S. Support during birth interacts with prior trauma and birth intervention to predict postnatal post-traumatic stress symptoms. Psychology and Health. in press.

Birthlight  - educational charity, promoting an integrated approach to pregnancy, birth, babyhood and parenting with Yoga.
Traumatic Birth Recovery - Training and practitioners of the 3 step rewind technique
Make birth better - Awareness raising of birth trauma.
Wild about birth - Positive Birth Stories: Real life positive birth stories
Tell Me a Good Birth Story: Spreading positive childbirth experiences
Closing the bones - Training in and practitioners of a traditional postnatal massage