Healing Birth Trauma with TFT
By Pia Cowley and Lianne Schwartz
It wasn’t supposed to be like this…
Current research in the US and Australia has found that around 1:3 women experience at least one symptom of trauma following birth, with around 1.5-6% developing full blown post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Considering the numbers of women giving birth every day, the potential for trauma is vast. Birth trauma, in this context, refers to symptoms of PTSD rather than physical trauma to woman or infant from the process of birth (though these may play their own part in the traumatic experience). Birth trauma is frequently misdiagnosed, and mistreated, as postnatal depression.
Birth trauma has countless ongoing negative effects: disruption to the parent-infant bond, reduced rates of breastfeeding (and the long term health implications of this), depression in partners, higher rates of divorce, higher rates of subsequent infertility in woman, and reduced emotional adjustment and cognitive/neurological development in children. One woman describes her journey after birth:
“I knew something wasn’t right…everyone seemed to be ignoring the trauma of my birth. Inside my head I was screaming, “WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO ME?? AM I OK?? AM I OK???.” And outside my head, I was waiting for someone, anyone , to acknowledge what a horrific thing I’d just been through. But no-one did…Surely someone was concerned about my emotional well-being. I certainly was. But I had a baby to feed and to docilely watch while my husband changed and bathed him…I just felt shell shocked….I ended up assuming this must be how everybody feels after birth…I knew what ‘good mothering’ looked like, so I robotically went through the motions…This was not how I had imagined life with my new baby would be...”(Melissa Brujin, 2008)
I knew something wasn’t right…everyone seemed to be ignoring the trauma of my birth.
Post birth emotional trauma is an under researched issue with a huge impact on mothers, babies and families. It is not just the negative – it is the loss of the positive, of what birth should have been, that is deeply mourned. This has profound effects on a family down the years, just as a good birth can enrich and lift the quality of their life.
Childbirth, the process of one’s body becoming two (or more), is an act of creation that leaves echoes in a woman’s body and memory. Pamela E. Klassen (2001)
For women who have experienced traumatic births, however, these echoes can be in the form of terrifying nightmares, flashbacks, or ongoing fear. The woman’s hormonal state during labour, while giving birth, and in the hours following is designed to make her acutely aware of, and bond with, the newborn. Intuition is heightened and psychologically and spiritually she is wide open, ultra-vulnerable to the care she receives at this time. Unkindness, brusqueness or cruelty at this time can go so much deeper, do so much more harm, than at other times.
Even what is considered by health practitioners to be a medically normal labour can precipitate post traumatic stress symptoms in a woman, with one of the consistent predictors of post trauma symptoms relating to insensitive or unsupportive care during labour (Slade, 2006). In fact, the research indicates that women’s perceptions of control and the care they receive during their birth may be more important than the actual medical events of the experience (Ford, Ayers & Bradley, 2007; Slade, 2006).
The available knowledge and resources of our mainstream health system to treat birth trauma are limited; if diagnosed with symptoms of trauma, treatment may involve drug therapy, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapies. These interventions, however, have limited success in treating birth trauma. Unlike other postnatal mood disorders, such as postnatal depression, symptoms of trauma do not fade or improve with time.
The potential for TFT in treating birth related emotional and psychological trauma is vast. Considering the possible ongoing consequences of untreated birth trauma on women, their babies and families, and our society as a whole – the application of TFT is invaluable.
Jodie came to us while trying desperately to conceive. Her first birth was a traumatic labour ending in an emergency caesarean 4 yrs earlier. Currently she was unable to conceive, frightened about the prospect of birth, and experiencing flashbacks and episodes of crying daily. We worked through her birth story, treating each point in the story that held a ‘charge’ for her. At the end of the first session, Jodie was happy, buoyant and feeling wonderful – something she hadn’t felt in years. Jodie conceived the following cycle and we continued to use TFT throughout the pregnancy. One of the most interesting issues that came up was around bonding with her daughter – something she felt had never occurred, and in fact she ‘didn’t like her’, although that made her feel guilty as a mother. Following treating her birth trauma, for the first time ever she felt loving, caring, and bonded with her daughter: she was not just ‘doing the right thing’ as a mother – she actually wanted to spend time with and care for her. Jodie went on to have an empowering, and beautiful, waterbirth of a son, whom she successfully breastfed. She credits using TFT with allowing her to move on, bringing her peace with her past, while allowing her to keep her precious memories. TFT freed Jodie to conceive, birth and mother in the fullest way possible.”
We have had countless successes using TFT in our midwifery practice, for resolving birth trauma and also for many other issues. Working with women and families at the beginning of life is both critical and exciting. We know the repercussions of maternal health (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) are so far reaching, and we see TFT empowering and improving the health of a woman, her infant, her family and ultimately our communities.
In our prenatal education classes, we teach women and and partners the complex trauma algorithm (also pain, anxiety, fear algorithms) to use these for themselves when needed, not only for pregnancy and birth related matters but in general in their lives. One father reported how he now uses tapping for stressful situations at work and for disempowering interactions with extended family.
Both diagnostics and algorithms can be used for individual clients with self- reported symptoms of trauma from a previous birth (for reasons including: miscarriage, stillbirth, unexpected interventions, induction, emergency cesarean, disempowering interactions with caregivers). We work extensively with women, providing education and TFT diagnostic treatments prior to and during childbirth to prevent traumatic experiences by resolving fears during pregnancy and prior to, or during, the upcoming birth.
Some of the specific ways TFT is used in pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and with newborns
- Effectively treating morning sickness at all levels (diagnose and neutralize toxins and sensitivities as well as explore and treat deeper emotional causes)
- Mastitis (diagnose and neutralize toxins including 7 sec treatments for infective organisms, treating emotional causes, and relieving physical symptoms)
- Stopping haemorrhage after birth (often by treating reversals in the uterus itself)
- Optimal positioning for the baby including successfully helping many breech babies to turn head down
- Fatigue from long or intense labour
- Shock – physical and emotional symptoms
- ‘Colic’ in infants (diagnose toxins and adjust breastfeeding mother’s diet, treat reversals or trauma in infant).
- Side effects (eg pain, bruising, swelling) after instrumental birth (forceps/vacuum/cesarean) for infant/mother.
- Ongoing pain and numbness at epidural site (using 7 sec treatment for anaesthetic and pain algorithm/ diagnosis)
We offer opportunities to learn how to use TFT in pregnancy, birth and in the post-birth period through practitioner certified workshops. These workshops range from basic one day overview of treating birth trauma with TFT through to week long intensives which incorporate the Callahans highly acclaimed 2 day Bootcamp (learning TFT algorithms, diagnostics and successfully diagnosing and treating toxins) with two extra days of practitioner specific education including working with women to heal birth trauma as well as many more uses of TFT in pregnancy, birth and beyond. Certified TFT Diagnostic Practitioners can choose to attend only the childbearing-specific two day trainings.