Giving birth is one epic journey and like most things pregnancy related, it is very personal with no two women’s experiences exactly the same.

But according to recent research, while their experiences may not have been identical, many women do have similar feelings after a birth in which their own or their baby’s life was threatened.

In some cases, these feelings can taint the entire experience of motherhood and be felt for years after leaving hospital.

According to the research, the most common feelings during the experience and immediately after are:

  • Fear – You may have experienced fearing for your life or your baby’s life and would describe it as “shocking”, ”frightening” or “horrifying”. For some, this fear was intensified by seeing fear on health professionals’ faces.
  • Worry for family – Feeling near to death, you worried about leaving your baby and other children behind and how your family would cope.
  • Anger – You may feel a sense of anger toward your own body for “letting you down” and robbing you of a great pregnancy and birthing experience. Anger may also be felt toward health professionals if you understand there was a delay in diagnosis of a condition or that during the emergency you were isolated, ignored, treated inadequately, impersonally or unequally, or not listened to.
  • Guilt – You may have experienced guilt believing the trauma to be your fault. It is also very common to feel guilty when there is a prolonged separation from your baby or you felt more concerned for your own health than your baby’s in the initial aftermath.
  • Loss – Loss is experienced on a number of fronts. Commonly there is a feeling of loss of control in general, over your body, over medical decisions, and over a life event. You may also have felt a loss of ‘normality’ and replaced it with a sense of failure and ‘incompetence or incapability of performing the physical process of reproduction’.

Many women also continue to experience negative consequences well beyond the first few months.

The most common ongoing effects include:

  • Seeking a cause and ruminating – It is very common to want to find a reason for why such a terrible event has happened. As such, you may blame yourself or health care professionals, or hold onto a general sense of unfairness or injustice if no obvious cause can be found. It is common to continuously think over and over about how things could have been different in any of these scenarios.
  • Post-traumatic stress symptoms – You may relive your experience in the form of flashbacks or nightmares. You might avoid hospitals, doctors, or even other pregnant women as they remind you of your experience. These symptoms may have only appeared 1-6 months after the birth as the initial joy of baby’s arrival slowed down and you had more time alone to reflect.
  • Difficulty bonding with baby – You may have experienced a separation from your baby due to your own medical treatment. Care may have been given by a family member which hindered your ability to establish breastfeeding and develop a close relationship with your baby creating a sense of failure as a mother.

It is important to understand that all of these feelings are extremely common and a natural reaction to being in a very scary situation with little to no control.

It is equally important to note that you can seek help if working through them on your own is difficult.

There are special supports available where you can speak safely and openly about what has happened and work on healing in the best way for you.

While many women feel the same way, everyone has their own unique story to work through and find different coping mechanisms helpful.

As a starting point, I recommend you contact PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association) on 1300 726 306. They can discuss your situation with you and refer you to specialists in your area if necessary. You can also visit the COPE (Centre of Perinatal Excellence) website for further information on birth trauma and resources.

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  • I tend not to talk about the traumatic aspects of my births, so as not to upset others.


  • All three of my births were traumatic in their own way.

    My first daughter was a 67 hour labour which wasn’t progressing. I kept getting sent home to ride it out. By the time I came in on the third day I was 5 cms dilated & exhausted. I had ketone’s in my urine so they had to knock me out with a large pethidine shot so I could rest & put me on a syntocinon drip to speed things up. After a few hours I woke up to find I was attached to monitors & unable to get out of bed. It took me another 12 hours to get to 10 cms, so when it came to pushing I had nothing left in the tank to push effectively. I had to have a large episiotomy & she was finally born.

    My second time around I was told I was having a 7lb baby but my son turned out to be nearly 10lb. After 44 hours of labour they decided to break my waters, but while doing so the Dr pushed my sons head up causing him to thrash around & move out of the birth canal. For 5 hours I felt like I was going to die with the pain, they gave me an epidural but after it did nothing to stop the pain they knew something was wrong & I was rushed off for an emergency caesarean. My poor boy was being crushed into my hip & pelvis with every contraction & came out black & blue.

    After my long labours & having an emergency caesarean, I was put under the care of a specialist for my second daughter & informed that my only safe option was an elective caesarean. Unfortunately I went into labour 4 weeks early & ended up with another emergency caesarean. My little girl was rushed away the second she was born because she wasn’t breathing properly. Her poor little chest was concaving in with every breath :'( It was 48 hours before I finally got to meet her, hold her & feed her. Her oxygen stats improved quickly after that. On discharge they discovered she had a whole in her heart but thankfully it was nothing to serious & we were told it would close by itself over time.

    After all that, I am very lucky that I wasn’t effected… but my husband was. He found it very traumatic & struggled to bond with my son after watching me go through so much pain during his labour. He was very reluctant for me to go back again for our third but knew it was important for me to give my daughter a sister. I was the only girl of 7 & desperately wanted my eldest daughter to have the one thing I always longed for. He agreed to give me a month to fall pregnant thinking it would never happen…but it did :) The crazy thing is, even after all the dramas, I would have gone back for a fourth, but couldn’t put my husband through it again. He believed that each time got worse & he couldn’t face the possibility of losing me or a baby.


  • Thank you for recommending resources to access help. I had an awful birth experience with my first, and found myself dealing with strong feelings of fear and anxiety in the lead up to my second child’s birth. I definitely hadn’t resolved the feelings that I had from the first time and it made it harder to enjoy my second pregnancy.


  • I had a traumatic birth, after what felt like the ‘cascade of interventions’, I ended up spending a month in hospital for panic disorder. I remember feeling like crying every time someone said congratulations to me.


  • It took me a while to get over my first childbirth. I did have more children, fortunately those births were less difficult.


  • My trauma was following birth as labour was quick but recovery was drawn out and painful


  • I think I realised I had trauma when I noticed that I couldn’t talk about my births without ranting.


  • I did have a traumatic first experience when the doctor helping me deliver my baby was being nasty to me by saying I wasn’t pushing properly and if I wasn’t going to help him out then I’d have to get an emergency c-section as well as asking me why I was screaming?! Seriously?!!! I’m in pain and I can’t help it!!!
    Anyway, point is that I went on to have number two for the pure fact that I remembered batman when his parents both died in a car accident and he was left with no one but the butler. I didn’t want my first born to be an only orphan if that ever happened to me and my husband.
    I’d honestly love to go for number three but I just don’t think my body will cope with going through it all over again.
    Second bub came out two weeks early but the whole pregnancy I was having to take it easy due to funnelling which terrified me. Plus, I’m getting old so my body isn’t recovering as quickly as I’d like it to.


  • Personally I didn’t experience it as traumatic, although things didn’t go as expected in particularly with my first


  • Fortunately my experience was tiring rather than traumatic, but I have had other traumatic experiences so I can understand how these feelings can last long after the birth.


  • The one that stayed with me for over 37 years was where I had a miscarriage at 16 weeks. I had followed doctors advice and kept working but then I ended up being rushed to another hospital where I miscarried in the early hours. I was told that every time I moved or lifted my arms up I had been killing my baby. Should have stopped work immediately but thought my doctor knew better than me. I never tried for another child after that. I was not offered any help to get through the trauma until we got another doctor and within a couple of sessions with him and a counsellor I felt the guilt slowly let go.

    • Aw bless, that sounds like a traumatic experience !


  • I had a forceps delivery that was very close to an emergency caesar. I had every pain relief available and ended up with post-birth trauma to myself and baby. I had to have a blood patch to fix a spinal puncture from the epidural. It has stayed with me 20 years on and is one of the reasons why I never went back for a second. I also ended up with PND as a result of not being able to breastfeed due to the birth and post-birth trauma.


  • My first child was born by forceps as she was in a rush to get out but stuck so the Dr actually had to cut some of Anus as well it took months and months to heal


  • Birth and trauma is different for everyone. Find someone to talk too, dont swallow the feelings, this can lead to other emotional problems. My 3rd was traumatic, the pregnancy, birth, and 12 weeks after. In hospital alone, separated from my baby girl, we were both very unwell, and mine continued for a while.


  • I had a traumatic birth after a perfect pregnancy. I did feel a loss of connection at birth. I didn’t get to have skin on skin cuddles when he was first born. I didnt get to feed him til he was a day old. It definitely took away from bonding at the start but we are fine now


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