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Understanding Birth Trauma: An Interview With Caryl Jones-Pugh

By Peter Wyn Mosey
Peter Wyn Mosey is a participant of People Speak Up Projects, including Story Care and Share and Spoken Word Saturday.

For many people, birth is not the joyful or happy occasion they expect. Trauma during birth can lead to low mood, heightened anxiety, and flashbacks and can result in difficulties bonding with your baby. 

Caryl Jones-Pugh provides Birth Trauma Resolution in South Wales and runs Rebirth Wales. She works with people affected by trauma associated with childbirth or pregnancy, with the aim of helping them move past their distress. 

Caryl trained in Birth Trauma Resolution in 2020 following the birth of her second child. After experiencing a traumatic birth with her first child and a difficult few months after his birth she sought help and had Birth Trauma Resolution therapy.

This made a huge difference to the feelings she had surrounding the birth and allowed her to go into her second experience of childbirth more confidently. The birth of her second child was a much more positive experience and this empowered Caryl to share her journey of recovery from trauma with others. 

Caryl has a background in psychology and research and currently works in public health alongside her private practice. 

We spoke with Caryl to learn more about birth trauma and how Birth Trauma Resolution can help. 

What is birth trauma and when does it happen?

Trauma is a normal response to an abnormal event. Birth trauma can occur for many different reasons and not just in life-threatening situations. Some people experience a supposedly 'normal birth' with no obvious trauma and can still feel distressed afterwards. Things like feeling out of control or not being listened to or cared for appropriately can lead to trauma as can being in extreme pain or feeling like your life or the life of your baby is in danger. 

Miscarriages repeated IVF attempts, and experiencing a stillbirth can also lead to trauma. 

Those who have witnessed or assisted a traumatic birth may also experience symptoms of trauma. Birth partners or health professionals can feel traumatised or distressed after an unexpected or particularly frightening experience.

What are the signs and symptoms of trauma and when should someone consider coming to see you?

The common symptoms of trauma include:

  • Flashbacks and nightmares of the event where the person feels they are reliving the event.
  • Avoidance of anything related to the trauma, for example, some people avoid hospitals or medical professionals after a traumatic birth experience.
  • Hypervigilance or a heightened sense of anxiety. This can be focused on the baby, feeling constantly worried that something bad will happen or that the baby will become unwell. It can also be more generalised, feeling worried or anxious most of the time about lots of different things.  
  • Feeling low or unhappy. Some people may experience guilt or blame themselves for what happened. Some have difficulty remembering parts of the experience.

If someone is experiencing any of these things or they feel very sad or distressed when they think about their birth experience it could be helpful to talk to a therapist with experience of trauma resolution. 

How common is birth trauma?

Around 45% of women experience a traumatic birth, with around 4-6% developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many more women have symptoms of trauma that go undiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed as Post Natal Depression (PND). 

Some of the symptoms of PTSD and PND overlap so it can be confusing but the main difference is that those with PTSD usually experience flashbacks or nightmares about the trauma or intrusive thoughts, memories or images. This is not characteristic of PND.

What help is available for birth trauma?

If someone is struggling after giving birth they can chat to their midwife, health visitor or GP. Alternatively, they can seek help privately from a counsellor or therapist trained to work with those who have experienced trauma.

I am trained in Birth Trauma Resolution which is a gentle and effective method of resolving the distress relating to painful memories surrounding childbirth or related issues. It is suitable for those who have directly experienced birth trauma and those who have witnessed or assisted a traumatic birth (birth companions, health professionals). 

Birth Trauma Resolution works to encourage and allow the client to explore and process the distressing memories they have in a safe space using gentle therapeutic techniques.  

An emphasis on relaxation and safety is weaved throughout the process.

What are some of the reasons that people get in touch with you at Rebirth Wales?

I usually work with people who have experienced a traumatic birth. A lot of people feel unable to move on from the events of the birth but aren’t sure why. They often feel sad when they think about the birth and some are too scared to have another child. Some of the women I see are pregnant and are nervous about giving birth again and having another negative experience. 

What can someone attending sessions with you expect?

I meet with clients individually in Llanelli or Swansea. The sessions are usually just under an hour long, with the first session being slightly longer. The first session is an opportunity for the client to get to know me and the way that I work, we usually talk through what they have been experiencing and how they have been feeling. I invite them to tell me about their trauma if they feel comfortable to and we decide together on a plan for our further sessions. I encourage them to use resourcing or relaxation techniques to help foster a feeling of safety during our time together. 

I work in a trauma-informed and client-led way, I believe that the path to healing is present inside each of us. I will walk alongside my clients on their journey and at times use my expertise to guide them. I don’t believe that people who have experienced trauma are broken and my job is not to ‘fix’. I provide a safe space for someone to explore their trauma and guide them through trauma resolution. 

What are some of the biggest challenges for women giving birth today?

During the last two years, we have seen huge changes in maternity care due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve had lots of clients who have experienced trauma as a result of not having birth partners present for some or all of their appointments or labour, some even missing the births of their babies. We’ve also seen closures of midwife-led centres and the suspension of home births which for some women can cause anxiety about options for birthing environment. As a result of being isolated due to restrictions, some people have struggled to access support after they give birth and in the early days of their baby’s life. This has led to difficulties with things like breastfeeding and new parents feeling unsupported and alone due to a lack of contact with family and friends. 

Unfortunately, NHS services are not always able to recognise or support people who have experienced birth trauma so lots of people will never get help.

The other big issue is that birth is not something that people always talk openly about, other than the usual questions being asked about the baby. Lots of mums would love the opportunity to discuss their birth openly, whatever their experience was. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been an arena for this. There is more happening on social media which is wonderful to see. 

Caryl was a participant in our Birth Café project which was led by Tracy Breathnach. A time and space for mothers to come together and share their birth stories

Caryl currently works with people who have experienced birth trauma, baby loss, and issues with IVF, and with birth partners/companions, healthcare staff, and pregnant women who are feeling anxious about giving birth. She sees clients in Llanelli and Swansea and volunteers with the Midwifery Programme at Swansea University. 

For more information, visit Rebirth Wales, email rebirthwales@gmail.com, or call 07309072677.

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