Transcript: Ways to Heal and Overcome Birth Trauma
Giving birth is a very traumatic and stressful event for women. It is a time when you often feel vulnerable and scared and it is important to create a safe space for both you and your baby. In this episode I speak with Tricia Murray, who is an anxiety and trauma coach and mother of four. Tricia is passionate about helping moms work through their birth trauma and she shares some great tips and strategies you can implement right now to begin that healing journey.
Helen Thompson: Hi, Tricia, it’s delightful to have you here on first-time mum’s chat.
I’ve been looking forward to speaking to you for lots of reasons, but one reason, because you’re from the part of the world where I was brought up. So it’s really exciting to talk to somebody from Edinburgh. So can you start by sort of telling my listeners a bit more about you and what your passionate about?
Tricia Murray: Thank you so much, Helen, for inviting me into your podcast. I am Tricia Murray. I am an anxiety and trauma coach and advanced EFT (emotional freedom technique) practitioner and also a mom to four boys. And I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to come in and speak to your listeners about birth trauma, which is a really big passion project of mine. So in terms of things that I am passionate about is I’m really passionate about mum’s experiences. So their experiences as that transition into motherhood, really passionate about improving mom’s experiences . I really feel that the pressure that we’re under as mums is enormous.
I don’t think there’s ever been a time in history that we are under so much pressure and that pressure manifests itself into all sorts of mental health difficulties, as we try to achieve so much, you know, and do so much. So that’s, that’s the sort of things I’m really passionate about is mental health and motherhood, and really improving women’s experiences.
Helen Thompson: Yeah. It’s a lot of pressure for moms these days. So a bit more than it was, I think, in the 1920s and thirties, because it seems to be a lot more pressure now. We’re expected to do everything. We’re expected to just know what to do and just get on with it. And that’s not always the case.
Tricia Murray: If you look at a lot of the research you know, the amount of time that we spend with our children now is far more than ever before. We are also not in communities as we ever were before. So we’re parenting more than ever, spending more time with our children more than ever, but we don’t necessarily have that kind of community around us to actually support us, whilst also trying to, you know, work as well. I think working is really important. I’ve loved working, being a mum and, feeling fulfilled, it’s been really important to me. But you know, we’re working and we feel like in all this pressure to do activities with our children to cook, clean and to make everything perfect.
It’s a lot, a lot of pressure that we’re under.
Helen Thompson: Yeah and giving birth, is also very traumatic and stressful for a mom and having all that to do as well, it’s quite hard. So I was just going to ask you about birth trauma. How would you define what birth trauma actually is?
Tricia Murray: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s not just birth trauma. There’s perinatal trauma or women, who’ve had a traumatic postnatal experience such as dramatic breastfeeding experience, or if you’ve had a baby it’s very colicky or refluxy, that can also lodge as trauma. So. I mean trauma technically is sort of defined as like a near death experience, but I would actually broaden that out.
And actually it’s not really actually what often happens to women that is traumatic. It’s actually how they feel about that experience. So, you know, when they give birth, when women give birth, they are very vulnerable and they can feel very scared during that time, the situation that they’ve never ever been in before.
And I think we often really forget that we are mammals. Like we really, we’re so removed from being mammals. So what we’re doing is we’re giving birth, which is a very primal, very sort of mammalian experience, but then we’re doing it in a setting that’s not really like that and we have nobody around us often to hold us emotionally in that time.
And as humans what we need, is we need other people to tell us that we’re going to be okay, so that everything’s good. We need somebody to call regularly and let us know that we are going to be okay. That everything is going to be okay. And often what happens when women give birth it’s an unfamiliar environment with people that are unfamiliar to them and they have nobody that’s saying to them you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. Everything’s going to be absolutely fine. And often maybe they’re looking at their birth partners, maybe like their, their husbands or their partners or their sister or their mom or somebody who’s in with them giving birth.
And they’ve never been in that experience before either so they can’t say to them, you’re going to be, you’re going to be okay. Everything’s going to be fine. That is the bit, I think, is really missing with birth. And I think that that is where the trauma lodges is nobody giving them that assurance that they’re going to be okay and that their baby is going to be okay.
Helen Thompson: Yeah. Cause sometimes you get a midwives and you get doulas to help you. I actually did a podcast on that about doulas and they’re actually there to support the mother about giving birth and they start by meeting her before the birth. Then they know who she is and that could be quite, supportive, I guess, to help.
Tricia Murray: Yeah, I’ve worked as a birth doula and I supported probably, about 30 births now. And it makes a huge difference having a doula, supporting you through that whole experience, because it’s somebody who’s familiar or somebody who’s seen that process, but somebody who you’ve got relationship with.
And actually the same thing is true, if you’ve got a good relationship with that midwife and if you have continuity of care. So you have, let’s say a midwife with you till your pregnancy, who does all your anti-natal support. The same midwife who’s at your birth and the same midwife who’s there with you after you give birth, but working practices don’t really allow for that and I totally get that. So I understand why that is the case.
Helen Thompson: I know sometimes moms, from my idea of trauma is that they might have an epidural that doesn’t work or their back might be painful, or they might have to have an emergency caesarean or the baby might come out backwards or they have to use forcips and all that kind of thing can be very traumatic. Not only for the mother, but for the baby as well. So when they’re born, it’s a traumatic experience for both, but particularly also for the baby.
Tricia Murray: It’s really interesting because actually sometimes what you find is, is a birth that is on paper sounds very traumatic. So something that’s been a real, like rushing through to, to have emergency caesarean, but because the mum has been emotionally held by a midwife or doula, or she had a really supportive husband, who’s really helped her and regulated her and stayed with her and spoken to her and communicated with her. She doesn’t experience trauma as a result.
You can also have people who have a really relatively straightforward birth on paper, but who feel traumatized by that experience because somebody hasn’t listened to them, somebody hasn’t validated them, somebody hasn’t reassured them. Somebody hasn’t let them know they’re going to be okay. Their partners have been sent home and things have been happening and nobody has listened to them.
So I think whilst we can sometimes think it it’s the mode of delivery or how something happened. I actually think it’s bigger than that. I think it’s that emotional holding where that emotional holding hasn’t happened, where women experience trauma.
Helen Thompson: Yeah and sometimes when they have a baby, they may not bond necessarily. I’m not saying that’s the case all the time. I’m just saying, I know that sometimes happens because baby massage can help with that because it can help the parent to bond more with the baby. But there are cases which I’ve heard that sometimes the babies are born and the mother, either she’s so overwhelmed or traumatized after the birth that she just doesn’t know how to connect to her baby.
I know that’s rare, but that does happen doesn’t it?
Tricia Murray: I think it’s about 10%, that can also happen in a really straightforward birth. I’ve got very good friend who had an amazing home birth and when the baby was born, she couldn’t even look at it. So I think that can happen in a really straightforward birth as well. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything actually for me, that we need to really talk about actually how common that is because you don’t love your baby instantly doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re never going to love your baby at all. And it can happen. I do think when the birth has been really difficult and really overwhelming makes it worse.
One of the other things that can happen is that. You know, when we’ve experienced trauma, one of the symptoms of trauma is avoidance. We want to avoid things that remind us of that birth and every time you look at your baby that can remind you of that birth as pain, so it can make it really, it can make it really difficult.
So and then there’s the overwhelming emotion, because on the one hand you really grateful for your baby being here, but then you’re really traumatized by that birth. And so you’ve got these two opposing feelings all around that same experience, which is the gratitude towards having your baby, but also the difficult emotions that you have towards that birth. You’re weighing up two different sets of emotions around the same event.
Helen Thompson: And I can never pronounce this word, it’s the hormone of love, the Oxytocin sometimes doesn’t immediately come in. It comes in afterwards.
Tricia Murray: In an uninterrupted birth, you’re much more likely to have oxytocin around that time. So it’s why women who have, you know, if you’re having a caesarean and you’ve had a natural labor, and then you end up having a caesarean, you’re much more likely to bond with your baby than if you’ve been induced or if you’ve had a planned caesarian, not always, but sometimes. So that’s why that post-natal bit is really important as well, by encouraging that postnatal experience afterwards is really important.
So when I think of Oxytocin, Oxytocin is the hormone of love. So if you think about, we’ve experienced Oxytocin often in dark rooms with our partners and meals with our partners is often in a safe and warm environment. Being in a clinical space, it’s very hard for Oxytocin, to be naturally produced because of people interrupting you all the time.
There’s lights, there’s noises, you’re sharing spaces, people that you don’t know or that you don’t feel safe.
Helen Thompson: I can relate to that. I never thought of it that way.
Tricia Murray: So trying to really encourage that nesting experience after you give birth is really important. So, so a nesting space, which is comfortable, which is safe where people aren’t interrupting you all the time is a really good way to encourage oxytocin after you’ve given birth.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I’d never thought of it that way. That’s an interesting way of putting it. I know what oxytocin is, but I’ve never thought of it in the way that you’ve explained it. I’ve learned something from you there.
Tricia Murray: If you think about how we give birth, we really do forget we’re mammals and we think that we’re these, I don’t know a clever species who don’t need the things that like, that we’re so far removed from how other animals give birth and, I think that that is actually the missing element in so much of our antenatal education, is that understanding, like how do mammals give birth? What do mammals need to give birth?
And by understanding that I think we could cause even you’re having a caesarean, if you understand that there may be there’s elements that you can take from that into your caesarean birth so that you can support as much of those natural hormones that that will come through when you feel safe, when you feel loved, when you feel emotionally held, when you feel regulated.
Whereas a lot of the time, what happens is we’re going into an environment that we don’t feel safe, that we don’t understand where there’s people talking to us, people asking us to use our brains. None of that helps us to give birth or helps us to bond with our baby.
Helen Thompson: So I guess that brings me to a point where how can we support mums, who are going through what we’ve been discussing? I mean, how can we support mums who are going or have been, through a difficult birth?
Tricia Murray: I think one of the biggest things is, is actually listening. I think that we’ve really lost that skill of how to listen. So what happens is we listen with the intention of giving advice or making our thoughts heard, or whereas actually just actually listening, like do nothing else, but listening and there’s some times, you know, when I’m working with somebody. I can see that they’re like, she’s not responding. I’m waiting for her to like interrupt me or give me a few points. And I’m like, no, I’m listening to your story. That listening that is really important.
One of the things with trauma is that when you’ve experienced something that’s traumatic, our brains don’t realize that that event is over. Yes, so we need to listen, so that sequencing of events is really important with a real clear start point and a really clear end point. So actually what you want to do is you want to sit and listen to somebody, listen to that whole experience, so their brain can help to sequence it and can also make a really, really clear start point and a really clear anchor point. And actually that they know that it’s over. And that’s one of the things with traumas that our brains don’t realize that that event is over. So that’s a really important part of it.
Not asking probing questions about what’s happened. Just actually just letting them tell their story with a view, to not keeping them in that pain any longer, not keeping them going round and round and round in certain elements. So just actually just listening and validating their experience.
You know, that sounds like that was really hard. No wonder you felt like that. I am not surprised you felt like that. I’m not surprised you reacted like that. I’m not surprised you found that really difficult. That sounds like a really difficult experience. I’m so sorry that’s what happened to you because that’s important as well, that we validate people’s experiences that we validate what’s happened to them.
So something that we don’t often do. We’re like, oh, well, at least your baby’s here. Everything’s okay, your baby’s here. Don’t worry about it, like move on. But actually really validating their experiences is really important. So and then practically things that we can also do really encourage moms to rest. Okay, so really encourage that rest, okay! They’ve been through trauma or if they’ve got some terms of trauma, really encourage them and their bodies to rest and really encourage them to look after themselves and looking after themselves might be different to everybody. So for some people that might be a sleep and rest, for other people it might be nutrition, but other people might be doing like a hobby that they want to do, going for a walk on their own maybe, actually as well as with their baby, but actually encouraging them to do something little each and every day that’s for them. I mean as mums. we can feel really guilty about it, but just a little everyday act specifically for them.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think that’s very valid and this just brings me to another point here. You mentioned all about the sort of mind and body and I just wonder, cause I know we have muscle memory and all that when we give birth and we have that sort of trauma. So can you suggest any ways that might help with the physical tension in the body after giving birth?
Tricia Murray: Absolutely, relaxation is really important so getting into a practice of daily decompressing and really focusing in on building up that muscle memory to learn how to relax is really important. So general daily meditation practice or daily relaxation practice, whether that’s mindfulness or just even like just body tension, just noticing how there’s like tension in different parts of your body.
Helen Thompson: Like yoga, baby yoga is always good. Isn’t it?
Tricia Murray: Yeah, noticing if you can focus on parts of your body and just release that tension you’ve got absolutely is really, really helpful. There’s also other really lovely ways to work with the body after trauma. So obviously yoga is great. There’s another thing called tension release exercise (TRE).
Helen Thompson: I think I’ve heard of that, but I don’t know what it is, but I’ve heard of it.
Tricia Murray: And it it’s encouraging the body to shake to release trauma. It’s a really helpful way to get the body to release that tension from the body.
So, and I’d really encourage that. But anything that sort of focuses on relaxation is helpful. One of the other things, that, it sounds very weird, but it’s actually tensing the muscles. So it’s tensing the muscles into like holding your arms and making them go into fists until your arms start to shake and just loving, that sort of shaking process and then letting that release afterwards. And that can be a really helpful thing to do with the body as well. So the body’s really holding on to that tension actually to over tense it to the point that the body starts to shake and then allowing the body to relax. Because again, you think about animals when animals have been through a traumatic experience.
So if you think about the tiger, the lion, the gazelle, if the gazelle has got away, afterwards you will see the gazelle shaking to release that tension. And that’s something that we don’t do as humans. We think shaking is bad, so we stop people from shaking. So if somebody’s shaking after they’ve had a near miss in a car or something else, we’ll say here, have a cup of tea to still the shaking, or have a drink, have, have a gin and tonic that’ll stop the shakes.
That shaking is actually a really important part of releasing that tension.
Helen Thompson: Yes, I can relate to that one. Cause I know, when you’ve broken your ankle or done something like that and you look down and you see the swelling and you’re shaking, you can actually realize that if you actually take a big, deep breath and you say right, okay I know it’s there. Just relax. It actually helps you a lot more to actually calm down.
Tricia Murray: Yeah, absolutely, they can accept in that process.
Helen Thompson: So the other thing I thought of is journals. I mean, we’re talking about releasing the tension and stuff, but what about writing your experience down and expressing it? Do you think that can help with the healing process?
Tricia Murray: A hundred percent. Yeah. 110%. Yeah. So one of the practices that I think is really helpful is actually letter writing, because, again, it’s about making that clear start point and that clear end point.
So it’s writing a letter to yourself to acknowledge the pain that you’ve been through. So, and it really helps to sort of state that’s over. So if something has happened to me, I could write a letter to myself saying ‘dear Tricia, I’m so sorry that you had such a difficult experience. I’m so sorry that’s still with you, I’m so sorry that you’re still feeling this way, but that was a really difficult birth experience, so that was a really difficult experience and you did so well to get through it and you should be really proud’. And you could be really proud of yourself or allow yourself to be really proud of it.
So really focusing in on that compassionate letter writing to yourself. But also, a lot of women can also feel really guilty towards their babies when they had that difficult experience, so they feel really guilty that their baby was born in whatever way it was or that they haven’t managed to feed their baby or whatever else it is.
It’s another really good thing to do is actually write a letter to your baby. It’s just actually sort of that, ‘I’m really sorry, this is like what happened and I feel guilty’ and explain like why everything happened and that can be a really good way to do it.
And then write a letter to any care professional that didn’t necessarily support you in the way that you wanted to be supported. So write that as well and none of these letters are going to go anywhere.
Helen Thompson: But it’s just releasing the tension of what we’re talking about.
Tricia Murray: And also it’s creating that distance. It’s creating that difference from everything that’s going on in your head by putting it on paper. And it’s a really helpful practice to take it out of your head, put it on paper. But something about that letter writing is almost like a finality it’s like that event is over. So when you were talking about trauma, often the problem with trauma is that our being doesn’t realize that that’s over.
So the letter writing is a really good way to say that’s over, like that event is over, I can relate to it better. So I would write a letter to yourself, I would write a letter to your baby, I’d write a letter to, to anybody else, whether it’s like your partner, any healthcare professionals, anybody at all. Then what I would do with those letters, I would burn them because you don’t want them to be part of your life anymore. So do you like a really ceremonious burning.
You don’t have to do that. It’s something that I really liked and I really liked burning things as a way to say that is the end of that experience, but that can be a really helpful thing to do.
Helen Thompson: It’s giving them more closure.
Tricia Murray: Yeah, I think sharing our stories is really important. As women, I think actually part of the thing that we don’t do is we don’t share our stories enough actually. We don’t share our stories about birth, about motherhood enough, but I think there’s a difference. So I think there is like a healthy way to do it, but I also think that there’s a lot of people stay stuck in their trauma and it can become a really big part of their identity, so that birth trauma can become a really big part of who they are and you can stay stuck there and when somebody has experienced trauma, it’s a really simple process to heal. It. There’s a lot of really simple ways that you can heal trauma, particularly when it’s one-off trauma like that.
There’s a lot of really simple tools that you can use to support that psychological injury that they’ve had, but when they stay stuck in it, and they’re constantly repeating their story to other people, then all that’s happening, if you think about every time you tell your story, but you’re not actually getting closure on it.
You’re just making that a deeper channel on the brain, a deeper connection on the brain between the trauma and the trauma response and it’s just getting deeper and deeper and deeper. It’s not releasing it. So I think sharing your stories through blogs, through social media to anything is really helpful.
There’s some absolutely brilliant Instagram accounts and brilliant Facebook accounts. Women who’ve had difficult experiences, but a lot of them have been through that trauma healing process and actually what they’re doing is they’re using their experience to help. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
A lot of people stay really stuck with their trauma. They’re confused, they’re stuck with it. It’s really impacting them in a negative way. So I think there’s different ways that it can be positive and negative on social media.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I agree with that, definitely. I think you’ve hit it on the head there. I think that’s good. So, if somebody wants to come and have a session with you for trauma, what can they expect in that session?
Tricia Murray: I work with people who’ve experienced trauma, anywhere in that to perinatal period but also people who’ve had reproductive trauma as well.
And when I work with people I use really gentle techniques, so I hear their stories, I validate their experiences, real compassion, so really understand the impact that that experience can have on their whole motherhood journey. So so I really work with them to overcome that and also to take them from the place that they are right now to the place that they want to be. So what would life be like if you weren’t feeling anxious or if you had good sleep or you were able to be connected with your child, you know, what would that be like? So hear their experiences, but then really take them out of where they are right now to where they want to be.
I think that’s a really important part of the work that I do with somebody and then we’ll work therapeutically together, but it’s a really powerful, but really gentle experience. That I work with people and the tools that I give people are tools that they can use throughout the whole experience as moms.
So, it’s a really powerful process.
Helen Thompson: I’m going to ask you what your magical tip is that you can give to a mom who suffered from trauma? What would you say?
Tricia Murray: I think one of the things that we do as moms, is we don’t rest, we feel guilty about resting. If you’ve had a difficult experience then actually the biggest thing that you can do is you can rest.
I’ve forgotten the person who had this quote, but what your baby needs is a well resourced mum. And if everything you can do for your baby, it’s about ensuring that you are well resourced. So that then means that you’re looking after you, because when you’ve looked after you, you then have the capacity and the love that your child needs. You have the capacity to manage them and you have that love for them. If you’re coming from a place of depletion and you’re struggling. That makes that whole experience much harder.
So really focus on you, focus on yourself, focus on rest, focus on getting yourself better, focus on getting the support that you need. Resource yourself, because once you’re resourced, then you can help anybody else who needs that help.
Helen Thompson: That’s a bit like when you go on an airplane, they always say, if the oxygen comes down, give it to yourself first, before you give it to your baby or your child and that’s because if you don’t, you’re not going to be in a position to help that person.
Tricia Murray: Yeah, one hundred percent.
Helen Thompson: So if anybody wants to get in touch with you after this lovely podcast that we’ve just done and they want to have a chat to you with your beautiful way of doing things, how can they do that?
Tricia Murray: Basically through my website, so TriciaMurray.co.uk. So I’m based in the UK, but I can work with clients wherever they are. So through the amazing technology of Zoom. So yeah, so I can work with anybody wherever they are.
Helen Thompson: Thank you so much, Tricia. I’ve so much enjoyed speaking to you and I really, really enjoyed it and thank you so much for being a part of this podcast.
Tricia Murray: Thank you for inviting me that’s very kind of you, thank you.
Helen Thompson: It’s a pleasure.
Tricia shared some great tips on how to get started healing your birth trauma. I encourage you to start practicing the excellent, highly actionable tips that Tricia shared and get started right away. After all, it will help you on the start of your parenting journey and help create a magic bond with your little one. You’ll find the links to Tricia’s website where you can find out more about her and her services in the show notes which can be accessed at mybabymassage.net/podcast/038.