22 Oct

Book Review: Birth Trauma by Kim Thomas

Birth Trauma: A Guide for You, Your Friends and Family to Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Following Birth

A year ago I listened to Sheila Kitzinger talk about her Birth Crisis Network, which she set up to help women who had suffered a traumatic birth. She gave examples of some of the things said by women for whom childbirth was not a happy or straightforward event, and I was shocked at the language and strength of feeling expressed. Only in recent years has it been recognised that a traumatic birth experience can give rise to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in women, and there are still few accessible resources for them or the people supporting them.

Birth trauma by Kim Thomas is definitely one of those resources. This is a very straightforward book written in clear language and illustrated throughout with stories from several women and one man who have experienced PTSD following the birth of their children. Each chapter ends with someone’s story, making this a very real and affecting read.

Thomas’ style is gentle and accepting of women’s experience, while clearly passionate about change; and the book’s content is based very much within the available evidence. In separate chapters, she discusses the nature of birth trauma, its effects on mother and baby, and on family members and other supporters. She acknowledges that in some areas more research is needed; for example to examine the long-term effects of birth trauma on the child.

It is known, however, that the emotional effects on the woman can be deep and very long-lasting. On both a social and a medical level, it often seems to be an assumption that however difficult or unpleasant birth may be for the mother, it’s all worth it if you have a healthy baby at the end. As Joanna Moorhead wrote in The Guardian recently, “Birth isn’t just about two people still breathing.”

Thomas goes on to describe some of the available treatments and expected outcomes from these, and also gives information about how to complain to maternity services, which can be cathartic and perhaps also lead to changes in practice.

This is a useful book for anyone working with expectant parents or supporting women in childbirth, and would also be helpful for women who feel like they have had a traumatic birth, and need to try to make some sense of it.

birthrights: protecting human rights in childbirth
The birth trauma association: helping people traumatised by childbirth