Postpartum PTSD is a serious issue

Buffy Williams MS

In Wales alone over 9,000 women are suffering, sometimes in silence.

Mothers have kept their symptoms to themselves, so the condition has remained invisible.

Many mothers unfortunately, are sometimes wrongly diagnosed with postpartum depression, when in fact the trauma of a difficult birth or events directly concerning or complications after a birth can leave a mother suffering with postpartum PTSD.

This can include flashbacks of traumatic moments throughout labour that has a mother reliving the fear of the trauma, troubling dreams and nightmares, symptoms of anxiety and not wanting to discuss or be reminded of the events surrounding the birth, also feeling isolated and hopeless.

The Birth of a child is one of the most intense and emotional experiences in a woman’s life, but, sometimes the best planed births can quickly become an event which sadly anything BUT joy and happiness is felt.

PTSD can have a detrimental effect on the mother and infant bond, causing distress to both mother and child, early intervention is vital, and we are so lucky that the dedicated midwives and health professionals who are involved in the care of an expectant, or new mother are key for this early diagnosis to take place.

One study showed that 45% of women experienced traumatic childbirth and up to 4.6% of women developed PTSD. There are many reasons for a traumatic childbirth, an emergency C section, intervention during labour, prolonged labour and injuries suffered during birth are just a few of the many reasons this can occur.

My own personal experience was not a traumatic birth, but the traumatic events that followed directly after and as a direct result of the birth.

Those events have, and still do impact on my everyday life.

I was told repeatedly by midwives and consultants how lucky I was, lucky to have survived and lucky to have had a quick-thinking midwife. Lucky — lucky was a word I became used to hearing, over the days weeks and months following the birth of my daughter.

But lucky was the last thing I was feeling, frightened, traumatised, confused, alone and anxious these were words more fitting to my mindset. In some ways I suppose I was lucky, lucky I had a team of dedicated midwifes who soon became friends and consultants who were caring and understanding. The care I received at hospital and when I eventually returned home, was nothing short of outstanding.

However, how many new mothers and mothers to be will not be lucky?

How many mothers and lone mothers are suffering in silence?

How many husbands, partners, families and friends are trying to support and care for a mother who is traumatised?

Sometimes the birth partner who witnesses the upsetting experience, also takes their own measure of distress and anxiety away from the birth, who is there to support them?

There are many groups and organisations available to support mothers through this very difficult time, but, when you leave the care of the medical professionals, and you are back in the family unit, you begin to worry, worry that you are a failure, worry that you are letting people down, you feel that you can’t ask for help without being negatively judged and you start to feel that no matter where you turn, no one really understands.

How many mothers right now are feeling this way, how many mothers and families are being left to struggle alone? How many children will feel this negative impact, or grow up with strained relationships within the family unit?

Each local health board across Wales offers varying levels of support for mothers and families who are in need of mental health support. Access to these services requires referral through GP or health visitors.

Some mothers are unfortunately wrongly diagnosed with post-natal depression, we need to make sure that our GPs, midwives and health visitors are supplied with the tools and training they need to best care for those mothers who are most vulnerable at a time in their lives that they should feel safe, content and cared for.

With that said I welcome the new mother and baby unit in Swansea bay, this is a step in the right direction when it comes to the health and wellbeing of mothers pre and post birth, until now mothers who have needed serious mental health care were admitted to acute mental health facilities without their babies or would need to travel to a specialist unit outside of Wales, we must do more to combat the stigma of postnatal depression and peripartum PTSD, we must ensure mothers have confidence to confide in our fantastic health care professionals. I believe that the mother and baby unit in Swansea Bay does this and should be replicated across all 7 Welsh health boards.

I want to pay tribute to all maternity staff in Wales, I know the team that cared for me went above and beyond the call of duty.

Whilst we celebrate progress in specialist care in perinatal mental health it is vital, we do more, it is vital we listen better and it is vital that we all work to remove all stigma surrounding any forms of mental health.

I hope mothers who suffer with any form of PTSD take strength in the knowledge that they are not alone, please reach out, ask for help.

Buffy Williams is the Labour MS for Rhondda

The Fabian Society in Wales