01 Jul What happens to the brain during a traumatic birth? And how understanding this can lead to a recovery from PTSD symptoms.
Picture the scene; a first time mum and her partner have been in hospital for 48 hours for an induction of labour. Progress has been slow and painful, the change over of new and unfamiliar staff regular, with the level of intervention increasing each time. Our mum is tethered to a continuous fetal monitor, restricting her movement and potential for comfort. An epidural has been requested but there are other more pressing emergencies that require his attention ahead of her.
She hasn’t slept for days by this point and her eyes are trained on the CFM. Her midwife is concerned about the reading and new midwives keep entering the room for a second opinion on whether a monitor needs to be attached to top of the babies head (via mums vagina) to ascertain a better, more reliable reading of the baby’s level of distress. Mum agrees in a dull tone to the latest transgressive procedure as her worried partner tries to reassure her.
This mother’s mind is racing with doubts and fears for her safety, her physical integrity and her survival and maybe even her baby’s safety and survival. Perhaps she is not sure how much more she can take, or when it will be over, she feels desperate and hopeless. This situation is one of pure flight or flight for the brain. The body is flooded with adrenalin hormones, the heart rate is raised, muscles are rigid with tension ready for action.
Except action cannot be taken. She cannot fight or fly. In order to cope with the intolerable situation her mind may dissociate and simply go elsewhere. It is because of this natural resource that sometimes there are details or whole chunks of time missing in the memory of a birth trauma.
In normal circumstances the event would be processed in the brain by the hippocampus before being transferred to the neo cortex. Maybe it’s the length of the trauma sustained, or the fact that mums can’t escape, fight or fly during their births but for a proportion of mums their amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for all of our emotional responses including fear) will become encoded with the trauma and it will be unable to pass to the hippocampus for normal processing.
Once the event is stuck in the amygdala it is continually being reactivated by anything that is associated to the initial event. This is because the amygdala is a very primitive part of the brain concerned with survival and so aims to pattern match threat. So in primitive times if I was attacked by a dog the amygdala would pattern match and trigger a fight or flight response thereafter for any 4 legged animal of the same size. In the case of a traumatised mum these triggers could be the hospital, midwifes, doctors, needles, being penetrated, or even the baby. So it is the pattern matching amygdala that is responsible for re-experiencing of aspects of the trauma over and over.
The Rewind technique (some times called fast phobia cure or the VK technique) can provide sufferers with complete relief from the symptoms of PTSD. By using a person’s natural resource to relax, utilise their imagination and remember their traumatic birth in a certain way the amygdala is able to release the memory for normal processing. It’s an incredibly effective treatment for many people and provides mums who have been struggling with PTSD symptoms with a window of opportunity to recover mentally and emotionally from their birth experience.
The benefit of this particular treatment is that it involves no re-telling of the event. The sufferer only needs to remember themselves what happened.
If you would like to know more about the treatment or read other mums accounts of Rewind then go to https://www.traumaticbirthrecovery.com or call Alex Heath on 07739 849731.