Can Having a Baby Give You Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Flashbacks, Nightmares, Crippling Depression
Byline: by Eimear O'Hagan
SIXTEEN months have passed since Kelly Barrett gave birth to her second son, Harry. Yet still she struggles to discuss his entry into the world. As she recalls the terrifying story of his birth, tears spring to her eyes.
'I don't think I'll ever be able to forget it,' says Kelly, 28. 'I wish I could wipe my memory clean, but I can't.'
Her first son Daniel, now three, was born after a smooth nine-hour labour with no pain relief, so Kelly, from Ashford, Kent, had been looking forward to the birth of her second child in May last year.
But once his head had been delivered, Harry -- who weighed 10lb 15oz -- became stuck, causing his heart rate to drop.
'The labour was really fast and intense,' says Kelly, a full-time mum.
'Twenty minutes after I arrived at hospital, the room was full of people shouting and machines buzzing.
A midwife even started hitting my stomach to dislodge the baby. I'd had no pain relief and was screaming in agony.
'Somehow I pushed Harry out -- he was limp and blue after the cord became wrapped around his neck.
The last thing I saw was a midwife cradling my baby, racing from the room with a grim expression on her face. The room went deathly quiet as the door slammed behind her.'
Kelly shouted for her husband Dave, 30, a secondary school teacher, to go with their son, then collapsed on to the bed shaking.
She was haemorrhaging from the tearing she'd suffered. As doctors battled to stop the bleeding, she became convinced Harry was dead.
'It was just five minutes before Dave returned to say Harry was fine, but they were the longest of my life,' she says.
While most new mothers quickly shut out any negative memories of childbirth as they bond with their baby, Kelly has struggled to move on from that traumatic day.
She's suffered from debilitating flashbacks, nightmares and depression, and been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition more commonly associated with survivors of wars, terrorist attacks and major disasters.
And while Kelly's case might sound extreme, it's far from unique.
A study carried out at Tel Aviv University revealed this month that one in three women who have given birth experience symptoms of PTSD, from heart palpitations and insomnia to a phobia of giving birth again.
Maureen Treadwell, co-founder of the Birth Trauma Association, is in no doubt that these figures are reflected in the UK.
'We use the term "birth trauma", which includes women who may not meet the strict clinical criteria for PTSD, but who have some symptoms of the disorder,' she says.
'And we estimate that 30 per cent of mothers are affected, with around 10,000 per year developing full-blown PTSD and a further 200,000 suffering some of the symptoms. The repercussions can be devastating.' So can childbirth really leave mental scars like those of people who have lived through wars?
KELLY certainly thinks so. Within a week of giving birth, she suffered flashbacks.
'The images were so vivid and could hit me at any moment. It was almost impossible to hold it Ftogether,' she says. 'At night I dreamed Harry had died, which was horrendous, making me dread going to sleep.
'I didn't tell anyone how I was feeling because I thought I should be able to just move on, but I couldn't stop replaying the birth in my mind. I didn't want anyone to think I couldn't cope as a mum.' However, four months later, Kelly broke down during a routine check-up and was diagnosed with PTSD and post-natal depression. She was sent to trauma counselling.
'I felt a huge sense of relief that I'd been taken seriously, and that I wasn't just a bad mum,' she says.
'I was put on antidepressants for a couple of months. I talked through the birth, the fears and anxiety, which was painful but really helped. …