Having a baby is one of the most pivotal moments of your life. Of all the major life experiences, that probably tops the list. Whether it was a baby you struggled for a decade to conceive or an unplanned pregnancy — or somewhere in between — you’re forever changed by the process of being pregnant and giving birth to another human being.
Regardless of the circumstances around your pregnancy, nearly every pregnant person wants to have a safe birth experience and a healthy baby. And most do.
A birth defect is different from a birth injury, however. A birth injury affects about 7 of every 100,000 babies, according to the National Healthcare Quality Report, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
A birth defect results from your child’s DNA. It’s a genetic condition that cannot be prevented by the parent or doctor, but sometimes it can be diagnosed and treated before birth.
A birth injury is when the parent or baby is injured during the process of pregnancy or birth because of the doctor’s action (or inaction).
There are also injuries that happen to the pregnant person, not the baby.
What is perineal trauma?
Perineal trauma is any damage to the anatomy between the vagina and the anus that occurs during the birth of a baby.
This usually happens when the baby’s head is too large for the vagina to stretch around or if the head is a normal size but the vagina doesn’t stretch easily enough and it tears or ruptures as the baby’s head passes through.
Some tears only involve the skin and heal on their own in a few weeks. Others are more extensive and require treatment.
The invisible trauma of a birth injury
The discovery that your baby has been injured during pregnancy, labor, or delivery is devastating. As a parent, your focus in those first few days after birth is probably seeking answers and exploring options for treatment in order to provide your baby with the best possible outcome and the fewest long-term effects possible.
But what about you?
The physical trauma might have happened to your baby, but a birth injury traumatizes parents, too.
Studies about psychological birth trauma (PBT)
Psychological birth trauma (also known as traumatic childbirth, or TB) is when the person giving birth suffers distress that’s so extreme it leaves them with a prolonged psychological or physical effect.
For many of these people, this results in feeling out of control, depressed, anxious, or experiencing a range of PTSD-related issues.
In a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it was found that a traumatic birth can:
- Harm family relationships
- Cause the parent to stop breastfeeding
- Result in the children’s emotional, cognitive, and behavioral disorders
- Cause the individual to decide not to have more children
- Result in strain to the parent/child bond, including either overprotective/anxious bonds or avoidant/rejecting bonds
What is postpartum depression (PPD)?
It’s important to note that trauma from a birth injury is different from postpartum depression.
It’s common for a new parent to experience what’s known as “baby blues”, which are mood swings, anxiety, and other emotional effects that can last up to 2 weeks following the birth.
Some people experience severe and longer-lasting depression after giving birth. Symptoms of PPD include depressed moods, excessive crying, difficulty bonding with your baby, fatigue or loss of energy, irritability and anger, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, anxiety and panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, thoughts of harming your baby, or other strong emotions that can last for many months.
PPD is caused by hormonal changes and other emotional issues related to pregnancy and birth.
If you believe you are suffering from postpartum depression, please contact your physician right away for resources. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours at (800) 273-8255.
The MASIC Foundation is a U.K. nonprofit organization that supports individuals who suffered serious injuries during childbirth.
The foundation conducted a study of 325 people who said that they had experienced severe perineal trauma during birth. The findings suggest that these traumatic births can leave people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental anguish that affects their lives and their relationships — including with their baby.
Among the survey’s findings:
- 85% of those severely injured said it damaged their relationship with their child. Of those, 14% believe the harm is permanent.
- 69% said the impact was both physical and emotional.
- 34% believe their child is the cause of their injury.
- 31% said they believe their child would be better off without them.
- 29% said it affected their ability to breastfeed, and 18% said it caused them to stop sooner than they planned.
Another survey found that 78% of respondents said they have traumatic memories of birth and 52% felt embarrassed by their injury symptoms.
As a result, she could not sit down or leave her home for about a year. The injury left her with permanent damages that include toilet urgency and bathroom accidents. She must carry pads, wipes, Imodium, and extra underwear with her at all times. She also was diagnosed with PTSD. She dreads her child’s birthday each year because it reminds her of the trauma she endured.
The Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) journal published a report finding that some people who experience birth trauma might experience flashbacks while having sex. Although they might be emotionally close to their partner, they are so traumatized by the experience that the idea of becoming pregnant and going through delivery again can restrain them from being sexually intimate.
People who have suffered birth trauma often have feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror. They commonly report experiencing these and other symptoms, including:
- Recurring and overwhelming memories
- Nightmares about the birth
- Distress, anxiety, panic
- Avoidance of anything related to the trauma
Is a perineal injury medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice is when a doctor, hospital, or other medical provider fails to provide the appropriate standard of care, which is the reasonable approach, practice, or procedure for a particular medical situation.
This is determined by what is commonly accepted in the local medical community.
An injured patient can claim that:
- The provider didn’t use their best judgment in determining treatment or care.
- The provider failed to use reasonable care and diligence to apply their knowledge and skill to the patient’s treatment.
Sometimes a doctor is wrong, but a malpractice claim arises only if the doctor was negligent.
Perineal tearing is not uncommon for a vaginal delivery. In some cases, a doctor will decide to perform an episiotomy, or a surgical cut, to help expedite the delivery. It can sometimes be used as a technique to control the amount of tearing.
However, if natural tearing isn’t diagnosed or treated correctly, or if the episiotomy is performed incorrectly, it can result in serious and long-term physical issues.
- Pain during urination
- Chronic pain and soreness
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Rectovaginal fistula, or an abnormal connection between the rectum and the vagina
You could be the victim of medical malpractice if your physician didn’t take the appropriate steps to prevent the degree of tearing you experienced, if you were not correctly diagnosed, or if they did not provide the appropriate treatment for your tear.
Resources for a birth injury trauma
Speak with your doctor about how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing, and don’t be shy, embarrassed, or ashamed about telling the full story. It’s important to share the feelings or symptoms you’re having so that the doctor can properly assess your condition.
However, if you believe that your trauma was caused by malpractice — or that the doctor made a mistake — you might need to get an opinion from another physician.
Here are a few other resources to help you through recovering from a traumatic birth:
You can also seek local resources for PTSD survivors or speak with a therapist or counselor in your community.
Consult a birth injury lawyer
We often construe birth injuries as happening to a baby, but the pregnant mother can be injured, too. The psychological trauma that results from physical injury is just as harmful. If your psychological effects are from parent birth trauma that could be the result of malpractice, there are ways to recover from the financial burden.
If you’re the victim of medical malpractice, know that you’re not alone.