Birth trauma: in the eye of the beholder

Nurs Res. 2004 Jan-Feb;53(1):28-35. doi: 10.1097/00006199-200401000-00005.


Background: The reported prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder after childbirth ranges from 1.5% to 6%.

Objective: To describe the meaning of women's birth trauma experiences.

Methods: Descriptive phenomenology was the qualitative research design used to investigate mothers' experiences of traumatic births. Women were recruited through the Internet, primarily through Trauma and Birth Stress (TABS), a charitable trust located in New Zealand. The purposive sample consisted of 40 mothers: 23 in New Zealand, 8 in the United States, 6 in Australia, and 3 in the United Kingdom. Each woman was asked to describe the experience of her traumatic birth and to send it over the Internet to the researcher. Colaizzi's method was used to analyze the 40 mothers' stories.

Results: Four themes emerged that described the essence of women's experiences of birth trauma: To care for me: Was that too much too ask? To communicate with me: Why was this neglected? To provide safe care: You betrayed my trust and I felt powerless, and The end justifies the means: At whose expense? At what price?

Conclusions: Birth trauma lies in the eye of the beholder. Mothers perceived that their traumatic births often were viewed as routine by clinicians.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health* / ethnology
  • Australia
  • Communication
  • Delivery, Obstetric / adverse effects
  • Delivery, Obstetric / psychology*
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • New Zealand
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Parturition / ethnology
  • Parturition / psychology*
  • Power, Psychological
  • Pregnancy
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / ethnology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Trust
  • United Kingdom
  • United States