The Perfect Storm of Trauma: The experiences of women who have experienced birth trauma and subsequently accessed residential parenting services in Australia

Women Birth. 2018 Feb;31(1):17-24. doi: 10.1016/j.wombi.2017.06.007. Epub 2017 Jun 27.


Background: There appears to be a chasm between idealised motherhood and reality, and for women who experience birth trauma this can be more extreme and impact on mental health. Australia is unique in providing residential parenting services to support women with parenting needs such as sleep or feeding difficulties. Women who attend residential parenting services have experienced higher rates of intervention in birth and poor perinatal mental health but it is unknown how birth trauma may impact on early parenting.

Aims and objectives: This study aims to explore the early parenting experiences of women who have accessed residential parenting services in Australia and consider their birth was traumatic.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with eight women across Australia who had experienced birth trauma and accessed residential parenting services in the early parenting period. These interviews were conducted both face to face and over the telephone. The data was analysed using thematic analysis.

Findings: One overarching theme was identified: "The Perfect Storm of Trauma" which identified that the participants in this study who accessed residential parenting services were more likely to have entered pregnancy with pre-existing vulnerabilities, and experienced a culmination of traumatic events during labour, birth, and in the early parenting period. Four subthemes were identified: "Bringing Baggage to Birth", "Trauma through a Thousand Cuts", "Thrown into the Pressure Cooker", and "Trying to work it all out".

Conclusion: How women are cared for during their labour, birth and postnatal period impacts on how they manage early parenthood. Support is crucial for women, including practical parenting support, and emotional support by health professionals and peers.

Keywords: Birth trauma; Parenting; Postnatal care; Qualitative; Residential parenting service.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric / psychology*
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Middle Aged
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Parturition / psychology*
  • Postnatal Care / organization & administration*
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology*