A Both Lives perspective promotes an ethos of life, seeking to create a better story around pregnancy for women and their unborn children. This includes speaking to government and society about the related life circumstances that can lead women to fear pregnancy or birth and consider abortion. Both Lives welcomes the recent inquiry by MPs into the issues of birth trauma, as it marks a significant step forward in improving maternal care. We believe that effective and continued support through and after pregnancy enables women to choose life and not abortion.

The Inquiry:

Birth trauma is a multifaceted issue encompassing the physical, emotional, and psychological distress experienced by mothers (and their partners) and babies during childbirth. It can occur due to various factors, including prolonged labour, medical interventions such as forceps or vacuum extraction, emergency caesarean sections, or complications during delivery. Birth trauma is a subject often shrouded in silence and misconception and is often overlooked or dismissed. 

On 9 January 2024, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on birth trauma in the UK, initiated an inquiry to explore traumatic births and offer policy solutions. Studies indicate that 4 – 5% of UK women develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after childbirth, affecting 25,000 – 30,000 annually, with as many as one in three experiencing trauma. Led by Theo Clarke MP (chair) and Rosie Duffield MP (co-chair), the cross-party inquiry seeks to comprehend women’s traumatic birth experiences. Drawing from both written and oral evidence, the inquiry will craft a policy report containing practical recommendations for the UK government scheduled for release in April 2024.

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Birth Trauma

The Inquiry defines birth trauma as, any experience related to pregnancy, birth or the immediate postnatal period that left you feeling out of control, threatened, powerless or terrified and this then had a lasting impact on you mentally and/​or physically, distressed you and affected your ability to lead a normal life.’ [1]

For mothers, birth trauma can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and depression. These symptoms can negatively impact the mother’s ability to bond with her baby. Babies born to mothers who have experienced birth trauma may also suffer adverse effects, exhibiting signs of distress, such as difficulty breastfeeding, irritability, and sleep disturbances. Furthermore, the stress hormones released during traumatic births can impact the baby’s development. [2]

"Birth trauma is a subject often shrouded in silence and misconception and is often overlooked or dismissed."

Partners of women who have experienced birth trauma may also struggle to cope with the aftermath. Witnessing their loved one in distress during childbirth can be traumatic for partners, affecting their own mental and emotional wellbeing. Additionally, partners may feel helpless or inadequate in supporting the mother through her recovery, leading to feelings of frustration or guilt. According to the Birth Trauma Associate, approximately 1% of fathers or partners are estimated to experience PTSD after witnessing their loved one endure a traumatic birth. [3]

Both Lives

Our starting point in every pregnancy is to emphasise that both lives always matter. This profoundly simple core value helps us respond to and speak about difficult and contentious issues such as birth trauma. We are pro-both lives in every pregnancy: pro the woman and her unborn baby. So, we advocate and work to build a more caring society that values the lives and health of women and unborn children and pursues the wellbeing of both.

Being pro-both (pro-women and pro-life) goes beyond standing up for both lives during the nine months of pregnancy, because being pro-both is so much more than being anti-abortion. It means calling for world-leading support, services and legislation that seeks to protect the lives and health of both women and unborn children (pre and post birth).

One of the key areas of interest of the inquiry is for the government to explore how birth trauma impacts a woman’s decision about whether or not to have children in the future. According to a study conducted by Beck and Watson in 2010, Women who have had a traumatic birth experience report fewer subsequent children and a longer length of time before their second baby.’ [4] Apprehensions surrounding a lack of support and a fear of history repeating itself will inevitably push women towards feeling like abortion is their only option. Mother and baby are presented in a tug of war where only one can win’ at the expense of the other.

The woman and child remain connected in our thinking – reflecting the biological and social reality. This is an inclusive, creative and compassionate way of thinking about progress and equality. It does not deny the gravity of birth trauma. Instead, it stands in solidarity alongside women and unborn children in these moments, offering a more humane vision of what it means to be and live together.


"Our starting point in every pregnancy is to emphasise that both lives always matter. This profoundly simple core value helps us respond to and speak about difficult and contentious issues such as birth trauma."

Your story matters

Stories really do matter and the inquiry guidance explicitly places personal stories at the heart of it. Through stories, we gain insight into diverse lives, cultures, and struggles, fostering empathy and breaking down barriers. No two stories of birth trauma will be exactly the same because every woman and unborn baby is unique, which is why every story is so necessary and needed. The submission deadline for personal anecdotes of birth trauma has passed but if you have a story of birth trauma that you would like to share with us then please email us at stand@​bothlives.​co.​uk

What’s next?

The inquiry will report in April 2024, and we will be issuing a response in due course.

Support

The inquiry guidance provides a list of organisations offering emotional and practical support to those impacted by birth trauma.

Both Lives is not a direct service provider when it comes to pregnancy crisis care. However, we can signpost to organisations that have given their permission. The counselling services referred to offer accredited, non-directive counselling. You can find a list of service providers in Northern Ireland here.

Sources

[1] https://​www​.theo​-clarke​.org​.uk…

[2] https://​www​.ncbi​.nlm​.nih​.gov/p…

[3] https://www.birthtraumaassocia…

[4] Beck CT, Watson S. Subsequent childbirth after a previous traumatic birth. Nurs Res. 2010 Jul-Aug;59(4):241 – 9. doi: 10.1097/NNR.0b013e3181e501fd. PMID: 20585221.