When parents learn of a birth injury, their immediate thoughts and attention go to the well-being of their child. This often causes them to ignore their feelings, and they may suffer in silence with depression, anxiety and other related mental health concerns due to birth injury trauma.
Learning that your child has suffered a birth injury is heart-wrenching. And the initial reaction of many parents is to pour all of their attention into their child. For example, parents will wonder what their child’s difficulties may be immediately and later on in life, or what therapies and treatments they will need to undergo.
While the desire to help your child is healthy, especially after an injury that you may feel responsible for, it’s still important for parents to care for themselves and their partners. If not, the child’s mother or father may ignore their symptoms of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or other mood disorders. These disorders can make an already stressful situation even harder.
Birth Injury Trauma in Parents
Birth injuries are emotionally and psychologically traumatic for parents. This trauma can cause postpartum depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disorders in both parents. Because fathers tend to experience a delay in these symptoms, their mental health care may be more likely to slip through the cracks than mothers.
It’s important to remember that just because a birth injury triggers a postnatal disorder, does not mean either parent is weak. You are still a good parent, and with some help from your health care team, you will be able to meet your needs and those of your child and partner.
Mental Health Concerns in Mothers After Birth Injury
After learning of a birth injury, mothers may immediately blame themselves and feel a sense of shame, guilt and sadness. It’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions, including anger and helplessness after birth injury trauma. However, sometimes these emotions can morph into a variety of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and sometimes even psychosis.
The way mothers respond to these disorders impacts themselves, their children and their spouse differently:
- Herself: After a traumatic birth experience, a mother may question every decision she makes. She may struggle to follow her health care providers’ advice, and she may isolate herself from others, including friends and family.
- Her Child: Mental health disorders can impact her relationship with her child. She might feel her bond with her child is not as close as she thinks it should be, and she may become afraid of hurting her baby. Second-guessing whether or not she’s doing a good job as a mother may become a pattern.
- Her Partner: If the mother is suffering from a postpartum disorder like PTSD it often puts a negative strain on her relationship with her husband or partner—especially if she doesn’t feel understood or heard by her partner when it comes to sexual activities.
Mental Health Concerns in Fathers After Birth Injury
Fathers also suffer from mental health issues. Traumatic birth experiences can trigger depression, anxiety, PTSD and adjustment disorder in fathers. This can happen when the father witnesses the traumatic incident but feels powerless to help, uninformed about the process and invisible.
Fathers tend to suffer in silence because they are concerned about their child’s well-being and the health of the child’s mother. In fact, one of the strongest predictors of whether or not a father will suffer from postnatal mental health problems is if the mother has developed mental health issues herself.
If the mother has postpartum depression, the likelihood that the father will have it too increases to 24-50%. Just as these disorders impact the mother, postpartum depression, anxiety and PTSD can affect the father’s ability to cope with daily life or connect with their child and partner as well.
Seeking Support for Birth Injury Trauma
Mental health concerns following a birth injury trauma aren’t very well understood and it’s possible that it’s not getting the attention it needs. Without adequate mental health interventions, parents can suffer, which can also impact the health of the child. Parents who have experienced birth injury trauma must seek psychotherapeutic support.
Birth injuries due to medical negligence carry legal compensation options, which can ensure parents receive compensation not only for their child’s treatments but for their own suffering and hardship as well. For more information on your legal options, contact the Birth Injury Justice Center today.