The day my eldest child arrived into this world was supposed to be the best day of my life. Instead, I almost died giving birth to him and almost 11 years on, the memories of that day still haunt me.

Whilst pregnancy and birth come with a great deal of uncertainty, you usually trust that both you and your baby will be in safe hands and everything will be OK. However, the reality is that for over 30,000 women in the UK every year, their birth experience is far from OK. In fact, it is the root cause of their severe trauma and subsequent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amongst other complications.

I have a unique perspective as I am both a doctor who looks after women on their perinatal and postnatal journeys, and a woman who had a very traumatic birth.

The training I had received as a medical student and junior doctor did not equip me with the knowledge or experience of managing women with birth trauma. I remember witnessing some really distressing births during my obstetric rotations, but I was never given any insight into what happened to those women afterwards. Were they followed up? Were they supported in their healing journey? Were they OK?

It felt like a conveyor belt system with overstretched staff, who were all trying their best, but sometimes it just wasn’t enough. It seems that things haven’t improved much since.

On the day I went into labour in 2013, I had no reason to believe anything would go wrong. I was fit and well with an uncomplicated pregnancy. But the labour was long and took a worrying turn. I was bleeding, the baby’s heart rate began fluctuating dangerously and the pain became unbearable.

When I asked for help, I was informed it was staff changeover time and I had to wait to be seen by a midwife. I’ll never forget the vulnerability, anxiety and fear I felt, because not only did I have the medical knowledge to know that the symptoms I was experiencing were abnormal, but I was also panicking as a mother.

My husband tried to get help and eventually another midwife came in, but there were communication issues as English was not her first language. I was assessed, and I could see the panic in her face as she buzzed for help. A male locum doctor arrived – someone I was not familiar with – and from then on, everything went from bad to worse.

My baby was born needing paediatric intervention and I ended up in theatre, having lost a significant amount of blood. I required urgent surgery and was suffering from anaphylaxis and sepsis. I was unconscious and ended up intubated in intensive care, only to wake up days later attached to various machines, away from my baby and with a mess of a body.

The word “trauma” feels like an understatement. I was discharged from hospital a week later with no debrief, no explanation and no follow up. I was broken. I suffered severe postnatal depression and PTSD, for which I required antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy. Even now when I remember that day, the tears just flow.

I have spent the last 11 years trying to ensure that every one of my new mum patients gets the care and support she needs. Whilst most births are not traumatic, there are many women (and their partners) who experience birth trauma and we still don’t have the mechanisms, resources and staff to help support these families.

It is why this week, when the Birth Trauma Inquiry Report was published – the first parliamentary report of its kind – I felt a glimmer of hope that finally, serious action was being called for to address the absence of a cohesive national strategy for maternity care.

The main theme in this report is the need to listen to women as they go through pregnancy, acknowledge their concerns and provide support and reassurance that should there be any potential issues, these would be investigated immediately. The report was upsetting to read, not just as someone who has been there, but also as someone who has heard countless patients share their birth trauma experiences over the years.

Birth trauma means overwhelming distress which is linked to childbirth and has caused a negative impact on health. This can be physical or psychological and it is personal to the individual.

Parents who have had stillbirths, premature babies, babies with cerebral palsy secondary to oxygen deprivation during birth, injuries requiring extensive surgery for mum – these are just a few of the types of birth traumas that women can suffer.

It is vital that all staff involved in the maternity services are trained to communicate effectively and compassionately, are meticulous with their record keeping, and most importantly are transparent and accountable for any mistakes that may occur.

This inquiry therefore calls upon the UK government to publish a National Maternity Improvement Strategy which would be led by a new maternity commissioner who will report to the prime minister. This report makes several recommendations including ways to recruit, train and retain more midwives to ensure there are safe levels of staffing in maternity services as well as providing mandatory training on trauma informed care.

It also highlights the need to respect mothers’ choices around giving birth and their access to pain relief. There should be universal access to specialist maternal mental health services across the UK, as well as a mandatory, separate six week post-delivery review with a GP where the mum’s health and well-being is discussed.

I wish this was in place when I was unwell, but it gives me a great sense of hope that maternal care is being recognised. I welcome all the recommendations of this inquiry and I look forward to seeing these come to life as we collectively work to reduce the number of women experiencing traumatic births in the future.

Dr Punam Krishan is an NHS GP, broadcaster and writer

QOSHE - I'm a GP but even I couldn't predict the trauma I would go through giving birth - Dr Punam Krishan
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I'm a GP but even I couldn't predict the trauma I would go through giving birth

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16.05.2024

The day my eldest child arrived into this world was supposed to be the best day of my life. Instead, I almost died giving birth to him and almost 11 years on, the memories of that day still haunt me.

Whilst pregnancy and birth come with a great deal of uncertainty, you usually trust that both you and your baby will be in safe hands and everything will be OK. However, the reality is that for over 30,000 women in the UK every year, their birth experience is far from OK. In fact, it is the root cause of their severe trauma and subsequent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amongst other complications.

I have a unique perspective as I am both a doctor who looks after women on their perinatal and postnatal journeys, and a woman who had a very traumatic birth.

The training I had received as a medical student and junior doctor did not equip me with the knowledge or experience of managing women with birth trauma. I remember witnessing some really distressing births during my obstetric rotations, but I was never given any insight into what happened to those women afterwards. Were they followed up? Were they supported in their healing journey? Were they OK?

It felt like a conveyor belt system with overstretched staff, who were all trying their best, but sometimes it just wasn’t enough. It seems that things haven’t improved much since.

On the day I went into labour in 2013, I had no reason to believe........

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