Mamas on Bedrest: Pregnancy, Labor & Delivery Complications Can Have Longstanding Effects

April 9th, 2012

Every now and then I’ll read something and ask, “What were they thinking?”

Such was the case when I read an article/blog post on FitPregnancy.com. In what I am assuming was an attempt to mitigate fear and worry in pregnant women about to deliver, Marjorie Greenfield, M.D., a professor of OB-GYN at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine was quoted as saying,

“Most ‘complications’ are irrelevant. They have no impact on the health of the mother or the baby.”

I found this statement appalling because many complications have longstanding effects-both physically and emotionally- on mothers and their children. As a woman who had significant intra partum bleeding (I use the word hemorrhage but that isn’t the official notation in my chart) my delivery “complication” had significant effects on me, my daughter (who spent 10 days in the NICU) and my husband who witnesses this traumatic birth.

Pregnancy complications have a significant impact on mamas and this is especially true for mamas on bed rest who have an increased risk of complications during labor and delivery (in addition to their bed rest complications) and who are at increased risk of post partum mood disorders. Mamas experience a wide range of feelings and emotions. Speaking from personal experience, I felt like my body failed me and my daughter because my delivery was so complicated and resulted in my daughter landing in the NICU. I experienced a profound sense of loss. My daughter never stayed in my room with me and I felt robbed of that experience. I hurt. I had delivered via c-section and on top of everything else, my body simply ached.

I felt “wrong” on many levels.  I had a scheduled c-section. I had done a lot of research and saw that many “authorities” extolled the virtues of vaginal birth. Yet because of my reproductive history, I was told my body was unable to deliver vaginally without a significant risk of uterine rupture. My OB, husband and I discussed my options at length and decided on the c-section. After my delivery, I questioned my decision to have a scheduled c-section thinking perhaps if I had delivered vaginally my daughter and I would have fared better. I felt I had let may daughter down and that it was somehow my fault that she ended up in the NICU. I also felt that I had let my husband down. I had a tremendous amount of guilt that stayed with me for a long time.

Amazingly, I didn’t suffer from post partum depression. Amy Przeworski, PhD is an associate professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio who specializes in research of post partum depression and post traumatic stress symptom. She too read the article on FitPregnancy.com and penned a very well delineated response entitled The Relevant Woman, The Psychological Effects of Pregnancy Complications. Her blog post appears on Psychologytoday.com, Don’t Worry Mom,  Coping with Anxiety in Families. She presents 3 important points in why pregnancy and delivery complications are “relevant”.

1.  Labor and delivery complications are not irrelevant. Women who experience labor and delivery complications are at an increased risk for postpartum depression and often experience symptoms such as a sad mood that lasts for as long as two weeks, decreased interest in activities, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, worthlessness or excessive guilt, feeling slowed down or agitated, difficulty concentrating, and even thoughts of suicide.  Women who have experienced labor and delivery complications often report feelings of failure and incompetence as a woman and a mother.  Further, labor and delivery complications can have a real psychological impact on the mother, the mother’s relationship with her significant other, and her relationship with the baby.

2.  Complications don’t just sound scary, they are scary. Labor and delivery complications are traumas and can cause post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, such as emotional numbing, distress at reminders of the trauma, avoidance of thoughts and feeling associated with the trauma, inability to recall aspects of the trauma, decreased interest in activities, feeling detached from others, difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.  Women can dissociate during these events, mentally checking out of them when the terror overwhelms them…The experience is also terrifying for significant others who helplessly watch their wives and girlfriends endure invasive and painful procedures or who fear for the life of their baby. (Which is exactly what happened to my husband!!

3.  Isolation. Women often do not talk about their psychological reactions to the complications, experiencing shame that they have not “gotten over it” and continued feelings of failure as a mother because of their distress. Feelings of isolation and inferiority to other women who had “normal” deliveries are common. Few women who experienced complications are made aware of the high rates of postpartum depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms following labor and delivery complications. This contributes to women’s views that they are alone or that there is something wrong with them for continuing to experience distress after something as common as a C-section.

While I appreciate FitPregnancy.com’s attempt to give mothers reassurance that their labors and delivery are most likely going to progress just fine, this isn’t always the case. Pregnancy complications can have longstanding effects on a mother, her partner and her baby. Mamas need to have support, information about potential post partum depression signs and symptoms and resources quickly at hand to help.

If you had a complicated pregnancy,  here are some resources that may be helpful to you.

Definitions of post partum mood disorders

Helpful Blogs and Websites

Support for Birth Complications

Depression in Dads

2 responses to “Mamas on Bedrest: Pregnancy, Labor & Delivery Complications Can Have Longstanding Effects”

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  2. Darline says:

    can you please give a more direct link to the citatiion? this is information that we’d all love to read and digest.

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