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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Due to Childbirth

The Aftermath

Beck, Cheryl Tatano

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Background: Childbirth qualifies as an extreme traumatic stressor that can result in post-traumatic stress disorder. The reported prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder after childbirth ranges from 1.5% to 6%.

Objective: The aim of this phenomenologic study was to describe the essence of mothers' experiences of post-traumatic stress disorder after childbirth.

Methods: The qualitative research design used for this study was descriptive phenomenology. The main recruitment approach was via the Internet through the help of Trauma and Birth Stress, a charitable trust in New Zealand. Purposive sampling was used and resulted in 38 mothers participating from the countries of New Zealand, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The participants were asked to describe their experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder after childbirth. Their stories were analyzed using Colaizzi's method of data analysis.

Results: Mothers with post-traumatic stress disorder attributable to childbirth struggle to survive each day while battling terrifying nightmares and flashbacks of the birth, anger, anxiety, depression, and painful isolation from the world of motherhood.

Conclusions: This glimpse into the lives of mothers with post-traumatic stress disorder attributable to childbirth provides an impetus to increase research efforts in this neglected area.

Cheryl Tatano Beck, DNSc, CNM, FAAN, is Professor of Nursing, University of Connecticut School of Nursing, Storrs, Connecticut.

Accepted for publication December 15, 2003.

The author thanks the Chairperson of Trauma and Birth Stress, Sue Watson, for her invaluable help and never-ending support. The author also thanks the four mothers and one father who thoughtfully reviewed the final version of the manuscript. Most importantly, the author thanks the unselfish mothers who courageously shared their painful stories in the hopes of helping other women to avoid PTSD attributable to childbirth.

Corresponding author: Cheryl Tatano Beck, DNSc, CNM, FAAN, University of Connecticut School of Nursing, 231 Glenbrook Road, Storrs, CT 06269-2026 (e-mail:Cheryl.beck@uconn.edu).

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.