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Birth Trauma: In the Eye of the Beholder

Beck, Cheryl Tatano


Background The reported prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder after childbirth ranges from 1.5% to 6%.

Objective To describe the meaning of women’s birth trauma experiences.

Methods Descriptive phenomenology was the qualitative research design used to investigate mothers’ experiences of traumatic births. Women were recruited through the Internet, primarily through Trauma and Birth Stress (TABS), a charitable trust located in New Zealand. The purposive sample consisted of 40 mothers: 23 in New Zealand, 8 in the United States, 6 in Australia, and 3 in the United Kingdom. Each woman was asked to describe the experience of her traumatic birth and to send it over the Internet to the researcher. Colaizzi’s method was used to analyze the 40 mothers’ stories.

Results Four themes emerged that described the essence of women’s experiences of birth trauma: To care for me: Was that too much too ask? To communicate with me: Why was this neglected? To provide safe care: You betrayed my trust and I felt powerless, and The end justifies the means: At whose expense? At what price?

Conclusions Birth trauma lies in the eye of the beholder. Mothers perceived that their traumatic births often were viewed as routine by clinicians.

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

Accepted for publication September 18, 2003.

The author thanks Sue Watson, the Chairperson of Trauma and Birth Stress (TABS), a charitable trust in New Zealand, for her unwavering support and enthusiastic assistance with this research project. Without her help, this research study would never have come to fruition. To all the courageous women who shared their most personal and powerful stories of birth trauma, the author is forever indebted.

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

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.