Pregnancy & Traumatic Stress
Helping Survivor Moms overcome abuse and raise resilient children
One in every five new mothers-to-be has a history of childhood abuse. And these “Survivor Moms” have a 12-fold risk of having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in pregnancy, which can lead to additional pregnancy problems and negatively affect:
- Infant birth weight
- Prenatal and postpartum depression
- Difficulty quitting smoking
- Labor experiences
- Concerns about parenting
- Mother-infant bonding
But these women also have a lot to teach us. In narrative studies, University of Michigan researchers Julia Seng and Mickey Sperlich learned that women with childhood abuse histories have good ideas about what would help them navigate the childbearing year. Seng and Sperlich combined these stories with their research in the award-winning book first-authored by Sperlich, “Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering, and Healing after Sexual Abuse.”
“People have been looking at anxiety and depression in pregnancy for the last decade, but we now know that trauma is an antecedent to a lot of the mental health problems of pregnancy—including posttraumtic stress disorder”
– U-M Nursing associate professor Julia Seng, co-author, Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse
A chance to do it better
Perinatal professionals know that a new mother looks to her own childhood for a parenting template and that having a mother who was abused puts a child at increased risk for abuse. They have seen how important mother-child-bonding in the first few months of life is to building a foundation for mental health. But nobody had yet created an intervention designed to support abuse survivors with PTSD during pregnancy.
So, following up on an NIH-funded clinical and epidemiological study, Sperlich and Seng developed and pilot tested a new prenatal education program known as “The Survivor Moms’ Companion.” CARSS is helping to extend the “Survivor Moms’ Companion” (SMC) program beyond the pilot stage.
The program equips expectant mothers with childbirth education designed to tend to their needs as both moms-to-be and abuse survivors. They work with a tutor and progress through a10-module workbook designed to help them:
- Plan their maternity care
- Prepare for labor and breastfeeding
- Plan for early parenting and breaking the cycle of family abuse
- Recognize and manage the impacts of their own abuse histories
The project will expand the scope of the original Survivor Moms’ Companion with the intent of making the program both available and accessible, worldwide. Next Steps include:
- A website that allows women to “try on” the intervention.
- Mp3 version
- Dads’ and Survivor Dads’ modules
- Module for women traumatized by refugee or war zone experiences.