Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Margaret Moloney

Second Advisor

Dr. Cecelia Grindel

Third Advisor

Dr. Shannon Self-Brown






Postpartum Depression (PPD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth range from 10% to 40% (Beck, 2008a) and 1 to 6% respectively (Ayers 2007; Joseph & Bailham, 2003). These disorders have detrimental effects on the maternal infant dyad and significant implications for women’s future birth choices, child development, and spousal relationships. Although PPD is widely recognized, PTSD, specifically the overlap of depressive symptoms with posttraumatic symptoms, following childbirth has not been as widely investigated. The purpose of this interpretive phenomenological study was to explore the meaning of traumatic childbirth in order to expand the current body of knowledge and gain a deeper understanding of the lived experience of traumatic childbirth.

Phenomenology was used to describe the experiences of 20 mothers who reported a traumatic childbirth event. Participants ranged from 24 to 61 years of age at the time of the interviews. Audiotaped, in-depth interviews were conducted for the study. Data analysis was accomplished through the hermeneutic process and following the methodology of van Manen (1990). Three patterns and 10 themes were identified: 1) “Never Being the Same” which had 4 themes of ‘Knowing”, “Losing Control”, “Bearing the Pain”, and “Being Afraid”; 2) “Making a Difference” which had 3 themes of “Knowing What They Are Doing”, “Unnerving to Them”, and “Sharing All That With Me” and 3) “Getting to the Other Side” which included “Praying”, “Being Angry” and “Looking Back”. These patterns and themes defined the meaning of traumatic childbirth for these participants traumatic birth experience.

The first pattern highlighted the life changing experience of trauma during childbirth recognizing that bad things can happen to people. The second pattern focused on the important roles of healthcare providers, spouses, family and friends when a mother experiences a traumatic childbirth event. Finally, the third pattern revealed women’s reflection of and resolution with the traumatic childbirth event. The implications of this study included recommendations for education, research, and practice. The study emphasized the need for collaboration among healthcare providers and long term follow-up care for women experiencing a traumatic childbirth.


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