In learning my parent’s origins stories (they were both adoptees), I have learned a lot about trauma. So much so that I can now recognize it in my own self. Some thoughts from Psychology Today – LINK>How a Legacy of Trauma Affects Parent-Child Relationships.
In the 1998 Adverse Childhood Events study, in a sample of approx 10,000 individuals, over half of all the people surveyed experienced at least one traumatic childhood event, and one-quarter experienced multiple. Experiencing these traumatic childhood events increased the risk for mental and physical health problems. The more traumatic the events, the higher the likelihood of poor outcomes as an adult. These poor outcomes include substance abuse, depression, risky sexual behavior, obesity, heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and others.
Childhood trauma can be transmitted across generations. When a mother experiences childhood trauma, that can go on to influence her bond with her own child. In effect, the trauma reaches forward to disrupt the normal back-and-forth engagement of mothers with their newborns. Having more adverse childhood events can predict a mother’s stress and mental health before she delivers. Women with more childhood trauma had more depression (before childbirth), more family stress, more daily hassles, more economic hardships, and experienced more negative life events. Stress and depression before childbirth are associated with postpartum depression having worse symptoms. In effect, childhood trauma sets mothers up to fail. They are in a worse situation when they are about to have a child, and that appears to make their postpartum depression worse.
This is how childhood trauma is passed forward to the next generation –
- A woman experiences trauma as a child.
- This trauma leads the woman to experience more stress and depression and to be at risk for other health problems.
- When this woman becomes pregnant, these stressors affect how she will respond to childbirth.
- Because she has more stress, the woman is more likely to experience postpartum depression.
- This postpartum depression disrupts the bond she is trying to form with her child. She is less able to engage fully and positively with her child.
- The poorer interaction and bonding end up harming both mother and child. The child is more likely to be stressed and have behavioral problems, and the mother is more likely to be depressed.
Evidence shows is that maternal mental health is not something that’s isolated from the rest of the family. It’s something that influences the entire family system, including the bond formed between mother and child. Healing needs to occur.