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Abuse-related post-traumatic stress during the childbearing year


  • Julia S. Seng PhD CNM,

  • Lisa Kane Low PhD CNM FACNM,

  • Kathleen J. H. Sparbel MS FNP,

  • Cheryl Killion PhD RN

Julia Seng,
School of Nursing,
University of Michigan,
400 N. Ingalls,
Ann Arbor,
MI 48109-0482,


Background.  Women with abuse-related post-traumatic stress who are pregnant experience symptoms that nurses and midwives may not recognize or know how to respond to.

Aim.  The purpose of this article is to increase familiarity with the post-traumatic stress disorder diagnostic framework by illustrating the symptom categories and associated features with women's descriptions of the symptoms from qualitative interviews.

Methods.  A secondary analysis was performed with data from a qualitative interview study of the maternity care experiences of 15 American women who had abuse-related post-traumatic stress during pregnancy. Content analysis was used to extract all participant statements describing how post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and associated features manifested in pregnancy. These were then juxtaposed with the post-traumatic stress disorder diagnostic framework.

Results.  Participants’ interviews included a range of descriptions of the intrusive re-experiencing, avoidance and numbing, and hyperarousal core symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as associated psychological features such as somatization, dissociation and interpersonal sensitivity, and associated behavioural features such as substance abuse, disordered eating, high-risk sexual behaviours, suicidality, and revictimization.

Conclusions.  Limitations of this study include that it is a secondary analysis, using a small North American sample, and focusing only on abuse-related post-traumatic stress disorder. Descriptive information from this qualitative study may bridge the gaps between psychiatric technical language, women's subjective experiences, and clinicians’ perceptions of a woman's post-traumatic stress reactions.

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