“Are you sleeping?” she asked.
“Yep” I responded.
I was 5 days postpartum, so I mean, I was sleeping as much as a mother with a newborn does. No one bothered to ask about the nightmares that happened when I did close my eyes. Next to being completely numb following my emergency cesarean, my nightmares were the first to appear. I didn’t know they were a symptom of something much larger. I always had nightmares when I was pregnant so when they continued into postpartum, I didn’t think much of it. They never made any sense, just induced intense panic and I would wake up sweating. I’d lay my hand on her chest and feel it rise and fall. I would just lay there.
Postpartum is already an experience of wading through unfamiliar waters. Add in birth trauma and it’s like stepping off the deep end, heavy waves crashing down and then someone tosses you a baby instead of a life raft. For myself, it became a re-enactment of Titanic. I put baby on the door, safe and secure, and I sank. The only difference being that no one ever debated if there was enough room for me too, because they didn’t even notice I was there.
I read it described as the baby is the candy and mother the wrapper, tossed aside once they are no longer one. The aftermath of birth trauma can be isolating, feeling forgotten by those beside you and unworthy of the treat you once enveloped.
It took several months before I fully acknowledged something wasn’t right. Once the numbness wore off, the weepiness took its place, and then crushing anxiety spilled over from the night and into my days. Shame, guilt, anger and fear were my guides for months turning me into someone I didn’t recognize anymore. I remember the first time I mentioned I thought I would need help, the first sentence I received was, “You don’t want too many people to know.” But If I didn’t say anything, how was it supposed to get any better. If it wasn’t going to get better, how much worse would it get? Everyone wanted to comment on how you could barely see the scar between my hips, but no one wanted to mention the gaping wound in my mind where bits of me were leaking out faster than I could patch the hole. That statement was enough to pour sand into my lungs and make it hard to breathe. Would they take my kids from me? Was I insane? Short answer, no. What I was experiencing was trauma. I didn’t need penalizing, I needed healing.
Here’s what I want you to know about birth trauma.
- You are not alone. 1 in 3 would describe some aspect of their birth as traumatic and 9% develop diagnosable PTSD. These numbers are already huge and are still thought to be an underestimation due to many never seeking support.
- What is traumatic for one, may not be for another. Traumas do not need to be and should not be compared. Trauma is deeply personal. A great quote by Casey Rose, “Someone who drowns in 7 feet of water is just as dead as someone who drowns in 20 feet of water. Stop comparing traumas, stop belittling your or anyone else’s trauma because it wasn’t “as bad” as someone else’s. This isn’t a competition, we all deserve support and recovery.”
- Know the symptoms. Disassociation, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, are just some examples of symptoms you can experience. Check out The Birth Trauma Association for detailed lists of signs, symptoms, risk factors, and recovery.
- Healing is possible. There are incredible mental health professionals, organizations and peer support groups. Healing will look different to everyone. Just as trauma is deeply personal, so is healing. Healing can feel a lot like moving forward and backward at the same time. There are good days, there are hard days. Healing is hard work but you are so worth it. If you’re not sure how to find a professional, Psychology Today is a helpful tool for finding someone in your area.
- Bonding with your baby can be difficult. Often the infant can be seen as a trigger, bringing up strong emotions. In my case, I was too numb to bond at birth. I knew I loved her, but I didn’t truly feel it for months. Looking at her brought up failure in many forms. On the other end of that, I also didn’t feel like she bonded with me until 18 months later, like she would never find comfort in me and feeling like I was never going to be good enough for her. As I’ve healed, I now look at her and see nothing but resilience and strength and instead of believing she got stuck with me, she gets the pleasure of being raise by someone brave and capable.
I’m coming up on the second anniversary of my traumatic birth. I’ve learned a lot in that time about birth trauma, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and myself. I grew, I ached, and then I grew some more. I watched my daughter grow without constant fear of losing her. I started my postpartum certification and am helping others through their postpartum experience, providing the support I so desperately needed. If you’re needing support, please reach out.