Image: “The Birth Trauma Tree” courtesy of Emma Sasaru at www.UnfoldYourWings.co.uk
Day 14 of my 40 Day Challenge. Again we have a topic about which it seems so few people have much awareness: Birth Trauma. WARNING: the following story contains narrative about events which may act as a trigger for your own PTSD if you have had a similar experience. Thank you Dawn for being so brave in sharing this.
I had a happy marriage, an almost two year old and had just welcomed my second daughter in to the world by emergency C-Section. That sounds common enough right? But, unless from this point I get more graphic, you won’t be able to understand how and why for the next 11 months after this event, I suffered with PTSD from the minutes that followed.
In my mind, I’m still vividly able to picture myself laying on that operating table, watching the clock… my baby had just been born showing signs of infection (which turned out to be pneumonia), but what took over the experience was the pain….. The epidural used to get my baby out by section had become ineffective, and before a single stitch could be sewn, sensation had returned. One of the side effects of a C-Section after induction without epidural, can be sharp chest pains.
We take good communication for granted all too easily, and unfortunately that day I was failed. No one told me why I was in pain, that I was going to be ok, that chest pains mid surgery was not a heart attack! I panic, the pain is unreal and I hear: ‘You need a general’ – I say “No”! I want to know what is happening, that I’m not about to die, that I will see my loved ones again and properly meet my baby, that this isn’t a forever goodbye. But before I have any reassurance, a mask is over face, and a conversation is happening without me. They’re talking over me, without me, about how I’m at a legal limit for pain relief; but in the meantime they fail to notice the mask they put over my face isn’t turned on and is becoming a suffocating vacuum through which I’m trying to shout and scream: ‘I CAN’T BREATHE’ over and over again. Thankfully my husband (himself distressed at the whole scene), eventually notices and rips it off. I am then able to say through all the pain, fear and tears that I just need an explanation, that I’m going to be OK. Finally, I was filled in and I gladly went under to end the ordeal.
Gradually over the next couple of months, symptoms of PTSD emerged. From a confident, outgoing and mentally pretty healthy woman, I became someone who would feel suddenly claustrophobic and boxed in. I didn’t like things or people coming towards me too quickly, I had to have control over everything, and worried irrationally when I didn’t. I would lay in bed seeing images and sounds of the operating room clock at ten to two, the time it happened, the time I thought I was watching my last minutes alive. Perhaps the hardest and most damaging symptom was that I couldn’t have anything cover my mouth without causing flash backs, tears, anxiety, anger and recoiling. All stemming from the inability to move and protect myself on that operating table.
Can you imagine what this does to a previously healthy marriage!?
The most basic gesture of love, a kiss- became impossible for me. I was overly dominant to remain in control- my safe place, and would purposely not sit with my back to a wall to be able to ‘escape’ if I needed to.
I wish I could say my husband was understanding and supportive; that he recognised I needed help and understood it could take time and therapy, but this wasn’t the case. His attitude was a ‘get over it’ and ‘stop living in the past’ one, where I was exaggerating the symptoms to avoid intimacy. He doubted the authenticity of diagnosis even after a doctor had confirmed it and referred me for therapy. He refused to defend me and tell his family why I was so ‘uptight’. He, and unfortunately so many others have very little understanding of mental illness and it’s grip on people. This needs to change. My husband is not, and was not being a bad man, he just wasn’t prepared, and like so many was uneducated in this.
Thankfully, I did not journey this alone. Understanding family and close friends, (some with their own mental health battles), and my faith in a comforting God, gave me the support I needed to attend my incredibly effective EMDR therapy.
I am now a year on from my last Therapy session. After amazing improvements to my ‘triggers’ and putting in the hard work, my PTSD is no longer defeating me. Don’t get me wrong, there are scars and habitual changes that are now character traits, but nothing compared to what it was! Through perseverance and forgiving hearts, our marriage is back on track, and I am personally in a better place than I was before because my eyes have been opened to the reality of mental illness; of its grip. It should not be taboo anymore or seen as the unspeakable. It is a reality to many, and not a journey people should do alone, and certainly not one to be embarrassed of. I am lucky I suffered for just a year, but I also see that I am blessed to have gone through it too.
For more information/support: http://www.unfoldyourwings.co.uk