I Think I’m Breaking Down Again

I’ve been in total denial.

The flashbacks are more frequent. More severe.

I’m anxious.

I’m panicked.

Nobody really knows what it’s like to be in my head.

So I called my Magic Brain Lady and she’s on leave again. I think this will have to be the last time I call on her. So I called my other psychologist. The one I saw the last time my Magic Brain Lady was on leave. I hesitated because last time I wasn’t ready to go where she was taking me. Though, she did encourage me to write my story as a story and that helped substantially.

Even though I decided not to see her again and to continue with the Magic Brain Lady, I’m now however weighing up not having to tell my story again. Retraumatising myself in painstaking detail while a person paid to be empathetic nods and jots dot points down on their notepad about how the client has control and trust issues and is angry and dissociating tendencies even after two years of psychological help, while they’re really thinking about what’s for dinner and whether it’s be sunny on the weekend.

I can’t even pinpoint when it started again. Or what the particular trigger was. I was feeling it a couple of months ago (I wrote about it) but now it’s bad.

I had an actual full blown flashback today where I forgot that I wasn’t back there. Where I was confused and disorientated for a moment and it scared the hell out of me.

I am not in any danger. I am safe. I am not suicidal. I am just scared.

You may have noticed that I’m getting back into my training. I’m trying to obsess over it so I don’t obsess over my brain. The Stop! technique is no longer working.

All alone
on the edge of sleep
my old familiar friend
comes and lies down next to me

Florence + The Machine

The Three Year Labour

We hear stories of childbirth all of the time. Whether it be at a family function, at the shops, at work or on the internet. Women and men alike, parents, grandparents, those without children, those who have nieces and nephews, those who work with children, those who like children and those who don’t. Opinions and thoughts shared with reckless abandon. The judgment of the ignorant and the arrogance of the informed. Sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Always delivered with the air of correct indignation. Arm chair obstetricians who studied at the University of Anecdote.

The big thing for me which still pops up, is the subject of how the child is born. For those of you who know my story, you may well remember that I actually don’t consider myself having birthed my daughter. That yes she was born, but I did not birth her. That she arrived. That she was removed.

The language I use is very carefully orchestrated by the trauma I suffered as a result of her birth. My brain creating a pathway around the proverbial roadblock that I created to avoid the ghastly reminder of circumstance.

I hear stories of women who laboured for “hours”. Where they worked and worked through every contraction to eventually reach the goal of motherhood. The baby all squirmy and screamy, appearing from her nether regions in a big push toward the light. Where she then basks in the glow of oxytocin and vernix with cameras flashing from the proud father or significant other who is also overjoyed with the arrival of their little baby. In the weeks, months and years afterward, they re-tell the story of the birth with gusto. The pain was great, epidurals and nitrous oxide. Pethidine and tens machines. Birthing pools and showers. Tearing, grazing, pooping. Stirrups, students and stitching. All of it discussed to the finest detail with no censorship. Then followed with the “but I would do it all over again”. And indeed they do, pregnant again, baby number two, baby number three. Families ‘completed’. The life cycle continues.

As we all well know, these stories are not shared by all. Emergency caesareans, stillbirth, ventouse, forceps, episiotomies, pre-eclampsia, post partum haemorrhages. Scary situations which do not always end with a joyful new family taking selfies in the delivery suite.

Parents cope the best way they know how. “The important thing is, my child is healthy” and other various statements which completely invalidate a mother or other parent who is struggling to cope in the event of a traumatic situation. As a traumatised parent myself, I learned very early on to stay quiet about what happened to me, because it wasn’t normal and I had a healthy baby.

When I did find my voice, I was still invalidated by those around me. The old “healthy baby” line got rolled out, like carefully rehearsed dialogue. I felt isolated and ostracised because I couldn’t relate to the other mothers who did not have the same experience and then the same understanding. Or I was invalidated by other mothers who said just to “get over it” implying that it had happened to them too, but they got over it like a ‘normal’ person. I was left confused by my experience, why I struggled when they seemed to have it all so well together. However then the truth started to come out.

“No, that didn’t happen to me”

The pivotal statement that brought me undone. The months of pushing the terrible memories to the back of my brain, closing the curtains but not the windows. The validation I was so desperately needing to step forward and say that I wasn’t okay. That my “healthy baby” was not all that mattered.

So I started searching for validation. Other parents who were struggling and suffering. I was met with wall after wall of silence. Nobody speaks about such unpleasantries. The dreams. The distortion of reality, knowing that I wasn’t in the hospital, but unable to stop the endless motion picture running before my eyes. The hyper vigilance of being on guard to protect myself. Reliving the birth over and over. Perpetually labouring the baby. The process never ending. Until now.

I’m not sure why things are different now, but they are and that’s good. I finally feel as though I am no longer enduring the birth. That the process is over. I’m not completely healed, but I am well.

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The Fifth Stage of Grief

I saw my psychologist yesterday and she’s super impressed with how I’m going. We talked about how I’m using the Stop! technique and also about how I looked after real live patients on Sunday (including a pregnant woman). We talked about how I managed my colleague telling me to “just think positively” etc etc because you know, “you have a healthy baby” etc.

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Smile! You have a healthy baby!

Basically she’s really happy with how I’m traveling. So much so, that I canceled my appointment in two weeks and booked it for four weeks instead.

One thing that I have noticed is how I’m able to separate myself from work. It’s not withdrawing from my friends or family or anything bad, it’s a coping mechanism that all people working in emergency or care services such as nurses, doctors, police officers, ambulance officers and firefighters develop as a defence mechanism so they can finish work, go home and sleep at night. If we didn’t separate ourselves from the often tragic and distressed stories of our patients/clients, then we’d simply be unable to function ourselves.

Certainly some people touch us. I can still see the face of the man that I spent 35 minutes doing fruitless defibrillation and then CPR on, whose wife and children arrived shortly after we’d declared him deceased. I cried about him afterward. I grieved the life that he lost because I was unable to send him home to his family.

My grief response to him though, was very different to my grief response to what happened to me. Ultimately I was able to move on because I could rationalise his medical history. I was able to immediately process that even though he died, I and my colleagues did everything we could to fight it and it wasn’t enough. I could separate myself by recognising that his death was sad, but that people do die young and that’s just the way life is.

With my own trauma, I wasn’t able to process that immediately. I didn’t have anyone else to talk to about it. No colleagues in the tea room to have a cuppa with and go over the events. No ability to rationalise with facts and knowledge.

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I recall being in my hospital bed in the night when my daughter was a day or two old and I was on my mobile phone writing out my birth story to post on a popular Australian parenting website. The stories I had read on that website went into detail how the children were born. As I was typing the letters into words, I found myself starting to breathe quickly, my mouth going dry. I couldn’t say the words because they were just too hard to get out. If I wrote them or said them, then what I was writing, really happened. Surely something that bad didn’t happen! No, it must not have, because I’m ok, my baby is ok. We’re healthy. Surely if that had happened, both of us. One of us. We’d be sick! But we’re not and I’m grateful to have a baby who is ok. She’s healthy any that’s all that matters.

So my sanitised version went online. The responses I got were wonderful. So many people from the community of parents I had been apart of during my pregnancy were genuinely happy that my girl was finally born and that we had picked a beautiful name and that we were both healthy.

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Maybe if I had recognised the problem then and dealt with it immediately, I would not have had the grief that I’ve had?

Obviously I can’t change the past. I can’t go back to that week and deal with it, I can only acknowledge and accept that it happened and then move on. It’s taken me two years and nearly seven months, but I have accepted that it happened.

I’m so ready to move on. I’m so ready to have it all be gone.

The tools my dear psychologists have taught me, are absolutely invaluable. I asked my Magic Brain Lady yesterday about my fear. I’m feeling so good, but I’m constantly scared, terrified even. I’m so worried that this spell might break and I’ll end up right down at the very rock bottom again. I feel like I’m at about ninety percent well. I’m so conditioned to think that the ten percent of me that’s not well, will ruin me. Surely that life playing a cruel prank on me, because I’m one big shit magnet who doesn’t get ahead ever.

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Basically the outcome of that conversation is that now I can see the warning signs. I have the tools to cope with the shit or at least delegate the coping out to someone who can help. My defence mechanism means that I won’t let myself get that bad ever again because I can remember how bad it really was.

I did do something major today. I went back to the hospital. Yep the hospital. I vowed never to return after collecting my medical records, but life works in mysterious ways and I ended up needing to be there for a non-urgent matter. I did avoid people. I recognised faces, they probably hate me for it, but I ducked into corridors to avoid the inevitable “how have you been?”

I sat outside under the awning at the cafe, listening to the rain drizzle softly from the sky, while I watched people walk by with IV pumps and wheelchairs. Pregnant women. People with flowers. Elderly couples with rollator frames. Men in surgical scrubs. Nurse managers with pagers and clipboards. Doctors with stethoscopes and hot coffee in cardboard cups. Life was continuing on without a worry in the world. Even in this situation, I could still appreciate the world around me.

My husband, who I don’t blog about too often because I’m not sure how he feels about being the subject of my internet discussions, said something to me the other night. An off the cuff comment that I’m sure he’s forgotten about, but it has stayed with me. He said “Don’t be bitter because those people deserve good healthcare”. I was having one of my countless moments where I found myself spiraling down into despair. We were stopped at the traffic lights outside that hospital and I felt so immediately sad and said “I wish it would fall down”. It angers me that it’s me who went there to have a baby and left with the added bonus of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Post Natal Depression and Anxiety. I’m bitter that people I know and care for have walked away with nothing but a clean bill of health and good memories of kind nurses and doctors.

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His words. They’re true. I say that I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, yet in a way, I wish it hadn’t happened to me. That it was someone else. I’ve spent the last two years (at least) directing so much anger and hatred into my circumstance that I clouded my vision completely. This isn’t me being a martyr by any means, but this happening to me, means that two friends who have also had babies safely there, came home ok. It means that another friend who has had major surgery there, came home ok. It means that my own husband who has also been a patient there, came home ok. I would be horrified if any of my loved ones had this happen to them.

So I accept that by happening to me, it hasn’t happened to the people I love. I accept that doctors and nurses do stuff up. I’m not the first patient and I won’t be the last. I accept that it happened because I do not have a time machine to go back and change the past. I’m not at the stage of forgiveness. I’m not sure I’ll ever be there. One shift at work for them, has essentially put my life and my families’ life on hold for two years.

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I feel weightless. PTSD happened to me. PTSD does not define me.

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My goodness, I had no idea I had all of this in me today. If you’re still here, thanks. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts, I hope you’re well.

Xx Clair

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Alone on the Island with Thousands of Others

**Contains details of my birth which may cause triggers for birth trauma**

___________________________________

Today I read a very honest blog from another mama who is hurting.

She then was getting absolutely crucified by another bunch of mothers on the internet because they disagreed with her feelings and thoughts.

For me, my blog is about me and nobody else. I post in the hope that another mother (or father) who is hurting, may feel they relate to me and know they’re not alone. This is why I also post links to organisations that can help in the recovery and healing from PND/PPD, AND and PTSD relating to birth trauma.

Please don’t isolate parents (or anyone) for experiencing trauma. A person who is in a plane crash or sees war, would never be told to snap out of it. ‘Snapping out of it’ is absolutely no where near as easy as one may think.

Distress is distress, no matter the cause.

I feel I need to make clear that I don’t blame my obstetrician. I know that in my case, I’m one of the small percentage of women who have a spinal anaesthesia that doesn’t work properly or as effectively as it may work on another person.

Just because I can’t blame him and I don’t want to blame him, doesn’t mean I’m not angry or traumatised that it happened. He doesn’t know that I could also see my surgery. Some may say I should have spoken up. In that situation on that day, I couldn’t speak. I was in shock and in silence. I’m pretty sure he’d be horrified if he knew, because he’s a decent and wonderful man.

It had been ten years since I as a student nurse had witnessed a Caesarean section, so I’m not remembering that ladies surgery when I think of mine. I’m remembering in vivid colour seeing my legs splayed and seeing my insides. I’m remembering with vivid detail, the catheter being inserted and the vivid sensation of the betadine being rubbed on my belly. The fear I felt when isolated after the baby was born and taken away, while everyone was celebrating, I was left alone to watch my surgery, strapped to the operating table. Not even the theatre nurse was there to talk to.

My blog is my voice. Just like another persons blog is theirs.

You may disagree, but please have the decency to understand. Please have the empathy to know that even though you don’t think it’s a traumatising event, that person is very obviously traumatised by what happened, no matter the event.

I’m still not on Facebook (except for my page for this blog). Having a hiatus away from the birth notices and the countdowns to delivery, is just what I needed to keep The Beast at bay.

Until next time xx

Blindsided by The Beast

Sometimes a trigger blindsides me. I can’t see it coming and all I can do afterward, is try not to relive the flashback over and over. Which sometimes I do for days, like a record stuck on the needle.

I’m not going to deny that I haven’t been the easiest person to live with in the last eighteen months. I’ve lost friends (and solidified some amazing friendships) and I’ve made some serious changes to who I am as a woman, wife and mother.

Just today, I found myself scooping up my Missy and smothering her little face in kisses. She was giggling and saying “Mama” and cooing and garbling indeterminable sounds, which mimicked me saying “I love you”.

Six weeks ago, I couldn’t have done this. Six weeks ago I loved her, but was keeping her at arms length.

I’m not sure what happened with the turnaround. I’m still seeing in vivid colour, feeling and sound, the events of ‘that day’.

I saw my scar in the shower two days ago and was back in the theatre being cut open. Me saying to my doctor as he shaved my pubic hair back “I can feel that”. Him rubbing my belly with iodine and me saying “I can feel that”.

How can I avoid a trigger that is on my body? I’ve deleted the people from my online life who were in my mothers group. I’ve left my job at the hospital where she was born. I avoid driving past the hospital at all costs and if I do, I shield my face so I can’t see the building. I’ve also deleted most of my former colleagues from Facebook as I couldn’t cope with seeing updates from work. I have actually done what Sarah suggested and replied to an inquisitor, with my hand up saying “I do not want to talk about it”. It felt so good and empowering.

This year, I decided to start with a clean slate and change my mindset and lifestyle. It doesn’t sound like much and it’s not a New Years resolution that will be all but forgotten by February, but tonight I did a 3.2km walk in my neighborhood. All 3,982 steps, according to my iPod pedometer. It felt good to strap my sneakers on and put my iPod on and just go for a walk. No pram, no baby, no mobile phone. Just me and my music and my thoughts. I read online the other week about waking helping to stop depression. You know what? It was so so good to just get out into the fresh air and see the birds flying, the sun setting and the dark clouds of nighttime rolling in. I’m actually looking forward to next walk. I also got my husband to hook up the Wii so I can get back into using the Wii Fit programme.

I may not be able to erase the triggers or the memories, but I may be able to learn to live with them, by seeking pleasure in other activities.

I know I’m pushing the memories to the back of my mind. I know I’m shutting the metaphorical windows without properly closing them. I know I’ll breakdown again in the future. That’s certain. It may not be this month, it may not be this year. However I know it will happen. I’m hoping that I know the signs and I have the mechanisms to cope next time.

Interestingly, today has been a day of talking about the past. The early days of motherhood when I was computing the enormity of what had happened to me, while navigating my way around my newborn. Spending so much time online, a great deal of my socialising is with the people inside my computer (well, in my case, my iPhone). I’m still not sure how people missed the red flags. I’m not blaming anyone, not at all, I just wonder how me saying what I was at the time, was not a red flag for anyone.

Talking about the past has its good and bad points. Good to reminisce about the good times. The first time I saw my Miss, her wide open eyes. Her first breastfeed. The first time she said “mama”. Her first steps. When she ran to me from across the room and leapt into my arms for a cuddle. Those times are great.

Then there are the bad times. Like the first time I told her that I hated her and that I regretted her because of what her birth did to me.

I’m not proud of myself for telling her that more than once. But I did it. I need to own that. I need now to remember that things will never be that bad ever again, even when I do breakdown again, because she deserves better. I can’t let her hear those words ever again, even though she won’t remember me saying them. She can’t help how she got here. All she wants is love. That’s what gets me through. One day when she’s older, if this blog is still about, I might let her read it. I think it’s important that she knows her story and my story.

I think I’ve waffled on enough for today.

xx

___________________________________

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Have a wonderful week xx

The Truth about Birth Trauma, a wonderful analogy

Today’s entry is borrowed from Birthtalk. All credit listed at the end.

At Birthtalk, we often hear traumatised women describe their birth as a car crash, or a train wreck. You might say, “But that’s just birth”, and dismiss these women as especially ‘sensitive’ or ‘over-reacting’. But perhaps, could it be an entirely accurate analogy, to compare ones traumatic birth to a vehicular disaster of epic proportions?

Remember a year or so ago, when that QANTAS jet had a gaping hole in it and performed an emergency landing? The TV news footage showed the passengers arriving in Melbourne on another jet, and embracing their loved ones. Most were crying, some were shaking, and all were visibly affected by the experience.

Passengers told of the few minutes when they wondered if they would die, as the plane plummeted 19, 000 feet, their voices choked with emotion as they recalled their extreme fear, panic and anxiety. And I imagined these people going home with their families, who welcomed them at the airport with outstretched arms. They would likely be cosseted and fussed over, offered comforting food and drink, and their moments of terror openly listened to with shock and interest and appropriate “Oh My God’s” from listeners as they talked about their experience.

But would anyone say to them, “At least you didn’t die.”, and try to shoosh them up if they tried to talk about it? Would anyone tell them, “Well, I understand that plane trip didn’t go quite how you’d planned, but all’s well that end’s well, hey?”. Of course not. And would family understand if these people were a bit shaky for a while afterwards, and needed to feel safe? I’d say they would.

But imagine the same scene after a woman has a traumatic birth. Is there anyone waiting for her with outstretched arms? Generally not. Women after a traumatic birth are usually not cosseted and fussed over, or comforted beyond a perfunctory ‘there, there’.

As a community, we seem quite comfortable with telling a woman traumatised from her birth, “At least you have a healthy baby.”, and placating her with, “I understand that birth didn’t go quite how you’d planned, but all’s well that ends well, hey?”. And then she has to learn how to look after a child, cope with sleep deprivation – usually without the hormones designed to support her with this due to the trauma of the birth – and tackle a mountain of laundry, cooking and home duties. Welcome to motherhood.

So how can we compare the possibility of death by plane crash to the meeting of one’s healthy child through birth? Best thing to do here, is look at the definition of a traumatic event, and what response warrants a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

According to this Manual, the stressor or event that causes PTSD should involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or damage to self or others. And the person’s response should involve intense fear, helplessness or horror. Note that it says “actual OR THREATENED”.

So,,,and this is really important… even if everything SEEMS completely ok to an outsider during the birth… if a woman PERCEIVES that she or her baby is threatened with damage; or FEELS horror, fear and helplessness at a procedure…even if this procedure is ROUTINE to medical staff; she can experience that as a traumatic event.

This is REGARDLESS of her level of pain relief at the time.

It is REGARDLESS of the fact that she and her baby leave the hospital alive and physically healthy.

The truth about birth, traumatic or otherwise, is this : we do not just leave our birth at the hospital. Birth’s impact has a ripple effect on a woman’s whole life. If it was a positive experience, then that radiates outwards like warm sunshine on everything that happens postnatally. But if it was a negative experience, then it can feel like a domino effect – the woman keeps getting knocked down with every challenge. She is ‘behind the eight ball’ to start with, and that ripple effect means that the birth’s impact spreads to all aspects of her life.

But this does not stop people telling a woman to just ‘get over it’. Why?

Perhaps we need to look again at that dramatic plane flight. The big question is…why it is understood by virtually everyone that those passengers might need some time to process that event? The answer is : because we EXPECT air travel to be safe, easy, simple, and uneventful. And when it is NOT those things, we understand that it might have an impact.

But with birth, most people EXPECT it to be painful, horrible, unbearable, out-of-control, and unpleasant. That’s what it’s like in the movies & TV shows, and often in the stories passed down through generations. So when a woman expresses that her birth was difficult, or traumatic, our culture’s response is : so? Isn’t that just birth?

And that’s the biggest myth of all – that birth is bad. But that’s just not true. The way most women experience birth in our culture IS bad…and that’s not their fault. But birth itself is not bad. Unfortunately, most people in our culture have either had bad births, seen bad births, or been birthed in a traumatic way themselves and had the story regaled to them for years.

Birth can be good. Which can be a hard thing for a woman traumatised by her birth to hear. But really, it explains one of the reasons that it hurts so much emotionally when a birth is traumatic…because IT’S NOT MEANT TO BE THAT WAY. Nature didn’t intend it to be that way. But because most births in our culture ARE that way, it is very difficult for most people to ‘come to the party’ and admit that maybe your birth COULD have an impact on you. Because then they’d have to face the multitude of myths and misconceptions thrown their way by the media and family horror stories over the years. And that’s too hard. A woman’s distress post birth can cause massive discomfort in others who need the myth to continue.

If we return to the plane flight analogy again…imagine the passenger’s family and friends perhaps NOT acknowledging that the experience was tumultuous and fraught with potential disaster. Imagine if you had lived through that flight, and a few days later the people around you are saying, “Are you STILL going on about that? Can you just move on? You’re fine, you’re healthy, so what’s the problem?”, and meanwhile you are struggling with flashbacks, anxiety, and a need to debrief and talk about what happened, to try and make sense of it…but no-one would acknowledge your situation. Sound isolating?

The truth about traumatic birth is…validation is difficult to find in our culture. The experience of trauma after birth can be intensely isolating if it goes unacknowledged. So it is up to us to re-educate ourselves and those around us, so they are able to support women in the upheaval and aftermath of birth trauma.

If we do not just leave our birth at the hospital, if we take it with us into our postnatal life, then it matters when it’s not right and it’s not good and it doesn’t feel safe.

Just this simple acknowledgement can be the beginning of a healing journey for a woman impacted by her birth. It may be her Boarding Pass to feeling supported, validated, and understood. And it may lead to her maiden flight of embracing motherhood as she had always wanted.

©Birthtalk2008, Updated 2010

While looking for something totally unrelated today on Google, I came across this wonderfully written article on birth trauma. I remember reading it when it was linked to a parenting website that I’m a member of, in the weeks preceding my daughter’s birth, but of course, not knowing what it was like to have birth trauma, I quickly forgot about it until today when the Google gods directed me to it.

So anyway, here is the wonderful article in question, from the blog, The Truth About Traumatic Births at http://www.birthtraumatruths.wordpress.com

http://birthtraumatruths.wordpress.com/2010/05/09/childbirth%E2%80%A6as-traumatic-as-a-midair-qantas-flight-emergency/#comment-636

The Truth about Birth Trauma, a wonderful analogy

Today’s entry is borrowed from Birthtalk. All credit listed at the end.

At Birthtalk, we often hear traumatised women describe their birth as a car crash, or a train wreck. You might say, “But that’s just birth”, and dismiss these women as especially ‘sensitive’ or ‘over-reacting’. But perhaps, could it be an entirely accurate analogy, to compare ones traumatic birth to a vehicular disaster of epic proportions?

Remember a year or so ago, when that QANTAS jet had a gaping hole in it and performed an emergency landing? The TV news footage showed the passengers arriving in Melbourne on another jet, and embracing their loved ones. Most were crying, some were shaking, and all were visibly affected by the experience.

Passengers told of the few minutes when they wondered if they would die, as the plane plummeted 19, 000 feet, their voices choked with emotion as they recalled their extreme fear, panic and anxiety. And I imagined these people going home with their families, who welcomed them at the airport with outstretched arms. They would likely be cosseted and fussed over, offered comforting food and drink, and their moments of terror openly listened to with shock and interest and appropriate “Oh My God’s” from listeners as they talked about their experience.

But would anyone say to them, “At least you didn’t die.”, and try to shoosh them up if they tried to talk about it? Would anyone tell them, “Well, I understand that plane trip didn’t go quite how you’d planned, but all’s well that end’s well, hey?”. Of course not. And would family understand if these people were a bit shaky for a while afterwards, and needed to feel safe? I’d say they would.

But imagine the same scene after a woman has a traumatic birth. Is there anyone waiting for her with outstretched arms? Generally not. Women after a traumatic birth are usually not cosseted and fussed over, or comforted beyond a perfunctory ‘there, there’.

As a community, we seem quite comfortable with telling a woman traumatised from her birth, “At least you have a healthy baby.”, and placating her with, “I understand that birth didn’t go quite how you’d planned, but all’s well that ends well, hey?”. And then she has to learn how to look after a child, cope with sleep deprivation – usually without the hormones designed to support her with this due to the trauma of the birth – and tackle a mountain of laundry, cooking and home duties. Welcome to motherhood.

So how can we compare the possibility of death by plane crash to the meeting of one’s healthy child through birth? Best thing to do here, is look at the definition of a traumatic event, and what response warrants a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

According to this Manual, the stressor or event that causes PTSD should involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or damage to self or others. And the person’s response should involve intense fear, helplessness or horror. Note that it says “actual OR THREATENED”.

So,,,and this is really important… even if everything SEEMS completely ok to an outsider during the birth… if a woman PERCEIVES that she or her baby is threatened with damage; or FEELS horror, fear and helplessness at a procedure…even if this procedure is ROUTINE to medical staff; she can experience that as a traumatic event.

This is REGARDLESS of her level of pain relief at the time.

It is REGARDLESS of the fact that she and her baby leave the hospital alive and physically healthy.

The truth about birth, traumatic or otherwise, is this : we do not just leave our birth at the hospital. Birth’s impact has a ripple effect on a woman’s whole life. If it was a positive experience, then that radiates outwards like warm sunshine on everything that happens postnatally. But if it was a negative experience, then it can feel like a domino effect – the woman keeps getting knocked down with every challenge. She is ‘behind the eight ball’ to start with, and that ripple effect means that the birth’s impact spreads to all aspects of her life.

But this does not stop people telling a woman to just ‘get over it’. Why?

Perhaps we need to look again at that dramatic plane flight. The big question is…why it is understood by virtually everyone that those passengers might need some time to process that event? The answer is : because we EXPECT air travel to be safe, easy, simple, and uneventful. And when it is NOT those things, we understand that it might have an impact.

But with birth, most people EXPECT it to be painful, horrible, unbearable, out-of-control, and unpleasant. That’s what it’s like in the movies & TV shows, and often in the stories passed down through generations. So when a woman expresses that her birth was difficult, or traumatic, our culture’s response is : so? Isn’t that just birth?

And that’s the biggest myth of all – that birth is bad. But that’s just not true. The way most women experience birth in our culture IS bad…and that’s not their fault. But birth itself is not bad. Unfortunately, most people in our culture have either had bad births, seen bad births, or been birthed in a traumatic way themselves and had the story regaled to them for years.

Birth can be good. Which can be a hard thing for a woman traumatised by her birth to hear. But really, it explains one of the reasons that it hurts so much emotionally when a birth is traumatic…because IT’S NOT MEANT TO BE THAT WAY. Nature didn’t intend it to be that way. But because most births in our culture ARE that way, it is very difficult for most people to ‘come to the party’ and admit that maybe your birth COULD have an impact on you. Because then they’d have to face the multitude of myths and misconceptions thrown their way by the media and family horror stories over the years. And that’s too hard. A woman’s distress post birth can cause massive discomfort in others who need the myth to continue.

If we return to the plane flight analogy again…imagine the passenger’s family and friends perhaps NOT acknowledging that the experience was tumultuous and fraught with potential disaster. Imagine if you had lived through that flight, and a few days later the people around you are saying, “Are you STILL going on about that? Can you just move on? You’re fine, you’re healthy, so what’s the problem?”, and meanwhile you are struggling with flashbacks, anxiety, and a need to debrief and talk about what happened, to try and make sense of it…but no-one would acknowledge your situation. Sound isolating?

The truth about traumatic birth is…validation is difficult to find in our culture. The experience of trauma after birth can be intensely isolating if it goes unacknowledged. So it is up to us to re-educate ourselves and those around us, so they are able to support women in the upheaval and aftermath of birth trauma.

If we do not just leave our birth at the hospital, if we take it with us into our postnatal life, then it matters when it’s not right and it’s not good and it doesn’t feel safe.

Just this simple acknowledgement can be the beginning of a healing journey for a woman impacted by her birth. It may be her Boarding Pass to feeling supported, validated, and understood. And it may lead to her maiden flight of embracing motherhood as she had always wanted.

©Birthtalk2008, Updated 2010

While looking for something totally unrelated today on Google, I came across this wonderfully written article on birth trauma. I remember reading it when it was linked to a parenting website that I’m a member of, in the weeks preceding my daughter’s birth, but of course, not knowing what it was like to have birth trauma, I quickly forgot about it until today when the Google gods directed me to it.

So anyway, here is the wonderful article in question, from the blog, The Truth About Traumatic Births at http://www.birthtraumatruths.wordpress.com

http://birthtraumatruths.wordpress.com/2010/05/09/childbirth%E2%80%A6as-traumatic-as-a-midair-qantas-flight-emergency/#comment-636