Monday, November 22, 2010

PTSD and Me.

I've seen a few post around the 'net in the last little while about PSTD caused by childbirth. Two years ago if you had asked me what post traumatic stress disorder was I would have told you that it was what happened to people who were involved in combat or violent crime.

Now I know differently.

For me it started almost immediately. Within hours of my baby's birth if I would fall asleep for even a moment I would be shocked back awake by violent dreams, mostly about people killing my baby. I wont go into details, but they were so awful that I didn't sleep at all for over 30 hours. No sleep at all despite 12 hours of labour followed by surgical birth. Finally, I literally passed out and slept dream free for a few hours only to wake up in a panic as my baby wasn't beside me. And when I say "panic" I mean I had what I believe to be the first anxiety attack I've ever had. Heart racing, cold sweats, nausea, and terrible fear. I quickly discovered I had to be in physical contact with my baby to feel even the slightest bit grounded.

Part of this reaction was likely due to the large amounts of morphine I had been given. Looking at my records I see that I was given hydromorph twice when I thought I was getting tylanol and that was on top of the 48 hours worth of morphine put through the epi line at the end of my cesarean. Some people feel awesome on morphine, I'm not one of them. My sister who came to see me in the hospital, on day two, realized what was happening, as she too reacts badly to opiates, can't sleep, lots of nightmares. But the other reason I was having these feelings was a much more complex issue I would eventually learn was my very own p.t.s.d.

I thought things would be better if I could just get out of the hospital and go home. I remember being very aware of "looking the part". I got into my flower flannel pajamas, and walked circles in the ward to prove I was ready to go home. The doctor agreed and I was free to take my baby home.

Unfortunately, things didn't get better. While the drug induced nightmares lessened, I was still plagued nightly by disconcerting dreams of birthing in dirty, public places or being chased by blue clad people through halls that turned Esher-like into themselves. Toss in the odd full blown hunted by a serial killer dream, and I found that most mornings I awoke in tears.

I also had a desperate need to be near my baby. I couldn't bear him to be out of my sight, or panic would start to set in. Yet strangely I didn't feel bonded to him in the way I had with my first born. While I needed him near me I didn't have any of the blissful gazing moments I had had naturally with my first son. In fact I had to remind myself to smile at him and talk to him and love him in the way I knew he deserved. I feel eternally grateful that his traumatic birth was not my first baby as I was able to recognize early that I wasn't bonding normally and actively work on bonding techniques. (I'll devote a whole post to that some time soon!)

I tried to find a way through this confusing time. I had a huge need to talk about what had happened to me. I needed to try to piece together what had occurred. I tracked down my primary care provider who was able to answer some of my questions and helped me fill in some of the information I needed. It made me feel better to know the details and not have a hole in my understanding of the first few moments of my son's life, but some of it made me angry as I realized that my experience had been made much worse by needless protocols and a lack of compassionate bedside manners.

The months ticked by. The nightmares continued and other symptoms started to be apparent.
Before my second son's birth I had what I would consider normal protective fear for my children. I would watch at the window while my 9 year old crossed the road to play with the neighbour and I would feel slightly nervous, silently willing him to be careful and watch for cars. Now it is completely different. Now I watch at the window in complete fear with violent images of him being killed by a speeding car flashing through my mind.
Every day I was( and still am) faced with heightened fear. Violent images of my loved ones meeting horrible deaths are hard to keep in check.

I started to search for information on what was happening to me. Soon I was reading about symptoms that sounded just like mine. I found information through ICAN's Recovery pages. You can find their info about PTSD and PPD HERE

I also found on online community called Solace for Mothers
where many women gather to share their stories and support each other. Unfortunately, I am not alone. Many, many women have ptsd from childbirth, and this online forum is so helpful as it can be really hard when no one understands what you are going through.

Fast forward to 18 months post birth and many sessions with a good councilor. I still have nightmares, but not every night. I still have way more fear then is healthy. I still have anxiety and hyper-vigilance. I still have lost some of the joy in my life to this condition. But I have hope. Hope that I will learn ways to overcome. Hope that one day I will be able to feel normal again. This year my plan is to watch the elementary school concert and NOT jump up to grab my kids and run when the grade ones stand up to sing a holiday song.

Some times I wonder why did my cesarean birthing experience result in ptsd for me when so many other women don't suffer from this.
In the thinking I have done about this I have come up with the facts that I am a very sensitive human. I am often struck by how much more information I receive then others close to me. Often this has been a great gift but when in a traumatic situation perhaps having such highly open senses may not be a good thing. I also have a extremely precise memory for what people say and do. (I got by in university by going to class, if heard the prof say it chances were high I would remember it, -sure beat studying) These are the attributes that I think lead me to be more susceptible.

I have read that some people think that some women are more likely to get ptsd because of previous experiences. This bothers me because who has had the perfect life? By the time we are of child bearing age who hasn't had their share of heartache and pain? Maybe for some prior traumas may add to their risk, but my own experience is that even a normal life can lead to reacting to birth trauma in this way.

Well thats my little bit on that. I hope that it is helpful to some.

I would like to end with this;
PLEASE If you are suffering don't suffer alone. Reach out. It's hard, you may have to reach out more then once ( I did), but when you start to find a way to feel better it will be worth it.