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.


  1. Mieke, you still around? How are you doing? This post was really powerful for me to read: so much so i couldn't actually comment at first. But wanted to let you know I'm still reading when you post!

    Take care, Melissa

  2. Hi Mellissa, Thank you for your comment. I’m still around. I needed to take a break and do some solo healing. It’s so nice to come back to the virtual world and find the support of such strong wise women like you!
    I hope you are enjoying your babymoon.

  3. Dear Mieke,

    I live in Vancouver and 6 months ago I gave birth to my first child at BC Women's hospital. The birth was a series of unnecessary, badly mismanaged and aggressively performed medical interventions. It began with my prenatal doctor unnecessarily and without my consent breaking my waters 10 days before I was due. It ended with a violent forceps delivery that I was coerced into, and that I believed at the time and I now know was medically unnecessary other than the need for a resident to receive training at forceps application.

    I've been suffering from a severe case of PTSD as a consequence. I did not feel and did not see my baby being born (there was a blue sheet over my legs in much the same way there is a screen during an emergency C-section). I did not see my baby for 15 minutes after the birth. During these 15 minutes I felt my life was in great danger (a doctor who I mistrusted and who had been repeatedly aggressive and dismissive towards me was doing the repair on my 2nd degree tear). After what seemed like a life-time, I was finally given my baby. Except, sometimes I feel I was given another baby and my real baby was taken away during these 15 minutes.

    Your description of your own PTSD symptoms is spot on. I had the exact same nightmares of being attacked and killed, and of my baby being about to die. I didn't sleep for more than 5 days after the delivery -- I lost track of the hours, but it was +100 hours of no sleep, not including the labour itself.

    I understand that you are at different place compared to me and that it's been almost two years for you. Still, I was hoping you might be willing to get in touch with me so that we can exchange emails, talk on the phone, or maybe even meet in person. During the last month I have been struggling to connect with other women in the Vancouver area who have gone through birth trauma -- all unsuccessfully. I went to see a Reproductive Heath psychiatrist (Dr. Carter at BC Children's), hoping she might know of a support group I could join. After realizing there isn't a support group for post-natal PTSD in Vancouver, I began action to start one -- again, unsuccessfully so far as I haven't been able to get in touch with anyone else.

    Dr. Carter mentioned that she had seen another patient with post-natal PTSD who had experienced the same disconnect between the baby she was pregnant with and the baby she was given. And when I talked to the Pacific Postpartum Support Society, somebody mentioned that they used to have a volunteer in Vancouver who put together an extensive packet of materials on post-natal PTSD.

    I'm guessing you may be that person. I realize you may need to take time off from trauma-related conversations. But if you're willing to get in touch with me, I would be extremely grateful. For one thing, I am preparing to submit my hospital complaints and was wandering if it might be worthwhile to refer to your case when submitting. I know from that you were promised they will have "a pediatric meeting to get agreement on when babies can be brought to the mother, recommending that this be a.s.a. baby is stable, before newborn exam, (weighing measuring tagging etc)"

    Did you give birth at BC Women's hospital too? If you did, and you were promised this, it clearly was not done -- or at least, is not being followed by the obstetricians.

    My baby was separated for me for what seemed like a lifetime -- 15 minutes -- even though I hadn't even had a C-section, I only had a 2nd degree tear, and the baby was perfectly healthy right from the start - his Apgar score at 1 minute was 9!

    I apologize for the long and winding post. I hope it reaches you and I hope the two of us can make contact at some point.

    With my best wishes and keeping fingers crossed that 2 years after a traumatic birth is indeed the time when the healing feels tangible,


  4. Hi Kalina,

    I'd absolutely be willing to talk to you. In my role as ICAN Lower Mainland leader I have hear numerous recent stories out of B.C. Woman's that are really saddening to me. I'm so sorry that you had to go through a terrible birthing experience, and I think you are so very brave for putting together a formal complaint. I know how difficult that is.

    You can email me at and I'll send along my number.

    P.S. I too saw Dr.Carter and I really liked her she seems to really understand p.t.s.d. caused by childbirth trauma.