Life After Birth Trauma
Birth Trauma. Something that unfortunately, we are hearing more about. Something I had never heard of. Something that has altered me and my life completely.
Whenever I hear about birth trauma I hear about lack of informed consent, invasive medical procedures, life or death complications or induction. There is a lot of focus on the causes, and rightly so because without understanding the cause, how can you effect change?
I also hear a lot about the symptoms of Birth Trauma and its ugly offspring, Postnatal PTSD. Symptoms such as insomnia, night sweats, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, hyper arousal, irritability, anger, separation anxiety, trouble bonding with the baby. Again, it is very important to shine a light on the symptoms because more awareness will lead to better after care and treatment for those women and families affected.
But what about after the birth trauma? What about the life that comes after the trauma? This is something I never hear about. It is something that I have sought support for from a support group only to have it fall on deaf ears because this group is full of women struggling with the symptoms of their trauma and mostly before diagnosis and treatment. That's not me. I have been diagnosed. I have had treatment and now my symptoms are mostly managed but life after birth trauma is something I have been trying to navigate for nearly 4 years, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much.
I fully expected and wanted my life to change after becoming a mum, I was ready for the change. Life as a new mum is overwhelming, challenging, scary, joyful, exhausting and exciting all on its own. That in itself is a huge life change. What I wasn't in the least prepared for was for my health to change. To become somebody with an on-going illness that needs ongoing management, an illness that you can't see and that many people dismiss. Something that would turn me into a different person, stop me doing things that had always come so naturally, affect my relationships, my career, my home life and at times, hold me prisoner. All of this on top of being a new, sleep deprived mum.
Nothing can prepare you for that.
Other than childhood asthma I have always been fit and healthy and apart from a nasty case of glandular fever I have never had any need to be off work for more than a couple of days due to tonsillitis. I have always taken my health and the freedom it allows me completely for granted.
Jumping in the car or on a train to go visit friends and family somewhere in the UK by myself was just the norm for me, something I was never phased by and just did, so to go from that to being so anxious about a change in the routine it was like the world was going to end was a real shock. I have cancelled countless trips to see friends in Scotland or family occasions because I was so triggered.
The trips that I have managed to go on have been fraught with anxiety. I would spend the full week in the lead up meticulously planning every detail of every day, over and over again. My thoughts would go something like this... What baby would need, how many clothes, how many times he would be sick on me, at what point in the journey we would have to stop for feeds, where would I feed him (discomfort breastfeeding in public really didn't help matters), how can we fit travel around his nap times, how would I stick to bedtime routine when I had no control over meal times in someone else's house, what would happen if bed time routine went wrong, this would mean feed times would be out of sync, how could I get them back on track if I wasn't at home in my own house, what if there is bad weather, what if something happens on the motorway and we get stuck in traffic for hours, or worse, what if we are in an accident, what if we crash and my husband and I die but the baby lives and somebody steals him, what if family members want to push the pram and aren't paying attention and a car mounts the pavement and hits the pram... and a million other wildly unrealistic scenarios that would never happen but ultimately ended up making me so anxious that I wouldn't sleep, I would be really jumpy, short tempered, teary and beg my husband to cancel the trip.
This was what life was like for the first year and a half after my son was born, before I had counselling to help ease my symptoms, or " release my panic button" as I like to call it.
That was when it was at its worst but even although its not like that now, it still isn't normal. PTSD still has a hold, quietly in the background, waiting to catch me off guard and remind me who is boss. There are still situations to navigate and challenges but I am finding that the more the people in my life understand what I'm dealing with, the easier it is to deal with the challenges.