I am the mohter of two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. After the birth of my son I developed Post traumatic stress disorder caused by my childbirt experience. Here is my story:
It was Thursday morning, September 23rd, 1999. After a sleepless night, I got up around 7:00a.m. I was hit with a contraction that stopped me in my tracks, then another one. They were about three minutes apart. I told my husband, “I think we need to go to the hospital.” I called my OBGYN and she met us there. She examined me and I was only dilated 3 centimeters, so she broke my water to get things going.
I had very high expectations. I dreamt of a perfect natural birth with no medication, and no complications. I dreamt of breastfeeding my son, and I was so convinced that I even bought the special breastfeeding tops. I went to childbirth education classes and I knew what was supposed to happen. I had no idea what would lie in store for me.
Several hours after my water broke, there was still no progress. So the resident doctor gave me Pitocin to speed things up. An hour later I was in a lot of pain. I began screaming, over and over again. I felt like my body was being torn in half. Then the baby’s heart rate dropped below 100.
It was 3:00 p.m. and they called my OBGYN. They had me laying flat on my back and told me to start pushing. I repeatedly asked to be able to sit up. I was ignored. It was like I wasn’t there anymore, no one listened to me. Then a nurse got on top of me and started pushing on my stomach. I wanted to punch her!
“The head is crowning,” the doctor said. All of a sudden the baby’s heart rate dropped to about 50. Everyone was worried, especially me. The doctor said, “You have to get this baby out, he’s not handling labor very well. Now push!”
I pushed with everything I had in me. I felt myself tearing open as I pushed. Then all of a sudden, I couldn’t push, the baby was stuck. His heart rate dropped again. My OBGYN was still not there. The resident doctor tried to use the vacuum extractor to get the baby out. I’ve never felt such pain in my life. I screamed as I tore even more. Unfortunately it didn’t work. My baby had too much hair and the suction cup kept popping off. It popped off three times and each time, my blood spattered everywhere. Then his heart rate dropped to about 50 again.
The resident doctor said, “We’re going to have to do and emergency C-section.” My husband was terrified, and had my blood all over his shirt. He was ushered out as I was prepped and taken into the operating room. Still, nobody was talking to me, and I was terrified of what was happening.
A frenzy of activity was going on as they prepped me for surgery. My arms and legs were strapped to the operating table in the crucifix position. “I hope my husband is okay, he seemed really scared,” I thought. The nurse put a mask over my face and told me they were going to administer the general anesthetic. I could hear it hissing.
Then, I stopped breathing.
The nurse said, “Come on honey, breathe.”
I couldn’t breathe.
“Jodi! Breathe!” She yelled.
I was completely paralyzed but still conscious. “I can’t breathe!” I thought. “I’ve got to tell them that I can’t breathe! Oh God! I’m going to die! I’m going to see Jesus today! I’m going to die! My poor husband, how’s he going to take care of a baby?”
I felt the doctor make the vertical incision in my abdomen. The knife was cold. I was thinking, “Oh God, I’m scared! I’m so scared! I’m going to die! Oh Matt, I’ll miss you. I hope you know how much I love you. How can I tell them I can’t breathe? I’ve got to tell them I can’t breathe!”
All of a sudden, I felt my right hand twitch, then my leg, and then my head. I had entered respiratory failure and went into convulsions. All this time I am fully aware of what is happening. A nurse (I assume) finally intubated me. Holding my jaw open, she shoved a cold metal instrument into my mouth, and forced a tube down my throat. I could see her squeezing the bag to the right of me. The last thing I remembered was one of the nurses saying “Oh God!” Then I blacked out.
When I opened my eyes I was surprised to be alive. I asked the nurse if the baby is okay. She told me he is fine and asked if I wanted to see him. Of course I said yes! My baby and I were alive, but I felt so empty. I went out pregnant and woke up not pregnant. I just kept thinking, “Where is my baby? He’s gone.” I wanted him back inside me, but he was right there in my arms, I just couldn’t make the connection that he was mine. I felt lost and so incredibly empty.
When we got home, everything started to fall apart. I tried breast feeding, but it didn’t work. I tried until my nipples were cracked and bleeding. Due to the trauma I went through, and the stress hormones it stimulated, I wasn’t producing milk. The baby was jaundice, so we were forced to switch him to formula. I was devastated. I wanted so much to breastfeed. I had failed at the vary basics of being a woman. I couldn’t give birth, and now I couldn’t breastfeed. I felt like my body didn’t work.
On top of everything else he was colic and cried constantly. I couldn’t even comfort my own baby! I was convinced that I the worst mother on earth and I felt like such a failure. No one ever told me that motherhood would be this hard. Society paints a picture of happy mothers with content babies, and that is so far from the truth.
Then the flash backs began. Several times a day, especially at night, I relived my labor experience, going over every detail in my head again and again. At times I couldn’t go near my baby because he reminded me of what I went through.
Only 2 weeks after the birth of my baby, I was thrust into a pit of depression. I wanted to die. I felt so empty. I was also having horrible, disturbing dreams about killing my son. I dreamed about cooking and eating him, cutting him up into pieces, drowning him, and smothering him. Dreadfully, these thoughts started to manifest themselves during the day, sometimes while I was holding my son. I would have to put him down because was so afraid I would hurt him.
These horrific thoughts, the flashbacks, emptiness, and depression plagued me on a daily basis for about six months. I truly thought I was going insane. I began thinking about what would happen if I did kill my son, “If I kill my son, my husband will be upset, so I’ll kill him too, and then I’ll kill myself. Then we’ll all be in Heaven together and everything will be alright.”
So for six months I isolated myself from the world. Every night I would go to bed, praying that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. The only reason I would get out of bed was that my son was hungry. I was a shell of the woman I used to be. I just wanted it to stop. I wanted to die.
I didn’t dare tell anyone what I was thinking or feeling, because I must be crazy and I knew for sure that they would take my baby away from me. I was paralyzed by fear, so I trudged through the months after he was born completely alone.
Fortunately, as my son got older, the flash backs, nightmares and terrible thoughts slowly subsided. But I still wanted to kill myself. I fantasized about it. I planned how I was going to do it to the last detail. Even the thought of my husband finding me in a pool of my own blood didn’t make me want to live.
When I got pregnant again, when my son was about 15 months old, I was overwhelmed with fear. I knew that there was a good chance I would go through the same emotional torture after I had my daughter that I went through after having my son. I opted for a scheduled C-Section and a tubal ligation because I just couldn’t go it again. But this still didn’t calm my fears.
When I was about five months pregnant, I started having panic attacks, and I couldn’t sleep at night. I cried all the time. I knew how empty I felt after I had my son and I dreaded feeling that empty again. I couldn’t go through the depression, the nightmares, the horrible thoughts and the solitude. I tried to tell my husband what I had gone through, but he just didn’t understand.
Finally, I did reach out to a friend from church, and I told her everything. She referred me to a Psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by my son’s birth, and put on medication. I reluctantly took the medication and went to counseling.
I felt somehow guilty for needing help. But, out of fear, I took the medication anyway. I couldn’t survive another episode like that again. Still these thoughts plagued me daily: “If I kill myself, I won’t have to go through any of this. It will just be over.”
On August 7th, 2001, my water broke with a sneeze, and I had my daughter about four weeks early by elective C-section. I also had my tubes tied, so the whole thing took about 45 minutes. I was awake and vomited the entire time. Finally she cried and I was relieved. She was not colic and was a very pleasant baby. I was very thankful.
Two weeks after I had my daughter, however, my worst fears were realized. The depression and the emptiness set in. I was in the dark pit, the place I never wanted to be again. Then thoughts of smothering her began. I couldn’t even be in the same room with her because I was afraid that I might hurt her. Again, I wanted to die.
One night at about 1:00 in the morning, I was holding my one month old daughter, and saying goodbye. I had decided to kill myself. I couldn’t do this again. Then, as I looked down at my daughter, I just started sobbing. “My daughter needs a mother,” I thought. I cried for about an hour, just holding her. Her entire life flashed before me… growing up, getting married, having kids of her own. I couldn’t bear the thought of her growing up without a mother. My focus had shifted from my needs to her needs. I put her to bed, and that night I cried myself to sleep at the thought of what I almost did.
I called my Psychiatrist the next day and told him what happened. He increased my medication and I saw my counselor two days later. I started doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and it helped tremendously. After about 2 years, I was finally on the road to wellness and I didn’t want to die.
I started Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in February of 2008, because of the trauma I had experienced during the birth of my son. It has worked wonders for me. The experience had moved into “normal memory,” and I now have no stress when I think about what happened.
During my EMDR sessions, my therapist uses a small machine that has two little paddles, I hold one in each had, and they vibrate alternatingly. This facilitates the REM function for me. I do this throughout the entire session.
The first session we had, involving my birth experience, was distressing. I held the paddles and went over the memory of the moment when I thought I was going to die over and over again in my mind.
Remembering that was very hard. It was difficult to do because it was like going through it all over again… remembering the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feelings, the thoughts, etc. When the session ended, I was stressed. My therapist helped me with a relaxation exercise before I left, which helped relieve the anxiety.
The second session was much different. My therapist suggested trying to think of something that would help my distress with that memory. I began going over the moment in my mind… I was lying on the operating table, and I couldn’t breathe. Then all of a sudden, I imagined myself today being present with myself then, so there was two of me: the past self and the present self.
The present self knows that I did not die, and that everything was going to be okay eventually. The past self did not know that. So I imagined my present self comforting my past self, stroking her hair, and telling her that everything was going to be alright. I just started to cry. It was such a comforting thought. I spent a good ten minutes just dwelling on that because it was so soothing. My therapist was very pleased with my creativity and the progress I made in just a few minutes.
Then my therapist brought up the fact that I didn’t get to hold him until after I woke up. I told her how empty I felt after he was born. I went to sleep pregnant and woke up not pregnant. I just kept thinking, “Where is my baby? He’s gone.” I wanted him back inside me, but he was right there in my arms, I just couldn’t make the connection. I felt ripped off and so incredibly empty.
She suggested that I imagine myself in the operating room again and having the doctor give the baby to my present self. So, I imagined my present self watching my son being born, then the nurses wrapping him in a blanket and handing him to me. I began to cry again. I never had that feeling of joy, it had been stolen from me, but I was able to reclaim it for myself. I kept imagining my present self holding my newborn son and crying, and I let myself heal.
Then, in my mind, I brought my present self and my past self back together at the moment when I woke up in the recovery room, when I got to hold him for real… Oh my, what closure. The tears I cried that session were tears of healing, joy, and release. I never realized how wonderful healing could be. I can truly say that I have brought joy to the memory of my son’s birth that was never there before.
I would recommend EMDR to anyone who has experienced trauma. I am still on medication and I go to counseling when I begin to feel depressed or out of control. After my experiences, I don’t think I will ever be the same. I feel that, almost like a recovering alcoholic, I am still in recovery. I’ve simply learned how to cope.
Today, I love my son and my daughter with all of my being. I could never imagine hurting a hair on their precious little heads. When I look at my scar, which stretches down from my naval, I still remember the fear, the pain, and the despair, but I am not crippled by it anymore.
Because of my experiences I created the website www.ptsdafterchildbirth.org with a blog ptsdafterchildbirth.blogspot.com and I also run an online support group health.groups.yahoo.com/group/ptsdafterchildbirth for women who have had traumatic births. We currently have over 160 members from all over the world who are suffering or have suffered from post traumatic stress symptoms cause by their childbirth experience. The message I try to spread is that, “You are not alone, what you went through is real, and there is hope.” I am determined that no woman should have to suffer alone.