Thursday, June 20, 2013

You Live Here: My Journey Through Birth Trauma

After finishing the entire series of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Malamute and I tried watching Deep Space Nine. Sorry to all of you DS9 fans who might be reading this blog, but we only made it through the first three episodes and then moved on to Voyager. But that means we saw the episode where Benjamin Sisko meets the interdimensional beings who keep bringing him to the moment that his wife died and say, "But you live here". I've come to realize just how accurate a representation that is for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I didn't think I had experienced birth trauma until I started reading a book called The Gift of Giving Life that had an entire essay on it. I had a natural birth in a birthing suite with Duckling. I labored in a hot tub for part of the time and everything. Birth trauma happens to women who have unexpected c-sections, premature babies or horrible inductions. Not me.

After my positive pregnancy test with Snugglebutton though, a strange thing started to happen. I kept picturing myself in that moment when Duckling came out with his back open. I felt panicked. My chest tightened and lost my breath. I stayed up nights worrying about this baby having to face the NICU again, even though chances of that were about 1 in 100. I lost my appetite and had difficulty eating. I love being a mother, I love pregnancy, even labor is a challenge I looked forward to, but try as I might to be rational, I couldn't escape the fact that whenever I pictured another child emerging from my body, the only thing I could picture was that open back and the intense fear of some how losing my baby. I was living in that moment.

I continued to deny to myself that I had a problem. But as my due date loomed, I couldn't deny any longer that I was panicked about that moment of birth. I'd be hiking and people would ask me about my due date and say, "You're getting close! I'll bet you can't wait to be done!" and all I could think of was how badly I wanted this baby to stay inside of me forever so we could all be safe.

I think the turning point came when my husband told me that I needed to picture things turning out positively no matter what. Over the next week I did just that and though I still felt fear as I went into labor, I was no longer panicked.

My given name means victory, but I've never felt truly victorious until that moment when I saw my second child for the first time and saw that his back was fine. And not only was his back fine, he was perfectly pink and breathing beautifully. I had done it. I had faced that moment and it had come out just as I had hoped.

I remember reading a Readers' Digest article about a woman who had gotten disfiguring burns on her face as a child from a house fire. She ended up dating a firefighter who then arranged for her to face her fear by doing a firefighter training exercise. I've heard of veterans who go to shooting ranges to take away the emotional charge associated with gun fire and other loud noises. Since facing that moment of seeing my second baby for the first time, the panic associated with that moment I had been stuck in has left me. In its place I have felt a calm acceptance of that moment I realized I had a special needs child. But just because my first birth turned out that way, didn't mean that my second would. If I had never gotten back in the game, I never would have known for sure and that fear would have ruled me.

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