PTSD from Birth Trauma


The good news is my nausea stage of pregnancy seems to be over. I still get knocked in the back of the head with fatigue that renders me near-useless, but I’m just so glad to have the pukey feeling finally gone, the relief is like slipping into a warm Radox bubblebath. Finally, I feel up to blogging again.

The bad news is the absence of peace I’d expected. Turns out, I’m psychologically scarred from the ghastly experience of already having had a baby.

New Zealand is heavily espoused in the Natural ChildBirth movement. The popular idea circulated in midwifery and pregnancy/childbirth support is that childbirth is a beautiful natural thing, that the pain experienced is a ‘good’ kind of pain (some go as far as to say it’s actually pleasurable), which is remarkably combated by the natural pain-relieving chemicals released in the mother at the time. Vaginal births are considered superior, and to experience birth in its natural fullness is empowering to the mother.

And by ‘the popular idea’, I mean, ‘the only idea you’ll hear, anywhere’.

The only trouble is…it’s bullocks.

Childbirth is not beautiful — it’s bloody, slimy, smelly, and comes with a high probability of the birthing mum getting her lady parts torn, and pooping in front of everyone in the room. And, for the record, I was not empowered by it at all.

I’ll concede it’s natural. So is cyanide, typhoid, and 7.0-grade earthquakes.

And pain is pain. The idea that birth pains can actually resemble sexual pleasure (yes, really, I’ve heard it preached) is utterly absurd. As obstetrician gynecologist Amy Tuteur puts it, it “makes as much sense as the claim that kicking a man in the groin could induce orgasm because sexual pleasure can be produced by contact in the same area.

Unfortunately, Amy Tuteur isn’t in New Zealand and able to take a so-far-uncomplicated pregnancy due to end in August. As it is, I’m stuck with having a midwife (who, by nature of midwifery mandate, will endorse all that natural nonsense), or paying between $3,000 and $4,000 for an obstetrician LMC who will keep the vagina-worshipping hoodoo out of it. And since I don’t have that kind of disposable coin, I don’t really have a choice at all. My current midwife made me feel bad just for asking if she’d support her clients in having an epidural. (I don’t think she did it deliberately, but her disapproval was very clear, so it achieved the same thing. But what midwife anywhere in NZ would endorse it?)

I hadn’t considered myself to be suffering from birth trauma or PTSD, because I was just getting on with my life once the extremely long (about six months) physical recovery was over. I was fine as long as I didn’t think about it. And with no need to think about it, why would I?

But now I’m pregnant again, and facing the doom of inevitability. I feel like a war vet who, after the relief of being home and knowing it’s all over, has just been told he’s being redeployed. (That’s hyperbole, folks. I’m aware that wartime experience would be much worse.)

Really, I’m just plain scared. Really, really scared. I absolutely do not want to go through this again — not just birthing, but having a newborn. Just thinking about it makes my brain want to jump in front of oncoming traffic. I expect things won’t feel okay again until after Christmas, when Bump Two will be four months old. That’s a long time, between now and then, to have a black cloud of horror over my head and my lungs in a vice.

But where can I get help? And what help could even work? I can’t even say what I want. I only know what I don’t want: what I have to do. And that’s rather inescapable now, isn’t it? I won’t consider termination, and as far as I know, being put in an induced coma until after Christmas isn’t feasible.

The ‘help’ sources I’ve found thus far in my search attempts have had the same ethos of the NCB movement: various ‘treatments’ that don’t sound helpful to me; similar to, ‘facing the brightest star in the Sunday evening skies, and meditating on three of your vertebrae, your anxieties will transform into a lotus flower of beauty and peace, enabling you to embark on this natural journey with empowerment’.

All for a natural empowering fee, of course.

And in all the time I’m searching for the right kind of help, the issue is at play in my mind. I’m thinking about it. The very thing to not do, if I want to feel okay. (That kind of denial won’t be possible anyway, when I’m the size of a truck.) So after hours of searching and website-perusal last night, I was just feeling tired and broken, and my poor husband had to listen to my panicked narrations just to keep them from making the same circles in my head.

Equally unhelpful is the platitude, ‘Just pray about it, and find some encouraging bible verses to help.’ The advice is well-meaning, I’m sure, but never-the-less unhelpful. Prayer and scripture isn’t a magic Bandaid to cure all ailments, even to the Christian. And to suggest it is, makes me feel fobbed off. It says, ‘What are you complaining about? Just do this Christian thing!’

As a Christian, thus having a biblical worldview shaping my decisions and values, I do believe I should pray about how I’m feeling. Despite not wanting to. (If someone gave you a unique and special gift — say, a shiny new prototype car — how comfortable would you feel about telling the giver, ‘I don’t want it, the belt clips pinch’?) I’m thankful God doesn’t mind prayers being made inarticulate with sobs and fractured sentences.

But I also believe that prayer’s not enough. For a specific issue of trouble, I need specific help.

But how can I ask for help, when I don’t know what help to ask for? When all the help I’ve seen out there seems to be the wrong kind for me?


(7) Comments

  • Glenys Michael
    25 Feb 2013

    I wish I knew how to offer support or point you in the right direction but I dont, all I can say is that number one for me was the same horrid in all ways but number 2 came along and I felt I could do it this time(differently)- you know that the baby has to come yes with some of your bits missing (me too) it still hurt, still took bits but I knew what I was in for and made a birth plan that worked for me. I told my MW what I wanted and she went with it too. Your body has done it once it knows what to do this time trust it and if you need drugs take them! Praying for you I hope someone can offer more than that too

  • Leanne
    25 Feb 2013

    How quickly could you move to France?

    They are a bureaucratic nightmare (I guess they must have invented it) but you don’t even know you’re having contractions – the idea of *not* drugging you up to the nines is considered barbaric cruelty and completely unnecessary.

    If that’s not possible, tell your midwife you wish it was.

    • Eve
      25 Feb 2013

      French obstetric care is sounding pretty good! When I first met my current midwife (I’ve only visited her once, so far), I told her how awful my last birth experience was, that it had been a ‘natural’ one, and that this time I didn’t want anything like it. (That was when I asked about her epidural support.) She told me that she doesn’t have much experience with them herself, because in the area she’s recently moved from there wasn’t an anaesthetist available, so women knew that epidurals weren’t an option — they just hardened up and birthed like they were supposed to.

      I felt somewhat chastised at that, but this woman has lots of positive client testimonials, so I’m hesitant to leave her when chances of finding a midwife who thinks any differently are slim to none, and I could even get someone worse. And her fingers are a lot more slender than those of my last midwife. If I’ll be birthing ‘naturally’, that’s important! Still, if I do insist on an epidural, she’s duty bound to honour that, I believe. However many disapproving faces she’d make in the process.

  • Jody
    25 Feb 2013

    Hi Eve,
    Would having an elective caesar help calm your anxiety over the birth? I have a friend that developed PTSD after the birth of one of her children and was terrified her whole other pregnancy. They decided to have a caesar even though she had no medical reason to justify it. It was a real challenge to find a midwife that supported their decision but they managed to find one (just one!) in the area and I think that helped her some.

    I am feeling more confident about the newborn stage of our second one because I have more of a plan of how to cope (this is not happening anytime soon). I want to routine rather than demand feed, bottle rather than breastfeed from the beginning and move the baby into their own room and do the cry it out sooner than we did this time. All highly controversial and guilt- inducing decisions that I think are necessary for my health and therefore the wellbeing of my number one child, new number two child and my poor husband who will, of course, have to agree with my plans!

    • Eve
      25 Feb 2013

      The possibility of an elective caesar’s been floating around my head now, too. I’d initially vetoed it outright, because I’d been indoctrinated to believe that vaginal births will always better given the choice, with less recovery time. But then, that indoctrination came from the same people who told me childbirth could feel good! And the recovery time from the unlucky ‘natural’ birth I had, was ages longer than the typical c-section time frame.

      I also wondered if I’d be allowed to do it at all, if I was just thought to be ‘too posh to push’. But my midwife told me (and I am grateful to her for disclosing this, that I hadn’t been aware of) that women who have received a third or fourth degree tear from a previous birth are automatically granted a consultation with someone regarding a caesar option. I don’t know when I can have that, but it sounds like a helpful discussion, especially if I’ll feel ‘allowed’ to consider it!

      Your ideas for Number Two will induce guilt if you pay heed to popular opinion, especially from Plunket. They’re mouthy. But go for it! I went the routine-feeding route (eventually), and Timmy always had his own room (no space in ours), so I’ll be going the same way again. And once I started bottle-feeding him, life was so much easier, and I (and by extension, baby too) was much happier! My relief then outweighed any guilt! I think, at this point, I’ll still try breastfeeding my Number Two, at least initially, but that’s more a financial decision than anything else. Formula-fed babies grow up just fine! Timmy’s a couple of months away from his first birthday, and he hasn’t even been ill yet. Not even a cold. See? Just fine. 🙂

  • The Team at AIM
    09 Mar 2013

    Contact us, Eve. We’re confident we can help you out with information and connections if need be.

    • The Team at AIM
      09 Mar 2013

      And “And by ‘the popular idea’, I mean, ‘the only idea you’ll hear, anywhere’.” – not quite 😉

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