Brianna had an emotionally difficult pregnancy and experienced a traumatic birth. After her daughter’s birth, her generalized anger, fear and anxiety became overwhelming. She knew about PPD/A, but realized that this wasn’t quite what was happening to her. Once Brianna was diagnosed and began treatment for postpartum post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and found a PPPSS support group, her path to healing began.
Brianna and her husband lived with his parents. Her father-in-law became seriously ill with cancer at the same time they found out they were pregnant.
And just very stressful time, a lot of negative emotion in the house, a lot of tension and anxiety. I felt that I wasn’t getting the sort of support that I needed because I didn’t have any family with me.
Her father-in-law’s cancer quickly progressed
He ended up dying about two months before I gave birth so there was sort of a shift in the dynamics of the house but it was still a lot of negative emotion.
There was a point I can look back on during the birth experience and I know that that was the point at which there was a division between: I’m ok and now I’m not ok. And my mind very much separated from my body at that point. And I remember the doula asking me: what are you thinking about? And I said: the pain. And I was crying. And she said: you can’t think about that. And that was the point at which I needed someone to say: ok lets just take a break, as much of a break as you can take while you’re in labor.
I think if that had been tried, there might have been a different outcome. But that was the point at which it sort of all fell apart.
I remember later on in the birth the obstetrician talking about what he was going to be doing and I would protest, and he would just say: but that’s what we’re doing. And I felt very .. .. .. I felt like no one was listening, no one, no one cared enough to see my face and to see that I was a woman in labor, having a baby, I’m not just the unborn-child carrier. I’m actually a person.
Brianna developed post traumatic stress disorder due to her her birth experience
So the symptoms I were having were things like flashbacks to what happened during the birth, I was crying a lot all the time, more than I think is normal after having a child. I was having some physical symptoms as well, I would start breathing rapidly, my heart rate would increase, I would start sweating, and it was all sort of associated with the flashbacks.
Later on I noticed the, the anger would come into it. I was getting quite angry about things that should normally be no problem. There was a lot of fear, fear about getting pregnant again, going through another birth. Fear about going to the doctor and just having an exam. Just a lot of fear about that area of my life that interfered with making decisions and planning life.
I was angry about everything. Every little thing would set me off. And I knew it wasn’t right, I knew that this wasn’t how I usually was, but I couldn’t seem to stop it. And the person who got the most of it was my husband because he was an easy target. You cannot get mad at your child all the time because they’re too young, they don’t understand. But another adult is fair game and even though I don’t like saying, that it’s the reality of the situation. You have all of this emotion and it’s supposed to be going somewhere and I knew it was supposed to be going towards the obstetrician. But he’s not here, so I can’t get mad at him. And so the closest person is my husband. And so I think that that creates a bigger divide as well. That anger.
A diagnosis of PTSD requires a special type of professional help to heal
I would say that PTSD is .. an extreme fear and anxiety reaction to a traumatizing situation. You might be told that birth is normal and these are the things that happen during birth and it’s fine, because it’s normal. But sometimes your brain interprets it as being a trauma and that’s ok, that’s just what happened to you and you need to recognize that it’s ok but you also need to get help. Because it can be very difficult to get through it on your own.
I found the psychologist that I went to was extremely helpful in getting me through that intense fear at the beginning and helping me to disassociate the fear from the memory and be able to have the memory without feeling frightened, anxious or panicky. And so PTSD is something that can happen, and there’s nothing wrong with you but you do need some support to get through it.
The other thing I found that I was really craving, actually, was the support of other women who’d had similar experiences.
I found the Pacific Post Partum Support Society. And one phone call was all it took to get me into that group and it was essential, I think, to recovering. Even if you just sit and say nothing, you just listen.
And that was one of the, the occasions where I might tell my story and see someone else was sort of thinking: hmm I had something similar. Or: I know how you feel and that makes you feel a lot better. You feel like someone knows, I’m not the only person who had to go through this. I’m sad for that person as well but at least we can share our experience and our successes along the way.