When Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is mentioned, most envision a soldier returning from war. Not until recently have multiple forms of PTSD, and the wide variety of people who suffer from them, been discussed. For example, PTSD can be a symptom of child abuse, domestic abuse, rape, and sexual assault. Experiencing a traumatic birth and losing your child, like I did, can also result in PTSD. These traumas are all valid causes of PTSD, and they don't just "go away." In fact, there are many ways my PTSD has changed the way I parent.
I can’t be certain how different my parenting experience would be had I never undergone the traumas that I have endured. Maybe I would be a more laid-back parent. Maybe I would have put my son in daycare when he was really young, rather than waiting until he was over 2 years old and still feeling totally paranoid and scared of leaving him with someone else. Maybe what have become triggers would just be run-of-the-mill, normal daily experiences that I could breeze through with ease. Or, maybe my PTSD has helped keep my son safe, and made me a more aware mother than I would have been without the lasting impacting of unspeakable trauma.
Unfortunately, I’ll never know. What I do know, however, is that my PTSD symptoms are definitely less intense than they were when my son was born. I also know those symptoms, however tapered, have impacted the way I raise my son. Honestly, I have a feeling they always will.
The biggest hurdle for me to climb is the fact that PTSD has caused me to imagine my son being hurt or killed by the most random things and on a daily basis.
When a parent sees their child playing, they probably see pure happiness and unabashed freedom. They see, you know, a care-free child playing. When I look at my son playing, I see him tripping or busting his skull open on a table corner. I see him accidentally swallowing a piece of a toy and choking to death. He see him licking the paint off the toys and oh my god did we ever test for lead paint even though it’s highly unlikely? It is exhausting.
PTSD has made me, for the most part, incapable of making quick decisions. While I’ve gotten a bit better at it, for a while I was either not able to make a decision, or would give someone else the authority to make decisions for me (usually my partner). This has often resulted in taking way too long to get dinner or leave the house, because I can’t figure out what to do or where to go first. Not exactly great for my kid, either.
My reaction times have certainly improved over time, but when my son was just an infant, I had moments where I would all but shut down when he was crying because he’d gotten hurt in some way. I would pick him up, look blankly, and walk away while my mother and husband would follow asking questions I simply could not answer. Or, if it was really bad, I would do nothing at all and they would have to pick him up. It was awful.
These days, I try to encourage my son to go off and explore. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t still follow him all around the playground. I might look like an intense helicopter parent, but frankly, I don’t care. I am much too terrified of him falling down from high places or someone trying to steal him from me. While it’s not too likely, child trafficking is a very real thing and I am super on guard about it.
Sometimes I have bad days, usually when I remember the daughter I lost. During those bad days, when something triggers me into remembering my son’s traumatic birth, I just don’t feel well enough to socialize with other humans, let alone get out of my pajamas. I try not to break promises to my son about going to the park or museum anymore, but it does still happen occasionally.
Some folks are trusting of the first sitter they find. It took me months to decide on a preschool, and I did lots of internet snooping on everyone employed there. Even after the employees checked out, I was only capable of leaving my son there for a short amount of time. I also took comfort in it being walking distance from my home.
My husband and I are about to try to find a sitter for an event happening next month, and I’m scared to death about it.
My son has had some feeding delays for quite some time, and when he started solids he would sometimes throw up. While some folks were doing the baby-led weaning thing, the thought of giving him anything that could get lodged in his throat, however soft, terrified me. My son eats chicken nuggets and baby carrots and apple slices just fine now, but I still hold my breath whenever he takes a bite that’s larger than I’d like.
Having PTSD means sometimes being triggered when you don’t want to be. It means your body is constantly vigilant and on alert, which causes you to become tired much faster than you otherwise would. Because I’m exhausted and stressed, I don’t always have as much patience as I’d like.