Every mom wishes for an uneventful, safe, and easy labor and delivery experience. Unfortunately, not every mom gets one. I know, because I’ve experienced birth trauma first hand both times I gave birth. The first time, the trauma was triggered by preterm labor, followed by a chaotic hospital experience and the loss of my child. The second time, I was already undergoing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the first pregnancy, and had a last minute home birth-to-hospital transfer. That traumatic birth completed changed my first year of motherhood once my son was born.
A birth is considered traumatic when you experience a significant amount of distress during labor and delivery, and/or when you experience physical injury due to childbirth. I am one of those unlucky few who experienced both. I was terrified at the end of my labor experience with my son. I didn’t know if he would be born alive or dead, if he was sick (which he was), and if he would make it (he did). When he was rushed to the NICU across town, I was devastated. My stress levels have never been higher than in his first two months in the hospital. Add to that severe vaginal tearing, and my first year of motherhood was anything but a "picnic."
So, how did all this trauma change my first full year of being a mom?
It Made Bonding Difficult
While I was beyond thrilled that my son was born shortly past his due date, the fear that I would lose him was unshakeable. I was especially scared in the first few days of his life when he was intubated in the NICU. There were times I didn’t really want to be around him or get to know him because I was so scared it would hurt once I lost him (except he’s still around, and now a joyful 3-year-old boy).
I Found Myself Needing To Rely On Others More...
I really hoped that motherhood would mean a new form of independence. I’d felt pretty infantilized after I lost my daughter as my husband and I had to move in with my own parents for a time. However, thanks to my injuries, I had to lean hard on my parents and even my brother and friends. In the end, it was for the best and I’m thankful I had them.
...But I Also Found Myself Refusing Help More
There were times I would get pretty frustrated at being unable to do things on my own. Stubborn is putting it lightly. My trauma came in strange waves, and made me wish I could run when I could barely walk. This caused a bit of strife, especially between my mom and I.
It Made Sleep Even Harder To Come By
Every night, I constantly replayed my labor and delivery experience over and over in my head. Once our son was home, I constantly replayed every moment in the NICU in my head. As if insomnia wasn’t already a fact of life when you're a new parent, the trauma made it worse.
It Complicated Breastfeeding
Stress is a common enemy of breastfeeding. I’m not sure if it was just my trauma that complicated my breastfeeding (as I may or may not have insufficient glandular tissue). Either way, obsessing over the need to breastfeed when I couldn’t even produce an ounce at a time certainly didn’t help things.
It Caused Me To Be Much More Cautious About Visitors...
Every time I saw another person, all I could think was about all the germs they might be carrying. Although friends and family were wanting to come by and visit our son, I was extra-cautious due to what he’d been through, and also due to my trauma. I could not allow even the remote chance that he would pick up a virus and end up back in the hospital (or worse).
...And Way More Cautious About Leaving My Son With Anyone
It was very difficult having my son in the hospital and under the care of strangers, even if they were medical professionals. My paranoia about losing another baby was incredibly strong. It also took months before I finally left my son in the care of my parents, and two years before I finally placed him in preschool. My trauma is slowly subsiding, and fortunately it’s becoming less difficult to trust people around my kid.
It Made Me Second Guess All My Decisions
It’s hard not to blame yourself when you lose a child or almost lose a child. Although rationally I can say I know I did nothing wrong, this guilt has caused me to experience a lot of self-doubt. That self-doubt has complicated every decision I have been making for the past few years.
I Was Way More Stressed Out Than I Needed To Be
More than anything, birth trauma has caused me endless amounts of stress and anxiety over the years. This stress has manifested itself in everything from skin rashes to overeating to hair loss. Now that I’ve started therapy again, my hope is to push past my traumas.
To those of you currently experiencing this, please take care of yourselves. Birth trauma is a very real thing, but with enough time and help, you can eventually find yourself living a much happier, less stressful life.