We need to talk about perinatal and postnatal PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder as a result of a traumatic birth experience). We need to talk about the signs. We need to talk about how to get support for those who need it.
We need to talk about perinatal and postnatal PTSD because it is real, its impact can be devastating, and getting the appropriate support to move forward is vital.
And it’s crucial to remember – it is possible to move forward.
But first, back to basics. What is PTSD? NHS Choices provides this definition (that refers to PTSD in general):
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.
Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.
They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult.
These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.
The lovely Emma Sasaru created this excellent graphic to describe some of the main signs of PTSD.
Like me, Emma had severe pre-eclampsia and she too has been diagnosed with PTSD. Her daughter has now grown in to a young woman. You can read more about Emma’s story on her blog.
Postnatal PTSD relates to all birth trauma – whether or not you took your baby home.
If you feel you’re experiencing these symptoms after experiencing a traumatic birth, please speak to someone to get support. It’s important to remember that you might not have PTSD, but if you recognise these signs you may still benefit from support to help you overcome them.
Any mental illness sadly still carries a stigma. It can seem scary.
It’s easy to say you mustn’t feel guilty (I was told this so many times after Hugo; I believe it rationally but not emotionally), but please remember that none of this is your fault. Sometimes people may think seeking support is weak – but it’s quite the opposite, recognising you need help is a sign of great strength.
Unfortunately, getting the right support is not always easy. Perinatal mental health provision in this country leaves a lot to be desired. Getting support after Hugo’s traumatic birth, followed by his tragic death was incredibly difficult. It was apparent mental health professionals did not really know what to do with me, or how to help me (I didn’t fit in to a tick box anywhere).
Eventually, after a great deal of battling I got amazing support from a psychotherapist. The sessions themselves were not easy, either. They involved exploring some of the worst, most traumatic memories I had locked away in my head. It involved accepting that locking away those memories did not make them go away. During the sessions, I had to face some of the thoughts that most terrified me.
The sessions were utterly draining and exhausting.
But so very worth it.
I don’t think I can ever say I am ‘better’, or ‘cured’. Instead, I have a greater sense of acceptance of what happened to me, to Hugo, to my family. I feel better able to deal with some of the triggers that set off panic attacks. I have a suite of self-care tactics to help ward off the dark times – or ride them out when those dark times visit.
My head is still often tormented by intrusive thoughts, constantly reliving events, and my memory and concentration are still not as they were before. However, my sense of isolation, avoidance, hyper vigilance, psychological and physical anxiety symptoms are gradually easing.
There are still days when I cannot face the world. My anger rages at the unfairness of it all. But thanks to the therapy, I can do my best to rationalise that those feelings will soon pass and better days will return.
So if you recognise yourself in anything I’ve written, I would like to envelope you in love. You have a difficult journey ahead, but put one foot in front of the other, take one day at a time.
Not everyone will understand what you are going through, or be helpful to you.
Try not to let them invalidate your feelings and experiences, and do what is right for you.
If you are on Twitter, visit @unfoldurwings for some beautiful affirmations that will help show you are not alone.
And if you know someone who might benefit from this information, please forward it to them.
Together we are stronger.