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Rachel On Birth Trauma, PTSD, and Advocating for Yourself

rachel on birth trauma- advocating for yourself

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

My PPD story begins in 2011 after the birth of my first baby. At 41 weeks pregnant and under the care of a doctor who was not patient or helpful in discussing my options, I was induced. I had no communication as to why (except per the weeks) and all my intuitions screamed that he was not ready to come out. But, as a first time mom, I was too frightened to question a seasoned doctor and I went along with it. 

After 18 hours of experiencing the most painful induction process that included a foley balloon, Pitocin, vomiting non-stop, a morphine injection and an epidural that caused my uterus to contract and hold for over two minutes. Alarm bells firing off, I received another injection of a muscle relaxer to help calm the contraction.

Now I had four types of drugs in my highly sensitive body, had been laboring for over 12 hours and was so exhausted I could barely stay awake. I was stalled and the doctor on call decided it was time for a C-section. My son was born at two am and I was barely able to stay awake. I have blurry memories of his birth and the entire process and as soon as he was placed in my arms I remember thinking, “Is this my baby? How do I know he is mine? I didn’t even see him be born.” The attachment was not instantaneous. 

Immediately, people who loved me reassured me about my grief over not having my ideal birth by saying, “At least you have a healthy baby.” This made me feel guilty for my grief but also didn’t sit right with me—I had a cousin with spina bifida, friends who had birthed babies with Down Syndrome—does that mean they don’t get to rejoice because they didn’t “have a healthy baby?”

Overall, this was my introduction to being at the mercy of medical professionals, experiencing grief instead of joy at the birth of my child and feeling like maybe this whole birth thing was more complicated than I had ever expected. My transition into motherhood was shocking as well—my husband had to return to work within three days of me coming home from the hospital and my family was on the East Coast. 

I spent the next two years struggling with what would finally be diagnosed as postpartum PTSD. I have nightmares, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, vivid feelings of violation in my abdomen and baby blues. It took therapy, reading the book, “Emotional Recovery from a C-Section” and writing out my birth story to finally find healing. 

My next pregnancy ended in miscarriage at nine weeks in which I never went into labor to deliver the fetus, but after weeks of waiting ended up with a D&C.

This only increased my depression as I wondered if my body was broken. I got pregnant soon after and was determined to no longer be the silent mom. I advocated for myself in finding a doctor that was trained by midwives and supported VBAC’s.

I read books and hired a doula to help guide my journey. She served as a therapist and helped me feel like I was not alone (or crazy) in any of my experiences. With her help, the patience of my new doctor and the grace of God, I went into labor at 40 weeks, five days and delivered a beautiful little girl without any drugs or interventions. I felt redeemed and a huge part of me healed. I then began navigating the journey of raising two children while continuing to grow my private practice as an MFT.

Surprisingly, I got pregnant with my next baby when my daughter was only one. It was a shock and made me truly consider how I would balance three children under four years old with family across the country, a husband who traveled frequently for work and a thriving private practice. I began to wonder if I could do this, worried if my mindset would impact having a positive birth experience and struggled to be pregnant and sick while raising two babies. Depression set in, triggered by my preference to be in control and making decisions, as well as the overwhelming feeling of how to balance it all. 

I hired my doula again and was able to have a vaginal delivery, although with my water already broken, it was a raw and painful labor process. My son was born (we hadn’t known the gender prior to birth) and although he was beautiful and so wonderful, I have to admit my heart had been set on a girl. I rolled with it but, again, when I am not in control my depression creeps in. 

I began to settle into life with three kids after making the difficult decision to take a year sabbatical from work. Around six weeks old, my son didn’t start the typical transition of sleeping through the night – getting up five, six, seven times a night fussing. I was sleep-deprived and, after having children, became aware that my hormone levels had not evened out like they had in the past. I felt constantly on edge.

If someone brushed against my skin, I flinched. If a child had a temper tantrum, I would rage in anger and scream. Almost every single morning, after getting everyone buckled into the car for a preschool drop off, I wept and cried while driving to school. I remember being at a stop light with my head in my hands just sobbing while my oldest son watched from the back seat. He was so confused and, to this day, I feel the most regret over how my months of postpartum depression affected him.

I had no idea that part of postpartum depression included anxiety. I would suddenly feel my heart start pounding out of chest, my heart racing and difficulty breathing. I sometimes would have to put my head between my knees to even it out but nothing helped. 

I finally reached out to my OB and requested medication. Within three days of starting medication my symptoms had almost completely dissipated. I saw a therapist who did meditation and helped me control my thoughts using visualization. I read books and reached out to others. I was so ashamed to be so vulnerable since I was a clinician who “should be more stable than this.”

But now it is the part of my story I am the most proud of. Postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate. It is something completely out of your control. There is no shame when there is no personalization. I was a victim to poor hormone levels and also had to do some deep work on letting go of my expectations, preferences and perfectionism.

I had to embrace my journey, my vulnerabilities and my neediness in order to get stronger. I sought out authentic people and still do, to this day, because to be genuine in our stories and open in our journeys is the only want to decrease the stigma surrounding the truth of life postpartum.