Talking about Birth and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder/PTSD: Jenn’s Story [Guest]

The day my daughter was born was the day I began a journey I never imagined would be mine.

Let’s rewind a bit. When Matt and I had been married for three years, we felt ‘as ready as we’d ever be’ to have a child. We were excited and naïve and ready to face this new world.

Two early miscarriages later, I was finally pregnant. Those early miscarriages instilled a lot of fear in me with my pregnancy. It didn’t help that I had occasional bleeding with the pregnancy as well. You could say I was paranoid. I had been known to check my knickers obsessively for blood. However, overall I was able to enjoy the pregnancy. Everything seemed to be going well.

I look back now and wonder if I should have seen the warning signs. The fact that I became very puffy and swollen all of a sudden. The fact that my baby’s growth started slowing down. But my midwife didn’t seem concerned, so I wasn’t either.

On the night I turned 30 weeks pregnant I suddenly felt a gush of fluid down my leg. To my horror it was a huge gush of blood. In that moment I felt more fear than I thought possible. That fear has been my companion since.

In the whirlwind of that night, and the following two days, it transpired that I was extremely unwell, as was my baby. My placenta was failing and I had pre-eclampsia.

The odd thing was that apart from the big bleed, I felt fine. I felt well in myself. And because of that I have lost trust in my body’s ability to tell me when it is in danger.

Two days after the big bleed, Ada was born via emergency c-section at 30+2 weeks gestation. She weighed 1.19kg. My first glimpse of her was via the display screen on the back of our camera.

Talking about birth and PTSD: read Jenn's story here | Sacraparental.com | image credit, Jennifer Gilbert

Baby Ada in NICU. Image courtesy of the author.

The weeks that Ada was in NICU (the neonatal intensive care unit) are a big blur now. At the time I just did what I had to do to get through every day. My baby was my focus and I didn’t allow myself to worry too much about my own feelings.

Don’t get me wrong – I cried. I cried and cried and I missed her and I hurt for her and me and I longed for her to be at home. (You can read more about our NICU time on my blog.)

But the great thing about Ada’s journey through NICU was that she made steady progress – it felt like we were getting somewhere. We had the ultimate goal (coming home) to focus on and little else mattered. We had a plan and we knew the outcomes.

Her journey out of NICU was not uneventful, but in the scheme of things she did well.

Ada never learnt to feed well and she came home on an NG feeding tube, which she needed for much longer than we ever anticipated. (You can read more about that here.)

Talking about birth and PTSD: read Jenn's story here | Sacraparental.com

Jenn and Ada in NICU. Image courtesy of the author.

Through her first year Ada grew and thrived and turned into the happy little toddler she is now.

As the day to day stress and immediate worry lessened, and the thought of having another child one day cropped up, the fear came back with a vengeance.

Nightmares about bleeding out, and baby loss and death and chaos. A feeling of fear so real and so permanent it sat heavy in my stomach. The inability to restrain my thoughts from going places that were dark and twisty. In fact, I indulged in these thoughts. As if thinking and imagining every detail of the worst could protect me from its actuality.

This went on for a while and started to grow in its power. It interrupted my sleep, took my thoughts away from day to day matters. At this point I realised I wasn’t ok and went to my GP.

My GP told me what I already suspected (I had googled, I am that type of person). I have PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, which is being triggered by the thought of having another baby.

The fact is that we had something go wrong at nearly every step of pregnancy – with miscarriages and bleeding throughout and the pre-term birth and the subsequent discovery of a blood clotting disorder. This means I have every stage to worry about with a future pregnancy. Months of worry. This is not a healthy way to live, and not the way I want to go into a pregnancy.

So, I started seeing a counsellor. To be honest my GP wasn’t very helpful. I was referred to the Maternal Mental Health Service, but they only see women until their baby is one so I don’t fit their criteria. I found a great counsellor myself through PND Wellington.

I’ve been seeing her for a few weeks now. We’ve really only started. But what we’ve discussed so far I’ve found so helpful. Things like realising while my emotional and mental health can be fragile, my social health (social connections) and intellectual health (working and studying) are both very strong, and I can fall back on these when I need to. Things like discussion actual risks versus overblown fears and recognising when I’m giving into the latter.

So that brings us to now. This post isn’t going to end with a magic tale of how I overcame PTSD. Because I’m not there yet. I’m still going through. I feel like I’m slowly making progress although I still have moments of despair.

Talking about birth and PTSD: read Jenn's story here | Sacraparental.com | image credit, Jennifer Gilbert

Matt and Jenn with Baby Ada, at 34 weeks, 5 days gestation. Image courtesy of the author.

Everyone is different and what works for each person will not be the same. For me I’ve found being open about my journey has led to great conversations with friends and family. I have written quite openly on my blog about miscarriage, prematurity, and fear. I find the process of writing very cathartic, and I know that it helps others also.

Other ways I’ve tried to get help, by praying, printing out ‘inspirational’ quotes, powerful songs on repeat, following inspiring women on instagram who are walking through similar anxiety (like Diana Stone for example), all these things slowly chip away at the fear I feel.

I’m scared, so, so scared of ever being pregnant again. But slowly, I’m starting to feel excited at the prospect too. No pregnancy I have is ever going to be fear-free. But I’m starting to believe I will cope. I am resilient. I can take it one day at a time and I can do this.

Jenn is a first time mum, living and working in Wellington. She shares her musing on motherhood, miscarriage and prematurity at Jennifer Darling.

If you have a story you would like to tell, please get in touch.

If Jenn’s story makes you concerned about your own experience, please make a call to your doctor or another health professional. You can read more about PTSD and childbirth at the excellent resources website Mothers Matter, which also has helpful resources about other aspects of mental health in mothers and fathers. 

For other first-hand accounts of difficult times in parenthood, you may like to read:

How it is: my story of postnatal depression

Talking about baby loss: Stephanie’s story

Talking about birth and PTSD: read Jenn's story here | Sacraparental.com | image credit, Jennifer Gilbert

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2 comments on “Talking about Birth and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder/PTSD: Jenn’s Story [Guest]”

  1. Steph Reply

    Hi Jenn
    Thanks so much for being brave and sharing your story. I think we have lots in common: baby loss, premature births, blood clotting disorders, writing guest posts for Sacraparental….
    I’m slowly coming out the other side of 7 years of fear and anxiety (2 miscarriages, one stillbirth and two premature babies) and the journey continues. It has changed me as a person and impacted me as a parent in ways that I can’t even put words around most of the time.
    The most empowering and encouraging thing I have found has been sharing my story.
    Having good support (professional and friends/family) has been crucial too.
    It’s a hard, hard journey and you are brave to share it.
    Arohanui xx

    • Jenn Reply

      Hi Steph

      I read your amazing story as I was preparing this blog. You inspire me! It’s very scary huh, to have such little control over such a big thing. Thanks so much for commenting, I wish you luck on your journey too xx

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