I suffer from PTSD due to sexual abuse by a family friend as a child. I am no longer ashamed of this fact, however it has proven to make my transition into motherhood more difficult. It has impacted my decision to breastfeed in more ways than I can count, but more on that later. I wish that someone had warned me just how tough it would be and how much more likely I was to get post natal depression. I’m through the other side now (and still managing to breastfeed) thanks to my partner, family and friends.
The biggest surprise of my life came when the pregnancy test came up as positive, apparently being careful isn’t always a guarantee. In the minutes that followed I repeatedly transitioned between: delight, shock, fear and panic.
After the inevitable crying on my partners shoulders I booked myself in for a check up with my GP and then arranged to see the midwife. I learnt I was just five weeks pregnant and I finally let it sink in. I was going to be a mummy, but in order to do that I needed to submit myself to a barrage of tests. Sometimes I can only just tolerate my parter coming near me (let alone anything else) so I knew that it would be a very challenging experience. I can honestly say that I was right in that presumption.
Every vaginal examination was followed with flashbacks and nightmares, the ultrasound scan kicked off my anxiety. My past and the resulting PTSD was written in my notes but people still treated it like it was a non-issue. I remember speaking to the doctor about it half way through my pregnancy and asking for a cesarean section due to the phobia of unknown people going near intimate areas and also deep seated fears of having an epileptic seizure (did I mention I also suffer from epilepsy?) whist in labour, as pain is a big seizure trigger for me. I was told a flat-out ‘no’ because it unlikely to cause any physical problems.
The numbers were just a 2% increased risk of harm coming to the baby. Though I was more anxious about this because my Aunt has a severely brain damaged daughter, almost entirely caused by her having several large epileptic seizures late in her pregnancy (including during the birth itself). I tried to argue that it wasn’t just the physical issues that I was panicking about but my worries were not heeded.
This caused night after night of sleeplessness and anxiety. I really couldn’t enjoy my pregnancy with those fears hanging over my head.
I had to have a 36 week scan due to it being a high risk pregnancy and discovered that my beautiful daughter was breach. This meant that I would get the C-section that I had originally wanted. I’m very grateful for this as it probably lessened the negative impacts later on.
During the birth itself, I had an epidural as pain relief and I was very jumpy while the anesthetist was trying to insert it so it went slightly too high and ended up freezing my hands as well. This obviously wasn’t his fault, he was lovely and very understanding. I was glad that the doctors doing the procedure were so kind and patient with me.
I hadn’t anticipated that having my lower body frozen would make me feel panicky, powerless and weak but at least I couldn’t feel what they were doing down there. I heard a cry and Evelynn was brought up to my eye level. She was perfect and worth all the stress, aches and pains. She was then passed to my partner, who held her for the remainder of the procedure as I still couldn’t move my hands!
About twenty minutes later they wheeled me into recovery, passed her to me to hold and instructed me to place her on my chest and have skin to skin. This was bliss and for a while all of my worries faded away.
Next I was encouraged to try to get her to latch on and start feeding her for the first time. It was uncomfortable but at that point I was still in a drug fuelled haze from the pain killers and ignoring everything but the tiny miracle in front of me.
Sleep deprivation is one more the less enjoyable parts of being a new mother but I had the added problem in which whenever I did fall asleep, I woke up in a cold shiver from the nightmares that plagued me. The breastfeeding didn’t help matters either, on one side I felt happy and proud that my body was providing everything my sweet, baby needed. On the other hand it caused flashbacks to the abuse, made me feel physically sick and unwilling to have anybody come near me – all on top of the more common problems most ladies get such as incorrect latch and the pain that brings.
The hospital put me in touch with a lactation consultant and she corrected my positioning and the babies latch. She was worth her weight in gold for how much she helped me and Evie. When my nipples healed this put an end to the physical pain but unfortunately the same can’t be said for the psychological pain.
At this point I wouldn’t admit to the PTSD being the problem because I felt ashamed. I felt I was failing at one of the most natural things in the world (despite Evelynn being as healthy and happy as can be) and I was worried that people would think that I was a bad mother if I gave in to my disabilities. Whist pregnant one person was “kind” enough to tell me that I should get an abortion to save the child from the humiliation of having a crippled mother (did I mention I also suffer from extremely short tendons in my legs as a mild form of cerebral palsy – making it extremely painful for me to walk?). It was an incredibly cruel thing to say but it made me wonder if other people percieved me and my situation in the same way. It played on my mind for a long time afterwards and I dreaded the thought of proving that person right.
In the end I broke down in tears in front of my health visitor and he got me a double appointment with the lady gp who in turn got me access to counselling. It was at this point I started to give Evie expressed milk when I was at my worst (as in crying and terrified), though I tried to keep this to a maximum of once or twice a week. With this treatment along with the support of my partner, I have improved significantly and now manage quite well for the most part.
I apologise if this all seems slightly rambling, but it’s not easy for me to talk about, even now – but I feel that putting things in writing (even on a silly little blog) has given me something of a release.
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