Every single detail of my son’s traumatic birth is etched in my memory. It’s been three years since Jaxson was born more than four months early and I still relive the experience, scene for scene, when I see or hear a helicopter.
I am there. I feel the rumble of the helicopter blades. I smell the humid July air. I taste the fear in my throat when they tell me there is a chance I will deliver my baby while in flight to the hospital. I feel my blood turn to liquid lava the second the magnesium hits my bloodstream.
Strangely, I remember telling my mother-in-law to pick up my shoes from the bathroom floor, where I had left them just 30 minutes before – when I still thought everything was going to be ok.
These flashbacks leave me gasping for air and disoriented.
Sometimes they last a few seconds. Sometimes a few minutes. Sometimes they leave me with an uneasy feeling that I can’t shake for days.
Is this normal?
I did some more research, and found an article about parents who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their premature birth and subsequent NICU stay.
Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as a:
“condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”
I am suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
A full-blown PTSD flashback doesn’t happen to me everytime I see or hear a helicopter, but I have no way of knowing when a flashback is going to happen. When I do experience a flashback, it cripples me.
Sometimes, when I talk about the fear surrounding Jax’s arrival, people tell me “be grateful for what you have.” I don’t understand it when people say this. I do not know how PTSD surrounding my son’s traumatic birth equates ungratefulness. Are people saying that I am weak and that I should “just get over it?” Are they discounting my experiences? Do they think that my reaction is a choice? Do they think that I would be “cured” if I was just an eensy, weensy bit more grateful?
As a mother, I do the best I can to nurture and love my son with every ounce of my being. Seeing Jax bouncing around singing songs and laughing makes me realize that I’ve probably done a pretty good job of that so far. My heart overflows with love and amazement every time I watch my little boy achieve something doctor’s said he might not be able to do. I don’t think it’s possible for me to be any more grateful.
PTSD is not a choice. It is a visceral reaction to a very scary event in my life. It is something that affects every single fiber of my body.
Healing clearly won’t happen overnight. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty certain that our experience will always be with me. It changed me. The things that I thought were important before aren’t as important. I take less for granted. I value life more than I did: the physiology of our bodies, the actual miracle of breath. It’s this openness and awareness that will be the key to healing for me, I think.
I’m hoping that eventually, the edges will soften around this pain. I’m hoping that eventually I will be able to stop a flashback before it consumes me.
Healing from a traumatic birth is a process. It’s not over for me yet.