The biggest thing I haven’t yet mentioned here is that I was diagnosed with PTSD stemming from events surrounding my births.
After struggling with symptoms by myself for over five years, I finally chose to seek help because I felt like I couldn’t turn my brain off. If I woke up at night, or if I was sitting quietly by myself, or trying to fall asleep, or anything that involved some downtime for my brain, I couldn’t stop replaying and obsessing over details of my births. This symptom is called intrusive thoughts (or persistent re-experiencing) and I was tired of it. I wanted my brain back.
I was treated using EMDR therapy and I found it really, really effective. We mostly did “tones” (listening to beep-boop sounds that alternate left and right) instead of the eye movements and she also tapped my knees left and right.
After working through a bunch of situations, I began to notice a pattern of behavior from my care providers that directly contributed to my issues. I wrote about several incidents here as they happened, but I minimized my feelings or explained their actions away even though some of them really hurt me. When I was gaining weight like mad and they simply told me to “lay off the fast food and soda” without even asking me what I ate in a typical day? HUGE, STARK CONTRAST to my midwife with Thora’s birth, who preemptively had me keep a food journal for a week so we could identify things to work on and we had a discussion about nutrition and based on my journal, I was advised to up my protein intake and then continue my food journal for another week to see how I felt.
Or telling me I was supposed to do the glucose test at 16 weeks (normally it’s not until 28ish weeks) without explaining why they were having me complete it twice or revealing that I had the right to refuse the extra test.
Or calling me a month before I was due to tell me I could “have a baby tonight if I wanted” and then laughing, as though they didn’t care I may have a premature baby and it was all a big joke.
Or brushing off my concerns that I had Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction and merely telling me it would only get worse. They didn’t recommend a specific support belt, or physiotherapy, or suggest chiropractic care, or exercises I could do to lessen the pain. They didn’t offer ANYTHING except to tell me that it would only get worse and made it seem like a support belt might not help.
Good care providers recognize that you are a human capable of rational thought with the capacity to consent to or deny various procedures, and they inform you of the risks and benefits of those procedures ahead of time. Bad care providers take everything as a given and don’t bother with your input – they inform you they will be performing a vaginal exam instead of asking if you would like one performed. They shove consent forms in your face while you sob and people are streaming into the room to start the procedure you are “consenting” to. You are coerced; you feel like you can’t say no. Or maybe you do say no, and they ignore it and continue anyway – like the time during my labor with Wesley when someone roughly checked my cervix during a vaginal exam while I cried and protested. They didn’t stop. Then they said my cervix was “high and difficult to find” and made it seem as though the rough exam was my fault.
It’s hard to not beat yourself up over choosing sub-par care, or not recognizing red flags for what they are, but I just have to keep reminding myself that I did the best I could with the information I had at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 and all.
After several months of treatment, those intrusive thoughts? They almost never happen anymore and I am so thankful. I can sleep! I can talk about Wesley’s birth without feeling “triggered” – I can just do my little elevator speech and not feel panicked or like I need to explain all my life choices that led to the circumstances I found myself in. I can talk about how much more empowered I felt with Thora’s birth while recognizing I was grieving the loss of my homebirth at the same time.
I still get sad about things sometimes; just today I was marveling over the fact that I am the only person I know who has attempted a VBAC but didn’t achieve one. Everyone else I know who has attempted a VBAC has been successful, which is AWESOME for them but still gives me pangs of jealousy when I think about it.
On the whole though, I am feeling so much better. I even wrote to the clinic I went to in Portland describing my care and how it resulted in a mental health diagnosis for me, and they called me to apologize and tell me that they took my story very seriously and would be referencing it in an upcoming patient care meeting to improve patient outcomes. They also assured me that they’ve put several policies in place (in the intervening six years) to prevent the sort of “care” I received. For instance, they now give moms a moment alone with their support person after handing them the cesarean consent forms. It doesn’t change anything for the hospital, but it could really influence how a mom feels about her birth ending in surgery. I know I would have felt much more involved in the decision with that process vs the surgery being treated as a fait accompli. I’m also considering posting the text of that letter here, since I felt I articulated my issues well.
Mental health is a complicated topic and I’ve told only a few people in person that I received treatment, but I am truly, deeply grateful for the lovely lady helping me work through my trauma and I wish I had done it sooner. In that vein, I’m happy to answer any questions about my treatment, as I think helping demystify the therapeutic process is important and might have encouraged me to seek help sooner.