Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Birth Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

It’s been three years since my son, Jaxson, was born more than four months early and I still relive the experience, scene for scene, when I see or hear a helicopter.

sunray forest PTSD NICU

freeimages.com/Rodrigo Lozano

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.

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.

I am suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Hand to Hold published an excellent 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.”

A full-blown PTSD flashback doesn’t happen to me every time 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 before: 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. Healing from a traumatic birth is a process. It’s not over for me yet.

Andrea Mullenmeister About Andrea Mullenmeister

Andrea Mullenmeister (MN) is a stay-at-home-mom for a little adventurer. Jaxson decided to meet the family while they were on vacation! After a terrifying helicopter ride, Jax was born at 23 weeks 3 days weighing 1lb 8oz. He suffered from severe ROP, humongous inguinal hernias, Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia and severe hyspospadias. After 93 days in the NICU, Jax came home. He is a happy and mostly healthy toddler with only minor issues. Andrea volunteers on a parent advisory council for "Jax's" NICU and shares their story to give other parents hope. She writes about the life of her micropreemie at An Early Start. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Comments

  1. Frightening, brave and beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

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  1. […] both kids and parents. NICU families have up to a 70% chance of developing anxiety, depression, and PTSD (NCBI). NICU parents are also at a higher risk for separation, divorce, and child […]

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