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Pregnancy PTSD

Pregnancy PTSD

By Amalah

Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Amy,

Long time reader, first-time asker-questioner. And big fan of your blog(s), which may or may not have taken up countless hours of my workday, if you added it all up, but maybe let’s not talk about that right now with the oss-bay possibly eading-ray.

So before I ask my question, I should probably preface by saying I may be a monster. I’ve only talked to a very few about this, and they’ve all gently confirmed that yes, I may be a monster.

My baby, who is now 16 months old and not so much a baby anymore, is awesome. Straight up, I dig him. But it’s taken a long time to get to this place. I had a pretty awful pregnancy with 35 weeks of vomiting EVERY DAY and borderline preeclampsia that started in the second trimester which led to twice-weekly doctor visits, weekly non-stress tests, constant negotiating with the doctor because PLEASE don’t make me go on bed rest, I will literally go insane, and an induced labor where I literally could not move for 15 hours except to turn over ever 2 hours because it made my blood pressure spike. I was so doped up on magnesium, to which I had a terrible reaction, that I have no recollection of the baby being born, crying, holding him, nursing him, nada.

Result: a screaming, pointy headed baby who did want to be swaddled, cuddled, sleep, nurse, or…really do anything but scream. And not sleep. And I maybe kind of googled what the law was about leaving him at a hospital or fire station or something.  Like I said, monster.

But I didn’t, of course, and now he’s funny and smart and amazing and I love him more than I ever thought possible, which is something parents always say but I didn’t really understand until now.

I know my pregnancy/newborn story is nothing unique, but here’s my question: is there such a thing as pregnancy PTSD? Because now, whenever anyone tells me she’s pregnant, my very first thought is, “Ha ha, sucker! Better you than me!” I’ve avoided baby showers because I have the overwhelming urge to yell, “This is all such a scam! It’s not magical or beautiful! It’s horrible, it’s so very horrible!” In retrospect, I probably had a little postpartum depression (PPD), but shouldn’t it have worn off by now? Sometimes I think that in, say, 4 or 5 years it would be nice to have another one. But when I think about going through pregnancy/newborn-ness again, I nearly have a panic attack.

Is this normal? Does it go away? Am I really a monster?  

S

No. You are not a monster. Though the “very few” whom you’ve shared your story and feelings with might be monsters, a little bit, for such a stunning lack of empathy. Holy hell.

Look, not every mother bonds with her baby immediately. It’s also not something a lot of women admit to, so the next wave of mothers who have bonding issues are left adrift in a sea of “love at first sight” testimonials wondering what the hell is wrong with them. I imagine complications surrounding pregnancy and birth (you had both, big time) and extra-difficult newborns (check!) can up the likelihood of it happening, but then again, I’m friends with someone who had a textbook-perfect pregnancy and easy, natural birth…and she admitted to me that it took her a few months to decide if she even liked her baby.

Was she a monster? Hell no. She was a wonderful mother who was clearly bonded with her son…but yeah, it took her a little bit to get there. She went on to have another textbook-perfect pregnancy and easy, natural birth, and she was stunned the second time around by the incredible wave of instant love she felt for that baby. It was just like what everybody else talked about! Imagine that!

Even though I didn’t experience anything like that personally, I appreciated that she was brave enough to share that confession, and I never, ever thought that there was anything “wrong” with her for finding the early newborn days/weeks to be kind of a soul-sucking pain in the ass. Because logically, THEY ARE EXACTLY THAT. Pregnancy is uncomfortable, childbirth is painful, and then you get to spend months caring for this messy, demanding little blob-creature. Maybe those of us who walked around in a hormonal high of babylove were the crazy people, if you think about it.

Now. You say your pregnancy/newborn experiences are “nothing unique” but…they ARE. What you went through was not “typical” and it objectively sucked. Even if millions of other women had the EXACT same experience, it doesn’t really matter. Your experiences are YOURS, and nobody gets to dictate or judge your personal reaction to those experiences. Cut yourself some slack.

As for Postpartum Depression (PPD): If left untreated, it can persist for up to two years. Or even longer. So it’s entirely possible that your feelings of panic and anger are a continued extension of untreated PPD, and I have ZERO DOUBT that you are not the first or only woman to describe PTSD-like symptoms in the wake of a difficult or traumatic birth (either physically or emotionally). But no matter what acronym you want to settle on, it’s not too “late” to seek some help. You’ve suffered enough, I’d say, so don’t feel like you have to sit around and wait for it to all just magically “wear off” in a few months. (And note that there’s no “usual” timetable for how long PTSD symptoms can last, because it’s different for everybody.) Talk to your OB and tell him/her what you wrote here, and what you’re still feeling.

Basically: I think your feelings towards pregnancy and newborns are  TOTALLY UNDERSTANDABLE, in light of what you went through. But that doesn’t mean you need to KEEP FEELING THAT WAY, forever and ever amen, especially in such an intrusive way. I’m sorry the people you’ve talked to allowed you to continue blaming yourself for being wrong or monster-like. I hope you can bring yourself to talk to someone else — your OB, physician, a therapist — who will be able to both validate/sympathize with your feelings…while also providing some practical help for dealing with them.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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