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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 [email protected].

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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Ally
Guest
Ally

I am so sorry to read this. I understand a lot of your emotions. During my first pregnancy I threw up constantly for nine months. I was in and out of the hospital about once a week for dehydration. It was AWEFUL. I hated being pregnant. I hated the people that said it was the most magical time of their lives. I ended up with a terrible labor that ended in an emergency C-section. I was so sick from it and didn’t see my baby for a long time. I didn’t bond with him, and felt so sick that I… Read more »

Trish
Guest
Trish

I didn’t experience anything like you did, but I don’t think you are a monster. You had a really bad experience. I do have experience with depression, and if you think you might be, talk to a professional about it. IMO, it doesn’t matter why you are depressed, the important thing is to get treatment. I mean the people that are the most depressed are those who are for no “reason.”
 

Katie
Guest
Katie

Just had to chime in–you are so, so, so not alone. I had borderline preeclampsia the last few months, and engaged in similar negotiations about bed rest. My water broke early at 37 weeks, which then led to pretty much the induction from hell–I labored for 36 hours, pushed for 4, and wound up having a vacuum extraction and massive episiotomy. When they put my son on my chest, all I could think was “it’s over” and “what am I supposed to do with him now?” Little did I know that that was the beginning of what I can definitely… Read more »

hodgepodge
Guest

I just wanted to say to the OP that she is most definitely NOT a monster, and anyone who tells her she is for feeling what she felt / still feels is perhaps not someone she ought to be confiding in. Thank goodness for the internet, some days, right? Your pregnancy and delivery sound very traumatic and yes, it is entirely possible for bad experiences with one or the other to cause lingering feeling of depression, inadequacy, unhappiness, etc. Good advice from Amy; talk to your OB or find a qualified therapist to help you work through some of these… Read more »

Jennifer
Guest
Jennifer

I have never felt compelled to leave a comment before but have to chime in on what I am sure will be many comments answering your question with the same answer- you are so very normal in your feelings. I had a wonderful pregnancy and a labor and delivery that I seriously don’t share with people because I am afraid of the dirty looks. However I was suprised at the amount of time it took for me to fall in love with my little one. I definitely had the same thoughts about leaving her at a fire station and cryed… Read more »

Jennifer
Guest
Jennifer

This is my most favorite question ever. It took me quite a while to bond with my first daughter and I love her to bits and pieces now, even though she’s still my most challenging kid. Even though she was a super tough newborn/infant, I went on to have another daughter and I bonded with her much more quickly, but she was an easier baby AND I knew what I was doing that time around. BUT – once I had my second, I knew I was done. I love this part of the OP’s question: “Because now, whenever anyone tells… Read more »

Laura f.
Guest
Laura f.

I totally understand your feelings. My first daughter was born premature at 34 weeks after a very difficult pregnancy and was immediately taken to the NICU after being born via emergency c-section. I didn’t get to hold her for five days, much less nurse her, and leftnthe hospital without my baby. It was TERRIBLE. Everything worked out in the end but I was super nervous having my second. I mean, every time I drove down the road the hospital was on I had a panicy feeling and I refused to go in the hospital when friends had babes because the… Read more »

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

Oh, honey, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Two stories for you. A friend of mine had a pregnancy similar to yours. Puking everyday, to the point of going to the ER for hydration, pre-eclempsia, etc. On top of that, her husband was…not the most supportive he could be. She has very real fears about getting pregnant again. Not only about what it would do to her, but to her marriage as well. Story #2: I had a very easy pregnancy and only somewhat difficult labor and birth. I would describe my love for my newborn daughter as a… Read more »

E
Guest
E

I can relate to this very much. I had a beautifully easy pregnancy, but the delivery was awful–it went on forever–pushing over 4 hours ending with an emergency c-section. The baby had problems, I had problems. We were finally released with instructions for blood draws and doctor visits every day. The baby had terrible colic–I love that they call constant screaming colic. What a nice word for something so utterly devastating as a new mom. I was alone with no friends or family and a husband working long hours. Baby #2 was on it’s way before baby #1s first birthday… Read more »

Crabby Apple Seed
Guest

Yep. Definitely not a monster. I’m one of the “beautiful pregnancies and uncomplicated deliveries followed by verrrry prolonged bonding time.” This was with my first daughter, and I’m not sure anything in my life has felt worse. She was also an extremely, exceptionally, very very difficult newborn, who screamed all the time, hated being held, and rarely slept, which did not help the bonding very much. Just like you, she got easier, I fell in love, and now I am utterly obsessed, but the way I would look at her and feel, well, absolutely nothing? It was indescribably upsetting. I… Read more »

alice
Guest
alice

thank you thank you thank you for that reply. i’m the mother of a 10 month old boy who i love but anyting that reminds me of being pregnant or the first newborn weeks makes me panic. i felt absolutely traumatized by the whole experience, oddly more so now than at the timei was living it. i’m guessing just because while you’re in it you do the best you can, and afterwards it catches up with you.
i’m sure it’s not as uncommon as it seems. but it’s still hard. and reading this made it easier. so thank you.

Stefanie
Guest
Stefanie

Definitely not a monster. Well, unless I am too! I threw up pretty much every day of my pregnancy through week 24. My birth experience was great, but I definitely had PPD and a baby that screamed so much we thought for sure God was punishing us for getting pregnant before we got married. We spent the first year of our daughter’s life wondering why ANYONE had multiple children. I demanded birth control at my very first post-partum appointment and when my OB told me I didn’t need to worry about because I was nursing, I said “Don’t care, lying… Read more »

JenVegas
Guest
JenVegas

You are so NOT a monster. Listen, I had a perfectly reasonable pregnancy and a perfectly reasonable labor and I have a perfectly reasonable 9 month old child. I HATED every second of being pregnant and the only thing I liked about labor was the drugs. When people ask me I tell them that I doubt I’ll be doing that again because you know what else I hated? The first like 5 months of sleepless, screaming motherhood. There’s really, I don’t think, anything in the world that would cause me to do that again no matter how freaking cute babies… Read more »

Lisa
Guest

Not a monster–that sounds like a hellish experience and why would anyone want to put themselves voluntarily through that again?  

There’s a good forum called solaceformothers.org that deals with birth and pregnancy trauma (many, many different categories).  You don’t have to post, you can just lurk, it might help to read other women’s stories.  

Elizabeth_K
Guest
Elizabeth_K

I’m six months pregnant with my third right now, and I’ve thought of writing a question sort of similar to this one, but with less sympathetic reasoning. I have had three easy pregnancies, easy deliveries, relatively easy babies (well, two of those so far), and … this one is just so hard. Not physically hard, like throwing up every day, but emotionally I’m a COMPLETE wreck, filled with rage and mad at everyone all the time for absolutely nothing (and I can see it is nothing even as I’m mad). I so wanted WANTED WANT this third baby, but I… Read more »

Cheryl S.
Guest
Cheryl S.

Please, please talk to your doctor about PPD/PTSD. You are so not a monster! Certainly for at least the first 5-6 months of my daughter’s life I contemplated running away. I don’t know where I thought I’d go, but it didn’t stop the thought from entering my head all the time. Like you, I now love my daughter more than my life, but not at the beginning! (Also, after the experience after the birth of my daughter, I knew I was one and done.) Talk to your doc, get some help, and to those that told you that you are… Read more »

Dawn K.
Guest
Dawn K.

Motherhood is like Fingerprints-no two are the same. I get so ragey when I hear people talk about what is ‘appropriate and normal’ to feel. My pregnancy was relatively easy, and delivery wasn’t a piece of cake but I made it through. My monster time came when E developed colic. Holy hell, I thought I made the biggest mistake of my life ever thinking a kid was a good idea. For many weeks, I so desperately wished/dreamt I had some sort of receipt with which to return her, so I could light my hair on fire and scream ‘DEFECTIVE!’ as… Read more »

L.H.
Guest
L.H.

I used to go around telling people not to have kids. Seriously. And that was after I had my son. And my daughter. I retained the slightest amount of socially appropriate sense so that I didn’t advise people who were already pregnant not to have their children, but it was pretty bad. I had a 21 hour labor with four hours of pushing and then my son slept in fifteen-minute increments for the first eight months of his life. He started sleeping through the night when he was three. My daughter had her days and nights mixed up for eighteen… Read more »

Karen
Guest
Karen

Wow! I thought I was also the only one who didn’t bond right away. About a week before my due date, I started panicking because I didn’t want her. Then in labor, I was wondering how to keep her inside or how I could get rid of her as soon as she was delivered. Would anyone notice if I just slipped her into the nursery and left? Even better, could I just leave her with my husband and I’d leave? When my LO was a few weeks old, I was struggling to tell my cousin how odd I felt about… Read more »

Susan
Guest
Susan

The internet is so wonderful. Seriously. While I was pregnant, I read about PPD and stories of mothers who didn’t bond right away. And I also read women’s confessions that they didn’t particularly LIKE their babies until they were more self sufficient. And, on every site where I read these things it was coming from a positive, encouraging, honest place. When I had my baby, I was prepared for the worst and happily supprised when things didn’t get as bad as I feared. And, I didn’t feel alone when things WERE bad. In our daily lives, we moms are judged… Read more »

Jess
Guest
Jess

Holy smokes you poor woman!! And Amy is so right, you are NOT alone. So very not alone. My second pregnancy/infant was insane. The pregnancy was AWFUL (lots of complications, bed rest, sickness) and my newborn was a screamer too. With medical issues. We ended up having to hire an au-pair when she was six months old because of my complete mental/emotional meltdown. Not pretty. And it took years (YEARS) before I too would stop cringing at other peoples’ pregnancies. I now have three happy healthy kids (one is nine weeks old) and am so glad to have survived. I… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

You are NOT a monster!! Shame on those people who made you feel like you were! Holy crap, you went through a huge ordeal and it was traumatic for you. Who WOULDN’T have lingering issues from that?? Women who have “normal” c-sections report enough bonding issues with their babies afterwards, and most of them are awake and at least REMEMBER the baby being born. You were in a drug induced haze and that seriously distorts your brain’s ability to put two and two together that this is in fact your child, the one that came out of you. It makes… Read more »

radiem
Guest
radiem

Yup, not alone. If it weren’t for the internet (Amalah’s sites in particular), I’m not sure I would have made it through this last year with my son. My difficult labor, eventual c-section from hell, and my struggles with breastfeeding and bonding made for some really awkward dinner party conversations while I was post-partum. I just can’t sugar coat this stuff around friends, even acquaintances, and pretend like it’s all such a dream come true when it’s not. I’m still not sure how to handle myself socially, especially when everyone we know seems to be expecting. Yelling, “better you than me… Read more »

Jeannie
Guest
Jeannie

I’d just like to say that when I hear your story I don’t think “monster” I hear a strong, strong woman who went through hell and made it through all the while still taking care of a newborn.

And like all PP I want to say you’re not alone and there is help. And if you do decide to have another, there’s no reason the pregnancy or newborn period will be the same as the first one.

Good luck!

Alison
Guest
Alison

The previous poster who asked her doctor for birth control right away reminded me. I didn’t even have my period back, was breastfeeding full time, and on the pill, and I still insisted on using condoms as well for the first year. I had a sucky pregnancy followed by an extremely long and difficult labour and a colicky baby and I never ever wanted to do that again.
Now that my daughter is two, I can imagine maybe having another baby some day, but not any time soon. For a long time I told people she would be an only child.

Kim
Guest
Kim

Amalah had a question about bonding with your child – on BounceBack, maybe? – and the answers were all over the place. I had the 35 weeks of vomiting, too, but luckily my labor went well. But I swear I’ve had PPD with both of them, and the person I saw when #2 was little was all, I can solve this in two sessions! And.. not so much. I am stabby waay more than I should be, and my LO is 20mo. I see my GP next week, going to get more meds and take them this time (although it… Read more »

TBinKC
Guest
TBinKC

Oh, so VERY not a monster, for so very many reasons. Just the opposite, in fact.

EG1972
Guest
EG1972

I had normal pregnancies, which I didn’t really enjoy, and had no idea what to expect. With my first son, it was love at first sight. With my second, it took me a good three months to fall in love with him, which really upset me and made me feel like a terrible person. I agree with the other posters, it’s too bad women often aren’t comfortable talking about this aspect of parenting. It feels good to know one is not alone (or a monster).

Sarah
Guest

Man, expectations are a killer, aren’t they? You hear from the lucky few who have blissful experiences with birth and babies, you see all these commercials for baby products showing the wonder of pregnancy/infancy, all designed to SELL YOU CRAP when in fact what you’re subconsciously buying is the EXPERIENCE of being the perfect, happy mom with the perfect, happy baby. And then reality bites, and there are a few little good moments interspersed with chunks of awfulness. I have a friend who can’t get pregnant, and whenever she’d ask me wistfully to tell her about it, I would respond,… Read more »

blfa
Guest
blfa

I never comment on here – I’m one of those people that just quietly read others’ opinions; however, in this case I felt compelled to share. I also had a very, VERY difficult pregnancy. Vomitting started at 6 wks and ended on the operating table. In the beginning, I was so sick that I couldn’t pick my head up off the pillow (truly, I’m shaking typing this just remembering all of that). I MADE my OB put my on 5 wks of bedrest. The rest of the pregnancy was full of vomitting pretty much ever morning, high blood pressure, weekly… Read more »

Kimm
Guest
Kimm

You are just another version of normal, not monstrous at all. I went through more bad stuff after baby was born, the birth was not as horrible as some, but I can just now sit down without pain after almost 6 months. It made me never want another one. My sister said she didn’t like her first child for several weeks, and felt awful about it, she warned me beforehand, but I liked him just not when he was screaming constantly for the first 2 weeks til he got on baby Zantac.

Eris
Guest

You. Are. NOT. A. Monster. Please don’t ever, ever use that phrase about yourself again, EVER. You are normal. This is normal. Normal is a big range that runs a large gamut. Just because your traumatic medical issues were due to carrying a baby does not make them any less traumatic, if anything, it makes it more so because people are less likely to give you compassion and love when you talk about a horrible pregnancy versus, say, cancer treatment or something. The people you spoke with are very much in the dark and are not healthy or supportive. Please,… Read more »

Hannah
Guest
Hannah

I also had a horrible pregnancy (diabetes, non-stress tests, etc., etc.) and a fairly okay induction, but I didn’t bond with my daughter AT ALL when she was born. And, like you, I felt horrible. So I’m so glad to see these comments here, because hopefully they help you and make you realize that you are not a monster at all. I was like the poster above – “where’s my receipt? I want to take her back to the baby store!” – and it really took me about 6 months to actually like her. I also developed PPD at about… Read more »

Ashley
Guest
Ashley

Please don’t think you are a monster! Seriously think about getting some help. I had a pretty ok pregnancy so being pregnant again doesn’t terrify me. It’s labor, delivery and the first 18 months that scare me to death! My daughter is 2 1/2 and I am just now getting to a place where I can consider having another child. My labor and delivery were so not what I thought it would be or wanted. Newborn days were a nightmare of jaundice and low milk supply. Nothing went the way I wanted and all my “plans” were shot to hell.… Read more »

Bear
Guest
Bear

We adore our 19-mo-old son as though he were the sun /and/ the moon. And for the first three months, we referred to him as The Demanding Little Stranger.  No, you’re not a monster. The right word for what you are is spelled b-r-a-v-e. I have made a point, ever since, of telling friends and family about to spawn that the first few months can be brutal, and that just when you start to think “Was this really a good idea…?” will be days immediately before the kid starts to smile at you. And sleep sometimes. And be a little… Read more »

Jenny
Guest
Jenny

Just another chimer-inner of the “not a monster” regard. Because you’re really not. TV and crazy (sometimes lying) women make childbirth out to be a magical experience, but very few of my friends experienced it that way at all. I had a pretty easy pregnancy, but an awful birth experience. I also don’t remember meeting my daughter for the first time and I cried about that for days. I started really liking her around 5 months, when she finally slept longer than an hour at a time and was more of a person, rather than a lump who cried and… Read more »

Liz
Guest

Definitely Not a monster. I had pre-e, bedrest, mag and a truly horrible postpartum nurse combined with a 46 day NICU stay for my son. And just now 2.5 years later am I able to look back on my experience with some perspective other than, “Well I’m glad I have my son, but that SUCKED” It takes time and don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it.

Jo
Guest

Yes, yes, yes. I had to remind myself to breathe after reading that post… You are SO not a monster. I had the same experience – vomited for nine months, in and out of the ER, basically laid on the bathroom floor – couldn’t work or sit up, or enjoy life, a week of labor, 4 hours pushing and then an emergency C-section. I am still tramatized by it. I didn’t meet my son for nine hours. I watch other pregnant women who are all glowy and happy. I could have cared less about my fetus. I was so unattatched… Read more »

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

I still feel this way and my kids are 5 and 2. Somehow I thought maybe having the second one would make it better? Yeah, no. I never enjoyed being pregnant. Not magical or beautiful. When I dared imply that is wasn’t the most fabulous, serene experience of my life I got horrified looks. The babies weren’t particularly difficult I guess. Had to have c-sections with both. I really really tried breastfeed but it was just impossible. Got mastitis with the second one and I remember lying in bed so sick, unable to take care of them at all and… Read more »

mk
Guest
mk

Not a monster. Counseling would be helpful though. Just to talk it through. PPD is real and very misunderstood- even by the OB/GYN. Just go talk to someone. I was a totally full functioning sahm who just “happened” to be a little angry and sad- and taking it out on my husband.  I waited 10 months, and only when my husband insisted did i go. Honestly, it was the best thing i’ve ever done. Even if you don’t have PPD it just sounds like maybe you need a little time to talk and space and non judgmental ears to listen. 

KT
Guest
KT

Oh, I wish you could have talked to my OB/GYN during your pregnancy. Last time I was in there I was just getting over the morning sickness and starting in on lots of growing pains. She looked straight at me and said, “Pregnancy is not a special time. It’s something you get through, you have the baby, and then you decide if you want to do it again.” It was so nice to be able to get some real sympathy about the fact that while some women get all happy off the pregnancy hormones, some don’t. Some women love their… Read more »