PTSD Linked to Childbirth



For months after my now-thirty-six-year-old daughter Jessica was born, I lived in my brown robe and struggled to get up enough gumption to come out of my house. Jess had been a C-section delivery, complicated by the fact that the anesthesia had gone too high and affected my lungs.

Just seconds after the doctor delivered my beautiful baby, I was overwhelmed by the sensation that I was suffocating. The staff was underwhelmed by my statement that I couldn’t breathe, so they put me under and intebated me (put a breathing tube down my throat).

I awoke an hour or two later in pain so horrible that I was convinced I’d landed in purgatory. I was a Baptist, so I was confused, but I wasn’t seeing any flames, so I knew it couldn’t be hell. But the pain abated, and I was sent home four days later.

Over the next few months, I skidded into a dark hole of depression. Back in the late seventies, no one talked about depression in my church circles. So I stayed in my brown robe and smiled appropriately when I went out of the house and ate lots of carbs when I was in the house.

Fast-forward thirty years, and doctors now have a better understanding of the realities of postpartum depression. And recent studies are now linking traumatic childbirth experiences to post-traumatic stress disorder. According to researchers at McGill University,“There’s a perception that post-traumatic stress symptoms result an event that’s unusual or outside the realm of normal human experience,” said Deborah Da Costa, a McGill psychologist who co-authored the study. “But there are things that can happen in the birthing process that can make a woman feel like her life or her baby’s life are in jeopardy. She experiences helplessness, fear, horror. That’s enough for an experience to be traumatic.”

The study concludes that as many as one in thirteen women experience full-blown post-traumatic stress symptoms in the weeks following delivery. The issue deserves attention, and women should be aware of the reality of PTSD and be encouraged to seek treatment should symptoms arise following their birth experience.

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