Two Babies Later, I Can't Forget My Traumatic Birth Experience

I was diagnosed with PTSD after I gave birth to my second child

The minute I found out I was pregnant, I suddenly loved my body.

From the first swell, I was in awe. I was carrying a secret. I was creating another person out of almost nothing. It was beyond belief, even as my belly grew and grew, a foot pressing into me so hard I could see it on the outside of my skin. We didn’t know if our baby was going to be a boy or girl. I spent a lot of pregnancy taking baths, drawing water over my stomach, wondering who was in there.

A boy. I was barely conscious of his birth. I closed my eyes in the silence as he was born without a sound. Everyone was worried about him. Eventually, they got him breathing, and the mood relaxed.

The nurse’s voice was as bright as the lights. “You have a baby boy!” I closed my eyes because I could feel what felt like hard yanking, and I was so scared I wasn’t staying still enough. “I’m trying to stay still,” I slurred to the nurse. “I keep moving. I’m going to fall off the table. I’m moving too much.” “That feeling is just the surgery,” she said. “No, something’s wrong,” I tried to say. It didn’t feel right. And above the curtain there were people just looking down into my body, all the way into my literal guts, moving parts of me around.

She smoothed my hair when I started to cry harder. Every sob made me afraid I was messing up the surgery. I didn’t feel safe. I tried to catch a reflection of my exposed insides in the doctor’s glasses. Yank. Yank. The nurse distracted me. “What’s your baby’s name?” I could barely focus. My teeth chattered. “Aww, that’s a cute name! Daddy, come here and let mama give him a kiss,” she said. I don’t really remember seeing his face. My eyes kept closing. I was shivering. “Kiss him!” she said, but I couldn’t move my mouth.

My incision healed well. But less than two years later, it was cut open again. Another long labour, but with this one, I began to push and started bleeding heavily. I was put under general anesthesia and my daughter was out in a few short minutes. Our placenta had detached, pulling away as my daughter descended, wrapped tightly in a long cord. Two emergencies. Two surgeries where I felt completely disconnected from my body and what was happening. I’ve had other surgeries in my life, both before and after, but the feeling of violation I felt after the second birth, in particular, shocked me.

Here is the part when someone says “Well, you got a healthy baby!” or tells you all the reasons you should stop complaining and be grateful. Here is the part where someone shuts down your tears, your confusion. Here is the part where your trauma, the deep and suffocating trauma, is ignored. The births were scary. Death was close. Of course, I was grateful. I was beyond grateful. To this day, I’m almost speechless with gratitude.

But I also hurt.

There was the physical pain. The pressure of my hand protecting and supporting my incision when I stood or sat down, laughed or cried. There were the early weeks of nursing and leaking and soreness. That’s what I tried hard to focus on. But there was a darkness, too.

I feel like I could pinpoint the day I detached for good. I was staying with my parents and took a shower. I pulled back the shower curtain and saw my reflection in the giant mirror on the bathroom wall. I hadn’t seen myself.  

I was not glowing.

I was not carrying a secret.

I was not anything.

Nothing at all.

I didn’t recognize myself. I was outside my body. I was gone.

I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was put on medication, but it didn’t stop the flashbacks and anxiety that woke me up. It didn’t stop me reliving trauma with every passing birthday. It didn’t stop the deep well of sadness upon hearing a beautiful birth story, one without terror or complication. I wanted it to be my story. It wasn’t.  

For those of us with traumatic births, the pressure to rush past our experiences can be one of the loudest things we hear. Meanwhile, we stagger and bleed, we are sore and tired, some of us cut, whether this way or that way or both. The tears come, the sobs come, the wails come. We tell our stories compulsively, our traumatized brains and bodies scrambling for release. Or we don’t speak at all or wait until the darkest part of the night, when we are alone, milk leaking or bottle warming, and then we can be safe to let go, our newborns the only witness, kind and new.

It is okay to feel this way. No one told me it was okay. No one told me what I was feeling was important. Our bodies are ours. No one can tell us what trauma is and isn’t when it comes to our bodies. If you feel like your body was treated badly, or made to feel like a 'thing', that is a real feeling. If you have previous body trauma triggered by a difficult birth, that is real. If you had a birth that on paper seems “perfect,” but you feel violated, that is real, too.

A friend recently gifted me a blue mason jar filled with magic, a mixture of Epsom salts, geranium oil, and dried lavender. Besides pregnancy, I’m not really a bathtub person. But she encouraged me. A few weeks later, I decided I would try it out. The water was hot. I eased into the bathtub and looked at the ceiling. I was surprised when my eyes began to tear up. It doesn’t happen that much anymore. I looked down at my body, the body that still feels a bit foreign, seven years later. I looked at it. Really looked at it. We’ve survived this long. I moved my fingers toward my incision, then my stomach. I haven’t felt anything for years. But I felt safe as tears fell. I am coming back to my body, slowly but surely. It cannot be rushed. There is no timetable.

I’ve started taking more baths. My friend was right. There’s a healing in that water. It holds me in on all sides like I could float away. I remember the before, and my eyes can see the scars of the after, and feel the ones on the inside, too. But mostly the water just feels hot and comforting on my skin. It soothes me, and I come back, if only for a moment. My body is patient under the water, waiting for me, a secret waiting to be born.

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