Before my first son was born, I remember creating my 'birth plan.' After 13 years of infertility and treatments, I was almost 41 weeks pregnant with a healthy baby boy. It was my prize at the end of the road, and I remember thinking that if I only get to give birth one time, I want to do it right.
But there were complications. My son was life-flighted to a NICU 45 minutes away, while I nearly died from blood loss there in our hospital. His entire emergency c-section was six minutes, the fastest six minutes of my life. My son lived for nine hours.
Still now, almost eight years later, I cannot believe how fast those doctors moved, and how quickly those nine hours with my son passed by.
Related: 6 Healing Steps to Process a Traumatic Birth
It is still unknown to me how I didn't suffer from postpartum depression. It runs in my family, and I'd told my husband to watch for symptoms and signs because I knew it to be a possibility.
Obviously, when my son died, I was devastated, and the minute he left this Earth, I was a different woman. While everyone around me watched for postpartum depression to set in, it didn't. I got a gold star for 'grieving appropriately,' according to specialists around me.
Something else did set in, though. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's very different than PostPartum Depression, and almost 10% of women who have traumatic birth experiences suffer from it.
Common birth traumas, whether real or believed-to-be real by the mother include cord incidents, unplanned/emergency Cesarean Delivery, severe physical complication or injury to mother and/or child, premature birth, NICU, and feelings of powerlessness/poor communication from caregivers during delivery, among many other things.
Much like PTSD suffered by other victims of trauma, postpartum PTSD manifests in many different ways. Mothers will find themselves having intrusive flashbacks of the birth or elements surrounding the birth, many of which give them nightmares and anxiety/panic attacks.
Mothers will also possibly avoid triggers that take them back to the birth experience, including cutting off relationships with people involved and avoiding any places or details that they can that remind them of the trauma.
Many mothers I know who suffer from postpartum PTSD say they find they always feel like they're on their guard, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and have a hard time feeling relaxed or even sleeping.
Related: Overcoming a Traumatic Birth
For me, the PTSD is often triggered by my son's birthday, and the holiday season, as he was born right after Thanksgiving. I find myself flashing back to the overwhelming grief and heartache of his birth and funeral when I hear, "It's the Most Wonderful Time Of the Year," to the point of not even being able to breathe sometimes, even years later.
Thankfully, after my son died, my husband and I both underwent counseling, and I was able to gain strategies that to this day help me when the PTSD triggers overwhelm me.
So what do you do if you fall in that percentage of women who have a traumatic birth, and believe you may suffer from PTSD?
First and foremost, don't be ashamed, and don't be ashamed to ask for help. I've had many friends who've suffered from traumatic birth situations tell me they were embarrassed to admit they suffered from PTSD symptoms because their children lived and mine didn't.
While their reasoning is understandable, it's not logically sound. What is trauma for one woman may not be for another, and so each situation is individual and unique.
There is help for Birth Trauma PTSD, and asking for it is something you owe yourself. Talk to your general practitioner, or a trusted counselor about strategies and treatment for when triggers give you flashbacks. The trauma was difficult enough - you don't have to keep reliving it.