Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Birth and PTSD

In this post I want to tackle the ideals that are forced onto people regarding this extraordinarily important event. I say "people" because it affects all genders and backgrounds and their expectations for themselves AND for others. I realize that to say "women" is to show cis-gender privilege, so please know that I include ALL persons-with-a-uterus who choose- or would choose- to use said organ. A person-with-a-uterus forced to use it against their will or desire is not covered here because that is a fucking horrible thing that deserves its own forum for discussion. 

I write this because more than a decade later I realize my own PTSD was still being triggered when coming across these myths/expectations. The more I discuss it the more persons I find who tearfully share their own stories, having been trapped in feeling that they are alone in their pain and trauma. (Should you choose to share your story, this is a safe place to do so. All comments are moderated.) If some of the below points are true for you, I'm glad your experience was good or empowering! It's the expectation that a good experience is the norm is misplaced and damaging.

These are what has affected me personally that I'm discussing but there are obviously more, for example: Someone (any gender) who doesn't want to birth and/or raise children is somehow a soulless deviant. That one really pisses me off. I have 2 children, 2003 & 2008, there's a 5 year gap between them because making the choice for a second pregnancy was not easy. I am very, very grateful that I HAD the choice at all. 

I need to acknowledge some facts regarding my privileges as a white, cis-gender (not het or main stream religion, but neither was readily apparent), married, of-appropriate-age woman. I had ready access to (mostly) competent medical care that wouldn't bankrupt me. I didn't have to be concerned about how I would be received or treated due to all those things that give me an unfair advantage. I would later have access to counseling and medication and receive very little flak for seeking those things. It makes me mad that other people don't get basic human rights and courtesy. I'll do my best to not let my privilege downplay anyone else's experience. If you do feel that way, I am truly sorry and accept that I've screwed up, even unintentionally.

This needs to be discussed because people feel isolated and unaware that this can happen- and that it happens far more frequently than patriarchy wants to admit. Here is a study reported by ScienceDaily that shows 1 in 3(!!) persons suffer at least some symptoms.

So, let's look at some of these expectations around birth:

1) It's a grand miracle.
2) A person will feel amazing love for the child.
3) It's beautiful.
4) That the pain disappears almost immediately.
5) That the pain is forgotten.
6) That it's totally natural and doesn't need medical help. (Maternal death rates are still horrifically high and incredibly disproportionate to persons of color and low income. Report here on the WHO webpage.)

I'm incredibly fortunate that I didn't have anyone *in my face* insisting that these things are true, which is a product of said patriarchal expectations and extremely hurtful. The birth process can be gory, bloody and dehumanizing. All pretense at dignity may be stripped away involuntarily. Even ridicule in the moment from medical personnel and family is not uncommon. For those who have experienced such ridicule I don't need to clarify, but for the rest: if you or someone you know has asked/demanded/wondered/commented on why this person isn't conforming to the standard the asker expected, then stop making it all about you and be kind and unobtrusively supporting instead. 

Trigger warning: I left out the gory details, but this is not a comfortable or pleasant story.
I have birthed two children and have had one miscarriage. The first birth was vaginal, in the hospital with medication, the second by emergency caesarean section. I was incredibly happy with the c-section. The overall difference was how I was treated in addition to the fact I suffered less physical damage with the c-section despite the fact I was cut open without being properly anesthetized first.

The first time was without dignity and lacked in compassion. Even with medication it was, bluntly, horrible.  I was unable to walk without assistance for 2 weeks and to add insult to injury, all my muscles had been damaged, including bladder control. Physically I required additional restorative surgeries; one 18 months later and another just last year (2013) that took out the uterus as well finishing the repairs.
For nearly three years I was unable to have sex without significant pain, pain which subconsciously tied itself to the time I had been raped.
3 months after the birth of my first child, (I suspect this happens more frequently than anyone I know talks about) at a post-partum check-up I hesitantly mentioned to the nurse doing the intake checklist that I thought I was feeling depressed. "Well have you been curled up in a corner crying?" she snapped irritably. 
"Uh, no..." (As it would turn out, that was actually a "not yet".)
"Then you aren't that depressed."
Because all of those expectations above failed, the medical system failed me, I felt tremendous guilt as if I were somehow to blame.

I would go the next 3 years without treatment while the chemical damage continued in my brain. I now have bi polar II, for which medication mismanagement nearly brought about my death in 2011.

I'm alive. Too many times I've heard or read about people who didn't make it, who commit emotional or physical suicide. Please, please reject the expectations and be present. As a Pagan, I refer to this non-judgmental, loving, compassionate listening as holding sacred space. You can do this for yourself, as well. It's hard, damn hard sometimes. Even with a good amount of therapy behind me, strong interpersonal relationships and a solid spiritual foundation, writing this is difficult.
It would also be strongly remiss to not mention my partner's active love and care to which I give high credit for why I've done as well as I have. I've also built a network of friends and friendly acquaintances who have willingly listened, become educated, and demonstrated compassion. I had to utilize that today. That is what I hope to accomplish here on a larger scale: opening the dialogue to maybe prevent even one person suffering as I did and to encourage everyone to approach each other compassionately.

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