Monday, October 25, 2010

PTSD and Natural Childbirth

So many people have asked me why I'm choosing natural childbirth, especially since my midwives predict Atticus will be a big baby.  To begin with, I didn't know why I was adamant myself.  Of course there are the obvious reasons like the fact that it is ... well... natural and let me tell you it is soooo much cheaper than a c-section.  But my insistence to at least try to have a natural childbirth is so fierce and my rejection of a scheduled c-section is so absolute that I knew that this is deeper than a desire to have a natural childbirth.  After a weekend of reflecting I can honestly say that natural childbirth is directly related to healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from sexual and physical violence.

It all has to do with the many aspects of bonding in childbirth:  not only bonding with my baby, but also bonding with my body.

Bonding with my baby: To understand how I view childbirth as helping me bond with my baby, it is important to understand that having a long and difficult labor with Hope was integral to our bonding.  Hope was conceived under terrible circumstances, her biological father was sexually and physically abusive.  I did not want to be pregnant and up until I heard her heartbeat I was planning on giving her up for adoption.  After all I had plans to one day transfer to Smith, study in Europe, and obtain a PhD.  There was no way I could take care of a baby, especially one born out of such painful memories.   Once I heard her heartbeat I knew I would keep her and I loved her to pieces, but there was this tiny fear growing inside of me that I wouldn't love her as much when she was born.  I was fearful that she would look just like her biological father and every time I looked at her I would be reminded of the pain he subjected me to.

Hope's labor was difficult, I did have an epidural a little more than half way through the 36 hours of labor and I pushed for nearly 4 hours.  During that process of laboring I kept thinking that I was getting closer and closer to my baby.  Although I was exhausted, emotional, and worried about being a single mother, I was learning that we were a team.  The two of us could make it through anything together after that labor.  In fact, one of the first things I told Sam when we began dating was that Hope and I were a team; she is first in my thoughts and my number one priority.  After Hope was born I was able to hold her almost immediately.  The first thing I noticed was her perfect little nose.  There were no thoughts of the ex-boyfriend and only love for little Hope.

Also, although the first few weeks of breastfeeding were difficult, I know that breastfeeding helped me bond with Hope.  She ate about every 2 hours and I was the only one who could feed her so we had some solid time together.  When she was in my arms feeding I would look at her perfect little face and love her more and more.  Any similarities she had to her biological father melted away -- she was beautiful and perfect and completely mine.*

About 6 months after Hope was born the PTSD set in.  For those of you who do not know about PTSD, it is common for there to be a delayed onset.  The body naturally works had to protect itself, but, eventually, the PTSD creeps through.  I had terrible nightmares, irrational fears, depression, dissociative episodes where I would "blank out", and the most terrible part:  body memories. I can't even begin to describe to you the horror of feeling hands on your body that aren't really there or of having pain in places that no longer had physical hurt.

It has taken years of therapy and several hospitalizations to conquer my PTSD.  Thankfully, it has been several years since I have had a dissociative episode or a body memory.  I had my last night terror a few months after I started dating Sam.  I still occasionally have troubling dreams and I'm extremely careful with what I watch or read (you won't find me watching movies with sexual violence).

Bonding with my body: Body memories completely broke any connection I had with my body.  My brain and body were disconnected and I always had a feeling that things happened to me and I had little control.  For example, once the PTSD set in I had difficulty going to the gynecologist.  I could only see a female doctor, my mother came with me, and I cried through the exam.  Compare this to last Friday when I was completely relaxed and unafraid to let the male midwife check my cervix and then let his student male midwife check me.  I would have told you that was impossible a few years ago.  I feel in tune with my body.  My brain and my body work together and my body isn't running off on its own while my brain checks out.

I've come to the conclusion that to labor naturally with Atticus (at least having a trial of labor) is the ultimate expression of healing from PTSD because:

  1. After my ordeal with PTSD I'm a huge believer in the mind/body connection.  If my brain can make me think I'm being raped when no one else is in the room then my brain can certainly be strong enough to prepare my body for laboring a large baby.

  2. The pain of childbirth is NOTHING compared to the pain of sexual violence.  Sexual violence is unnatural, forced, demeaning, and scaring.  Childbirth is my body being strong and forceful, protective and caring, serves a purpose, and is the ultimate expression of a woman's strength.  How empowering to know that I did this, I gave birth to a wonderful baby because I am strong and healthy and capable.

I can't even describe how wonderful it is to no longer be afraid of my body.  To embrace the parts I don't like and the parts I do like.  To know that I have the ability to accept love and give life with no fear is so freeing.  I feel unified, whole, and strong.  I'm not so worried about the pain of childbirth -- after that pain I will have a wonderful little boy and I have my beautiful Hope and Sam will be there for me the entire time.

I am so excited and so very loved.  I can handle anything!






*I want to emphasize that I am in no way saying that mothers who have c-sections or don't breastfeed are incapable of bonding with their baby.  I know plenty of loving, wonderful mothers who have had c-sections or don't breastfeed.  All I'm saying is that in my unique situation laboring and breastfeeding were particularly helpful.



Thomas at My Porch said...

I gave you and Atticus a shout out yesterday on my Sunday Painting post.

IngridLola said...

Wow, thank you very much for sharing this. I admire your bravery and willingness to share this. I wish you the best of luck!

Chris said...

This post is so very beautiful and left me with tears in my eyes. *hugs*