For Most Pregnant Moms, Giving Birth Is A Wonderful Experience That, Even Though It May Not Have Gone Exactly As Planned, It Still Brings Back Happy Memories. For Some Moms, However, Their Birth Experience Is Disappointing Or Traumatic, Whether From
When Suzanne Lubin developed a fever during her 33rd week of pregnancy her doctor assured her it was probably just a garden variety cold and advised her to take Tylenol. Having sailed through her first pregnancy, with little more than some sciatica pain, she took the Tylenol and went about her day. Several hours later, when her head felt as though someone was pounding a jack hammer into it and her temperature spiked to 104 degrees, she decided it was time to head straight to the hospital.
Unfortunately her regular OB/GYN was not on-call that weekend and so she sat in the ER for four hours with this throbbing pain fighting chills until she was finally ushered into a room. When a nurse came in to give her a catheter to test her urine, as her water broke so did her hopes for a safe and easy delivery. “After my water broke, the NICU doctor on-call looked at me and said, this is very bad,” says Lubin who recalls that despite running a high fever, the doctors didn’t want her deliver at 33 weeks and continued to administer antibiotics.
“All the while all I could remember thinking was, please g-d don’t let me deliver a premature baby. But at the same time I worried that whatever infection my body was harboring could be harming my unborn child and thought maybe I would be better off delivering him.”
24 hours after her admission, Lubin’s son was delivered via C-section and although he was premature initially he seemed fine. Two days later he developed breathing problems and an infection which required him to be transferred to another hospital. He remained in the NICU for three weeks where he was administered countless blood and platelet transfusions and struggled to survive.
Post traumatic stress disorder
“I still haven’t recovered from this experience, I feel as though I’ve got post traumatic stress disorder," says Lubin, who for months after her now three year-old was born was prone to fits of crying and shouldering a huge burden of guilt. “ I remember I hated seeing anyone else pregnant, hearing their stories about their “normal and easy “deliveries. In fact the very sight of another full-term baby seemed to send me into a tailspin of anxiety to the point where I became reclusive an unable to leave the house.”
Psychotherapist Elizabeth Levang, Ph.D. and author of three books on bereavement including Remembering with Love: Messages of Hope for the First Year and Beyond, who, after years of struggling with infertility dealt with the near–fatal delivery of her now 19-year-old daughter, offers these tips to couples dealing with the post traumatic stress of a bad birth experience.
Talk it out
Openly talk about the experience with anyone and everyone who will listen. Partners need to talk to each other about what each experienced, some of which may be similar, some different. It’s important to realize that this experience will have different meanings for you and that healing - physically, emotionally, and spiritually -will be unique to each of you. Let your circle of family and friends stand by your side and bring normalcy to your days. You will be very fragile and their smiles and gentle words will be a godsend.
Let your physician in on your feelings
“Getting through the birth and trauma of our daughter's birth came in several ways,“ says Dr. Levang. “First, was believing in our physician. We had been infertility patients for over six years and our physician came to know us as loving and responsible people. In turn, we trusted him with our life and that extended to the life of our newborn. We never second guessed his decisions and trusted him completely.”
Talking to one’s physician, pointing out both the positives and challenges of your experience, can be cathartic. Hospital administrators also need feedback as to how their staff performed and, if warranted, suggestions for changes in care policies. If poor or inadequate care was given, parents have the right to ask for and be given an apology.
Don’t let your marriage falter
“Our marriage was impacted on several levels. Throughout the experience we had to trust each other – and believe that the other person was making decisions that were in the best interest of our family, “says Dr. Levang. “The stress was tremendous, the fear sky high and so we needed each other's strength in order to make it from hour to hour, day to day. “I came to see the more fragile side of my husband. I saw him weep from fear, from exhaustion, from all that was unknown to us. I also saw his tenacity for life. He held our daughter with such sweetness; reading his favorite poems to her, and with every word he uttered I knew he was trying to imbue her with his own will to live.”
Learn to trust one another, allow yourselves to be fragile and learn how to live in the moment. All of these attributes are like anchors in your marriage ones which you will need to continually rely on as you navigate your life together as a couple and a family.
Get professional help
Anti-depressants can be helpful under the right circumstances. First, diagnosis must be made by a competent physician or psychiatrist. Second, the individual should be willing to comply with dosing and the instructions of the physician. Anti-depressants are not a panacea. The majority of scientific studies show that the combination of psychotherapy and medication are the best route to improved mental health. Joining a support group is another good option because of its ability to normalize experiences and give individuals an opportunity to share their stories.
Appreciate the present
“In that instant when the physician realized that the baby was in trouble , our daughter Natalie had the umbilical cord tightly wrapped around her neck and her heart beat had dropped significantly and my heart seemed to seize up with anguish, “ says Dr. Levang. “ In one terrifying moment I remember saying to myself, "God no. You cannot do this to us!" After all we had experienced I could not possibly fathom the possibility that our baby would be stillborn. And then, there she was on my chest, not breathing, choking to gasp just one little breath. Her tiny face was grey blue. It wasn't until many hours later that I finally got to meet my daughter and it was many, many hours later before I could hold her.”
Once you get through the experience and get the opportunity to parent this precious child, don’t waste it! Try your best to live in the moment and made each and every one count.
According to Lubin, you can stay stuck in the moment of trauma, or you can choose to move forward. Although it is still painful, the trauma subsides just a bit with each passing day and of course seeing her precious son’s smiling face helps too. And Dr. Levang wholeheartedly agrees.
“Natalie's 19th birthday was just a few months ago and as the clock ticked to the moment of her birth we sat together in our living room so I could read to her the story of her birth, “ says Dr. Levang. “Mostly, I cried through the words. It is an important ritual for me. I will never forget what occurred on that morning. It is imprinted on every fiber of my being. My tears are in celebration of her survival. Yet they also represent the horrifying pain of nearly losing her and how that event changed our lives.”
More on labor and delivery:
- Check out birth stories and submit your own
- What to expect right after childbirth
- Signs of postpartum depression
- Top 100 articles for new moms
- Healthy pregnant moms have choices: Benefits of midwives and out-of-hospital births