A quick note before reading: This post is about how I learned the hard way what triggered me after my traumatic c-section. Please do not read this if you think you may be triggered.
While I was on my maternity leave, I became obsessed with watching TLC’s A Baby Story. It was always on! In case you haven’t seen it, although I’d bet money you have, in a nutshell the show tells one family’s birth story, from pregnancy to the early postpartum period, focusing on the birth itself.
My birth story wasn’t exactly A Baby Story material. After a very easy pregnancy, I went into labor feeling pretty confident, although very tired from not sleeping well because of days of nonstop contractions. When the time came to head to the hospital, I was less nervous than I thought I would be.
I’ll spare you the detailed birth story and I’ll summarize–my son, Jackson, was born via Cesaerean section after about 13 hours of active labor and 2 hours of pushing. The staff, in whispers near my feet, decided on the C-section for me, mentioning failure to progress.
The c-section was traumatic for me because it was the opposite of what I’d expected, based on things I’ve been told, in passing, from family and friends who’ve had them. Nor did I expect one at all, not realizing that my state’s c-section rate hovered around 30%! I hadn’t paid much attention during childbirth class when the instructor briefly discussed them. So during the surgery, I lay on the operating table completely paralyzed from my fear, convinced I would die before my son was born. I couldn’t speak, or I’d have conveyed to someone—anyone—that I needed help calming down. I still can’t figure out how none of the many health care workers in that room were able to see that I was having the worst panic attack of my entire life right before them.
The c-section recovery, too, was brutal, and I had a lot of setbacks during my healing. Also after the birth came months of sleepless nights and inconsolable crying—for me and Jax both!
None of this sounds like A Baby Story, right? If my story were to be featured on A Baby Story, it would scare all the moms-to-be.
Becoming obsessed with that show was without a doubt the WORST thing I could have done in those early postpartum days when I didn’t understand how the c-section had affected me and how the sleeplessness and purple crying were leading into postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. When an episode featured a mother undergoing a c-section, I bawled my eyes out in empathy with the woman. When an episode portrayed a woman seemingly unbothered by her c-section or who had an easy recovery, I was jealous and angry all over again about my own experience. If an episode featured a peaceful, non-c-section birth, I felt robbed and cried my eyes out over having missed out on the type of birth I’d expected and for which I’d prepared. No matter what the episode featured, I always seemed to end up a sobbing mess.
Yet I continued to watch and cry and watch and cry. PTSD much?
It’s been many years and a whole lot of healing since my postpartum experience, and I think I can probably watch A Baby Story now without feeling all the emotions. But it took me many months of dealing with my traumatic experience via therapy (and EMDR), reading books about c-sections, and talking about my PPD/PPA with anyone who will listen in order to get to this point.
I believe that when you’re healing from PPD or another perinatal mood disorder, it’s crucial to know what your triggers are and to avoid them at all costs! I wish I had realized this and done so during my maternity leave! Since my son was born, I avoid the news; I’m no longer ashamed of this. It’s self-care. I don’t watch movies or read books in which children or mothers are harmed in any way, even emotionally. I do not watch baby shows anymore. And if I can’t avoid a trigger and find myself struggling with anxiety, which fortunately is not so often these days, I use distraction to change my thought pattern as quickly as possible. And if distraction doesn’t work, I run through a list I’ve brainstormed of all the other things that work for me. That list is always with me.
It took me a while to realize and understand my triggers. It took even longer to let myself off the hook for doing what I need to do to avoid them. No guilt or shame in this. In fact, it takes a lot of courage to face your fears and walk away from them. If you find yourself encountering triggers, please know it’s OK to do whatever it takes to avoid them. For me, knowing what triggers me also means knowing how to change the channel–sometimes literally!