My second grandchild was born a week ago yesterday, and her mother’s labor and birth could not have been better. My daughter, who was born in sorrow and trauma delivered in control and joy and it helps to heal the wound in me from when she was born. At that time, no one I knew talked of PTSD as a result of a traumatic birth experience. I recall my dad speaking scathingly, furiously, of “that one feminist that thinks EVEN BIRTH is rape.” Part of what happens in many birth processes when attended by male physicians (and women who subscribe to patriarchal notions and underlying hatred and disgust with the female body) is a violation and does result in long-lasting trauma. For a long time I would imagine going to the address listed on my daughter’s birth certificate for the doctor who delivered her, knocking on the door and then killing him.
Some of that was healed with the birth of my third child, where I was in control and was attended by a loving partner and a midwife who did not subscribe to the traditional violence of episiotomy and domination and instead supported the process. I breastfed that child until he was three and a half and that greatly healed the damage done to me and my daughter when she was born. It was further healed by seeing her go through the birth process with total agency and belief in herself, her body and her partner. She is strong, despite a weak beginning, and her daughters are strong because of her.
The unfortunate ripple was that the baby developed a high bilirubin count and was suddenly whisked to the NICU at about a day old, and that really triggered memories of my experience with my daughter. I wasn’t allowed to hold her for the first two weeks of her life. I experienced every single possible roadblock to nursing her and was finally manipulated into giving it up when she came home from the hospital. Her father walked out on us within days of her coming home. I didn’t bond with her until she was a year and a half old, and was tortured that entire year and a half that I was a bad person and flawed mother, a judgement I passed on myself that greatly harmed our relationship for years.
My daughter’s experience was not mine. She received support and accommodation from the NICU, her partner, the physicians and her family. It was hard for me to remember that she was not having my experience and that I did not need to react to her experience through mine, but to also be able to empathize that yes, I knew exactly what it was like to see your baby with IVs and tubes and monitors and to feel helpless and afraid.
As The Shrink reminded me today, with PTSD, events that take one back to the trauma are triggering, and set you up for further destabilization. So some of my other feelings this week make more sense, given that I was triggered by the events around the grandbaby and also, the shooting in California stirring up my PTSD from the murder of my best friend and her daughter by her husband. The next step, hopefully, will be to catch on *before* I react. Because sometimes I don’t know why I am lashing out or angry or even what it is that I want–and that’s the place that the PTSD takes me. I am very sensitive, empathic, and sometimes unable to distance myself enough from things outside of my control. So we will be working on that.
Meanwhile, the baby came home today and with any luck, this will have been a tiny ripple instead of a tsunami. Fingers crossed.