Birth Trauma Survivor and Maternal Health Advocate

“True rebels hate their own rebellion. They know by experience that it is not a cool and glamorous lifestyle; it takes a courageous fool to say things that have not been said and to do things that have not been done.” Criss Jami, Venus in Arms

Within an hour of hitting the “publish” button I had over eight hundred page views on my website.

No turning back.

I logged onto my Twitter account to see if there was any activity there. There was a tweet to me from a South African woman. She explained over a series of tweets and private messages that she had also suffered a postpartum hemorrhage. After reading my story, she thought she might have been misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder. She felt that she had all the traits of someone living with PTSD. Because she lived in a rural area, her access to mental and physical healthcare was extremely limited. She said she felt alone until she came across my website. I was greatly touched that she reached out to me but I was at a loss for how to help her. Then I remembered a website I had come across with several message boards for people with PTSD stemming from various types  of trauma, “My PTSD”. I sent her a link to it. She emailed me back a few moments later thanking me for linking her to the site. We tweeted back and forth for a day or two. I never heard from her again. I think about her often. I felt bad for her. She didn’t have a Dr. B,  a Dr. Chinn or a therapist like Rachael to turn to. Even if she did, her access was  limited based on geography and economics. I was reminded of how lucky I was to have survived. About eight hundred women die from pregnancy or childbirth related complications around the world every day. In 2010  alone-287, 000 women worldwide died during or following pregnancy and childbirth. Almost all of these deaths occurred in low-resource settings, and most could have been prevented. My survival was due to many factors but mostly because I have excellent health care and access to some of the best surgeons in the country.

Within a few days, I started receiving messages of deep concern (usually masked as support) from friends and old work colleagues I hadn’t heard from in years. Reactions ranged from “Wow, you hid that well, I would have never known” to “You’re so brave”. The truth is that I was never hiding anything at all. I made a choice from the beginning to be as happy and positive for Miss J and manage my emotions as best as I could. If the topic of Miss J’s birth ever came up in conversation, I was always honest about what happened. I focused on the good things in my life. I had a lot to be thankful for. I had a healthy, beautiful daughter, a loving husband and an active social life. When my PTSD became too overwhelming for me to handle on my own and began to affect my home life, I made a choice to seek help.

Week after week during my sessions with my therapist, Rachael, I purged the hardships of not only the year after Miss J’s birth, but many things that happened over the course of my entire life that had a lasting effect on me. I had compartmentalized many things. The hemorrhage was a trigger and opened the door on feelings and emotions I had hidden deep within myself. Although initially I only wanted to talk about the surgery, it was clear that I needed to talk about so much more. I couldn’t just pick one thing to fix. I had to start at the beginning and fix it all to truly move forward with my life. Rachael was very upfront from the start of my treatment that the work I needed to do was not going to be easy. She was right. It took several months and there were times during the course of my treatment that I wanted to take a break for awhile, but Rachael never let me slack off. If I missed an in office appointment (by accident , of course) she would call me and we would have a phone session. A phone session was never the same as seeing her face to face. I was not as revealing as I was in person with her. I think a home has too many distractions to concentrate.  Sometimes I had the tv on mute, but with the closed captions on. Sometimes I would check emails, my Facebook and my Twitter accounts while we were on the phone.

In addition to seeing Rachael every week, writing about my experience was essential to my recovery.

My confidence and passion for sharing my story grew stronger with each post. Every time I hit the “publish” button, I breathed a little easier, slept a little longer and lived with less anxiety. Back in 2012, I thought I would tell my entire story within a few months. It has taken almost two years. At some point I decided it was important for me to tell you about more than just the hemorrhage and the surgery. It was important for me tell you about Christine and Mikey, as they were my inspiration for really committing to this blog and being as candid with you as I have been. I have told you stories about my childhood, my relationships and about my work. I became consumed (obsessed really) and in love with writing. I often write three or four posts simultaneously. There were times where it became so intense, I would tell Rachael that I wished I could stop. But I never could. There was always a voice in the background.

Keep going. Keep going.

In October of 2012 I tweeted my story to supermodel Christy Turlington Burns.  She also experienced a postpartum hemorrhage during the birth of her first child. This inspired her to start an organization called “Every Mother Counts.” Every Mother Counts seeks to bring awareness on a global scale to maternal health issues, particularly maternal deaths and complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Within a few minutes of sending my tweet, Christy responded back to me publicly and she also sent me a private message. I was shocked! I stared at my computer screen for several minutes and thought it had better not be someone playing a joke on me! I responded and over a series of messages Christy asked me to write about my birth experience for publication on Every Mother Count’s website.  Once my story was published , the traffic to my personal website jumped from a few hundred views per week to several thousand. I started to receive messages of support from all over the world. Soon, I had become the” face” of PTSD and birth trauma.  It was overwhelming at first. Women were writing to me and telling me their most intimate and painful thoughts and birth experiences. Some were distraught and needed immediate help. Many were just thankful to have found a kindred spirit to finally tell their secrets to.

Rachael told me she was pregnant about three months into our time together. She let me know that she would still be available to me via email or phone if I needed her. I also had the option of continuing with another therapist in her office until she came back from maternity leave.

I don’t like change, so that wasn’t an option for me.

I assured Rachael that I would be okay during her maternity leave. I promised her that I would continue our hard work and that she wouldn’t find me in the ” loony bin” upon her return. I knew that some part of her had waited as long as she could before her stomach started showing to tell me her exciting news. As a therapist, I’m sure  the possibility occurred to her that I might not be as open with my feelings surrounding birth trauma knowing that she had a life growing inside of her. Truthfully, it wasn’t easy for me to be as candid with her as I was used to. For the first few weeks after she told me her news I analyzed and dissected her every reaction and facial expression to what I was saying. She remained the same, so I felt secure that I could continue to be myself and not censor what I needed to say.

Rachael returned from maternity leave in January 2013.  A lot had changed. I was in a great place mentally. I was less anxious and moody. I was not replaying the hemorrhage or the surgery as often. I had read several helpful books and articles about PTSD.  The Heart of Beauty video had been released publicly and tweeted by a few celebrities. Every day letters of support rolled in.  I was in the midst of doing the  hardest work of my healing process-leaving the PTSD behind. I was at a turning point. I was no longer a person suffering from PTSD. I had become a person who was healing from PTSD. I had this label for three years and everything emotionally associated with it finally began to evaporate. It was a little scary. I wondered what my life would be like on the other side.

Every now and then there were still triggers that reminded me of my past traumas, but Rachael had equipped me with the necessary skills to handle them. She taught me everything from breathing techniques when I became overwhelmed and upset to simply just saying “no” when I didn’t want to go somewhere or do something.

Getting  more sleep remained the last hurdle to overcome.

In the Spring of 2013, my work with Rachael was nearly complete.  “Breaking up “ with her was harder than I ever thought it would be.  It had been nearly a year since our first meeting. I expressed to Rachael that my mind felt healthy and I had gained clarity about myself and my purpose on this earth that I had never felt before. My body on the other hand, was in constant pain. It felt as if all the pain that had left me mentally seeped  into the crevices of every muscle and joint in my body.  I have written at length why I felt betrayed by my body due to the hemorrhage and the miscarriage. I no longer trusted my body. It was important for me to gain the trust back. The constant pain in my body was a physical reminder that I was still not completely healed, no matter how great I felt mentally. I needed a physical release for the pain. Rachael was extremely supportive of my decision to end our sessions so that I could focus on healing my body. I looked into several types of exercise programs. I am not the kind of gal that will go for a run, cycle for several miles or lift weights. After reading  “Overcoming Trauma: Reclaiming Your Body Through Yoga” by David Emerson, I felt that yoga would be a great option for me. I signed up for a beginners yoga program.

I emailed Rachael after my first few classes.

April 7, 2013

 Hi Rachael,

I started Yoga this weekend. I took one class on Sat and two today. My body feels amazing. I feel like an old vault that was dirty and hidden and someone found it and discovered millions of dollars of gold coins inside but to get to the coins, they had to go through a complicated maze.

One of the types of Yoga I am doing is called restorative. The whole class is about letting go and allowing the body to rest, tune out the outside world and drift off. I was surprised that the point of the class was to rest. It was absolutely amazing. I had the best sleep last night. If you haven’t already, I think you should read about it and recommend to your patients.

 Here is a link to a good book I am reading about it.

http://www.amazon.com/Overcoming-Trauma-through-Yoga-Reclaiming/dp/1556439695/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365385810&sr=1-1&keywords=overcoming+trauma+through+yoga

 I hope all is well with you and the Baby:-)

Timoria

I continued to attend several yoga classes every week. Soon, I was sleeping six to eight hours every night.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, I just know that several weeks later all of the pain in my body had disappeared.

Healing both my mind and my body was almost complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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