Can events in motherhood cause Post Traumatic Stress or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? It seems extreme, right? I mean Post Traumatic Stress is what soldiers face on the battlefield. I’d hate to bring disrespect to the trauma of war by holding up my hand over here in my own little combat zone. But it is real, and many mothers who have PTSD do go undiagnosed because they don’t know what they are experiencing. So this little article is my attempt to get the word out about PTSD in motherhood.
I faced my own trauma three years ago when my three-week-old son refused to nurse. What followed was an eight-hour emergency room scene that ended with my husband and I kissing his tiny forehead and saying goodbye Equally traumatizing were the days and weeks that followed. Telling our children, removing the dead tree from our front yard that was haunting us, buying burial clothes and a tiny coffin, and planning the funeral and burial were all part of the nightmare from which I could not wake up. All this, and I had to continue healing from birth and drying up as a nursing mom. Brutal. It was brutal. As I walked through the trauma, I was met with help and resources, lots of love from family and friends, meals, cards and gifts, and an introduction to organizations for support. Three years later, I’m still healing but beginning to be able to climb up and stand upon the trauma. If you are not a traumatized mother, then you probably know one. In a broken world, it is all around us.
What kinds of things cause trauma in motherhood? (There are many things, and this is not an exhaustive list.) The death of a child, miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, and traumatic childbirth can leave mothers in a state of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) without them realizing it. I am part of an online support group for mothers who have lost children and I often hear them describing symptoms of PTSD. These symptoms include intrusive thoughts, fears or dreams about their living children being in danger, heightened senses (especially hearing and smell), and “blocks.” A block is when you know that you need to do something but emotionally it is triggering you so you keep putting it off. I ran into this when it was time to plan my son’s birthday party.
Without knowing that PTSD may be at the root of suffering, we may attempt to self medicate in several ways. Denial, comfort food (mainly carbs and sugar), sleeping, drinking, anger, escaping into your phone for hours, not eating, and over or under-exercising all come to mind. I have come to learn that these are not necessarily bad things if you can catch them quickly. They are actually like the warning lights on your dashboard, alerting you to your need for self-care. When I catch myself in any of these behaviors, I take action. This could mean clearing my schedule for extra rest and recuperation, scheduling a massage or EMDR session, increasing water intake, writing, exercising, or planning a babysitter for a date with my husband. I have also learned how yoga can heal PTSD, which is really powerful.
The most helpful and healing factor for me has been embracing a worldview that makes sense of the suffering of this world. As a Christian, I know that Jesus does not sit by and watch the suffering of his people, He took action by coming to the world to suffer and die himself and to make way for eternal life. He sent His Spirit to earth to act as a comfort, and redeems times of suffering and uses them for our growth and the comfort and growth of others. I know that I will see my son Joey again, and I have experienced the supernatural comfort of God as I have grown through the suffering. I have learned that the hard things in life do not happen to us; they happen for us so that we can grow into healers who can make a difference in the world.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that hurt people hurt people. Well, I’ve heard the same is true of the healed. Healed people heal people. I wouldn’t say that I’m completely healed, I don’t think that is a thing, but as someone who has experienced trauma in motherhood, I’ve also experienced healing, and I try to pass that along when I can. Can others be healed by your wounds? Yes, and turning your pain into purpose is valuable on the healing path. That is why I share my story in the hopes that it will reach a mother out there who needs some affirmation. Yes, we do face traumatic situations as mothers and yes, we can carry on.