Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I dutifully read my baby and pregnancy books.  Anyone who has read any of these books knows that they totally freak you out -- in the "potential complications" chapter (or whatever the chapter is called) the book always details horrible problems that could occur during and after delivery for both mom and baby, like "your uterus will rupture and then attack the nurse" or "your baby will be born with a full set of teeth you'll need to diligently floss."  And, even though these complications were rare, like most first-time mothers, I visualized all these scenarios with horror.  I began to think maybe the old-fashioned method of just knocking the mother out during delivery was not a bad idea.

One potential problem that I remember reading about, though, was postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I remember thinking, "How the hell could having a baby be so traumatic?  People have been doing it for a long time."

Oh, how very innocent I was.

I had a traumatic birth, but I'll omit the gory details.  And I didn't realize till maybe a year later that I did have PTSD as a result.  Every time I'd drive by the hospital where my daughter was born, or come anywhere near the office where my (I-can't-stress-enough former) OB-GYN was, I'd have panic attacks.  I also had serious postpartum depression, and I do, in retrospect, attribute at least some of the cause to PTSD. 

It turns out that an estimated 1-6% of women have postpartum PTSD, according to Postpartum Support International.   Some of the causes could be unplanned c-sections, forceps or vacuum extraction (both of which I had), and/or problems with the baby.  (See the NIMH page on PTSD here.)

Most people associate PTSD with people who have been in war zones, or victims of violent attacks.  That's what I thought.  I honestly never thought, when I was looking through all those "potential complications" in the baby books, that I would end up with PTSD from childbirth.  (Neither did this woman, whose story on is engrossing).

Recently, a psychiatrist suggested I had medically-induced PTSD, as a result not only of my birth experience, but other hospitalizations since then.  In my last pregnancy, I was hospitalized a whopping four times, once in the psychiatric unit and three times in the perinatal unit.  And if you were wondering, the perinatal unit had WAY better food -- and, surprisingly, a lot less moaning. 

A google search for "medically-induced PTSD" doesn't really turn anything up, so I'm not really sure if this is a legitimately recognized condition, or if it's more like saying "you have chicken-induced PTSD," if you were attacked by a chicken.

Regardless if it's a real condition or not, though, I've seen a lot of doctors lately -- body ones, not brain ones -- and my anxiety level is definitely starting to go up.  And, frankly, I'm annoyed.  I have a lot of other sh*t to deal with, but medical PTSD isn't one I need.  I'm starting to wonder if it's too late to go back and sue the doctor that delivered my oldest daughter.

But then I'd probably end up with "legal PTSD," and I really couldn't handle that.

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