The Therapy Fund | Vol. 5

June 14, 2012

Postpartum Depression.  All pregnant woman are warned about PPD.  We are told what the warning signs are, and what to do if we feel that PPD is creeping into our lives.  For the preemie mom, PPD is just one of the things we have to look out for.  Surviving a preemie is very traumatic, and for many of us, we have to look out for signs of post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  The worst is when PPD and PTSD both decide to take hold.

For me, there was no question that I was suffering from both after the birth of my son.

Sam the Anti-Preemie meets his mom

Sam the Anti-preemie being held for the first time

In many ways, I feel like I was lucky. I had already been talking to a therapist for almost two years, dealing with previous miscarriages and fertility issues.  Within two weeks of having Sam, I was safely back in her care, taking an hour out of each week to weep on her couch and talk about all the crap that was rattling around in my head.  I had an outlet and a professional evaluating me weekly.  I never got consumed by my PPD and PTSD.  I was able to release a little of it each week.  I was aware they were both there, and because of that I felt like I was in total control.

In fact, after Sam had been home for about 7 months, I "broke up" with my therapist.  I had been seeing her for so long, and I felt I was ready to deal with everything in front of me on my own.  It was a bold thing for me to do.  I was still fragile.  Little things still upset me, but I just felt like I could handle it without her.  And, for the most part I could.

The first sign that my PTSD was still lingering, waiting to strike, was when my mom was in the hospital for her triple bypass surgery.  I was doing fine, until we went into see her, and all I could see was the monitor above her showing her respiratory rate, oxygenation levels, heart rate and blood pressure.  I knew what everything was and how to read it.  The sounds of the machines and the monitors in that room all sounded familiar, and I was unable to keep the tears back.  I could taste the bile rising in my throat and my heart beat quicken as I stood in there.  My mom's nurse noticed all the color from my face drain and she leaped to the conclusion that I was worried for my mom.  I did not correct her.  It seemed easier than to explain to her that all the equipment and noise was taking me back to a place I didn't want to be.  I gave my mom a kiss, and left as soon as I could.

I was able to get the panic back under control pretty quickly.  I didn't tell anyone what had happened or really why it had happened.  Talking about it seemed to make it more real than I was ready to admit. Instead, I pushed all that trauma and fear back down and tried to move forward.

Then, on Wednesday, it happened again.  This time, I was in the recovery room after having cortisone injections in my neck to relieve pain after falling down the stairs last October.  They wheeled me out of the procedure room and into the recovery area.  I was lying flat on my back on the hospital bed, when one of the nurses pushed the button to sit me up.  Right away, I felt the bile start to rise and my heart started to pound.  I had not been in a hospital bed laying like that than since I was first admitted to the hospital and put into trendelenberg for six days.  When the recovery room nurse sat me up on Wednesday it flashed me back to my arrival in the delivery room and the nurses sat me up to get the spinal placed.

Again, I hid what was happening from the people around me.  Somehow the nurses didn't notice (or ignored) the tears streaming down my face.  As luck would have it, when I was in the procedure room, I told the doctor I had a terrible migraine, so right about the time I was really starting to panic, the nurse arrive with a shot of toradol and a percoset.  The toradol immediately took the edge off, and the percoset kept me numb for the rest of the day.

I guess it is safe to say that my PTSD from the NICU experience is still there, and things will trigger it.  I know I am strong enough to recover from them, but only if I am willing to admit the issues are there.  So, here in this most public of forums I am saying is...

Hi, I'm Melissa and I am suffering from PTSD due to the premature birth of my son.

[…] being.  And I am more in awe of the families with children with disabilities than I ever was.  The scars of the NICU are still there, and I will have to remember that the littlest things can trigger big and complex […]
[…] I’m not downplaying my experience.  As anyone who has been following this blog knows, I have been pretty open about my struggles with PTSD. […]
Thank you for sharing your story. I delivered my son at 26 weeks this past January with a 72 NICU stay. My good days far outweigh my bad days but I know my bad/sad days still exist. I don’t know when they will fully surface, but I know many emotions are still with me. One evening we ended up at the Children’s Hospital due to high potassium levels and our son needing an EKG (turned out the levels were falsely high). That night, seeing my son hooked up to a pulse ox monitor, hearing the same beeps, alarms, etc all brought back many emotions. When we got home that night I just held him and cried, so thankful he is my thriving little boy.
Hi Bethany. It is amazing how much there is out there that can trigger our emotions. So glad your hospital visit was a quick one. After all us preemie moms have been through, even 5 min in a hospital is unacceptable! Hang in there and know that you are not alone.
Thank you so much for your honesty. One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that when things are in your head swirling about it takes over, has sooo much power to destroy you but when you get it out and talk about things it takes the power out of it. No longer is it just in your head eating you up it lessens the blow and it’s now powerless.
Thank you for sharing and as Amy stated you always have us to talk to. 🙂
Thanks Brittany. It’s is so nice to know that people are out there to listen! It’s especially nice that friends from past lives are still out there.
BTW, you owe no one and explaination of why he was born early. (I mean, except for the drs and the like.) In groups of preemie mom friends, I will tell the story- the bacterial infection and then PPROM- but to others I just simply say, “He just was.”
Hi Melissa! I am Laura and I have/had PPD and PTSD from the premature birth of my son too. My other child was in the hospital Tuesday for minor surgery and I had little flashbacks all day. They were easily managed but still there.
Hugs and take care of yourself.
Laura, WaldenMommy
Nice to meet you Laura! I can’t imagine how much my anxiety would flare up if either one of my kids had to be in the hospital. Thank you for sharing with me. It is always comforting to know we are not alone!
Penny Dewberry
Melissa, thank you so much for being brave and putting yourself out here. It has helped me to read this and I will strive to start telling when this happens to me too. For me, there is so much shame there too.
Shame is a big one for me too. I dread when someone asks me “why was he born so early?”. I don’t have an answer like preeclampsia, HELLP, IUGR, etc. For me, my cervix just failed. It has taken me a long time to change my statement from “my body failed” to “my cervix failed”. One of those statements feels less shameful for me.
Hang in there and know you are not alone. I have learned the preemie community is full of fierce and supportive people.
Your honesty with us, and yourself, is amazing. I feel the same way whenever my kids’ are getting their oxygen tested at the doc. When Connor was 10 days old his oxygen was so low and I remember the look on his doctor’s face when she said I needed to get in the car and drive to the hospital immediately. I made a comment about going home to get my other kid (since I was just there for a routine appointment, a neighbor was sitting in our house while Trevor napped) and she held my arm and said, “No. You need to go *right now*.” He spent a week in the NICU as he battled RSV and a kidney infection (which, miraculously, helped us discover his VUR). That was so very minor compared to the things you’ve dealt with that I can’t imagine how much anxiety you hold on a daily basis.
Take good care of yourself and know that you have so many hands to hold should you need them.
Thanks Amy. It is amazing how liberating talking about this is – almost like confessing it lessens it. I am blessed with an amazing community of friends and have learned that leaning on them is the smartest thing I can do. Glad I know you are one of those people I can lean on.

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