During yesterday’s #PPDchat on Twitter (which I wrote about here, in case you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about), we participants spoke about our triggers during our PPD–the things that prompt a heightened emotional response in us (watching the news, baby crying, etc). For women with postpartum depression, a trigger often causes anxiety or depression to spiral.
In my opinion, this was one of the most profound topics covered during any of the PPDchats in which I’ve participated. As I read what other women were tweeting, I was reminded of my early postpartum days and the things I now consider to have been my triggers then.
During my maternity leave after Jax was born, I became obsessed with watching TLC’s A Baby Story. The show, which was on constantly (and probably still is), features one family’s story of their child’s birth from the mother’s pregnancy right through the baby’s birth and maybe a quick bit at the end about how the family is faring later, if I remember correctly. But primarily, the show is a birth story.
I had an easy, dream pregnancy. Other than gaining 37 pounds and losing my ability to sleep through the night, I had no real concerns and thoroughly enjoyed being pregnant. Several days before Jax was born, I started to have contractions almost around the clock–sometimes every 15 minutes, sometimes one big one every few hours. They weren’t THAT bad, either, to my surprise. So I went into labor feeling pretty confident, though tired from not sleeping well because of the days of contractions. When the time came to head to the hospital, I was 90% excited and 10% nervous.
As it’s not the point of this post, I’ll skip the detailed birth story and just give you the dirt–Jax was born via Cesaerean section after about 13 hours of active labor and 2 hours of pushing. I think it was chalked up to failure to progress, given that just before crowning, Jax kept turning his head and getting stuck.
The c-section was nothing like what I’d expected (having been told about them by friends/family who’d had them and also by what I’d seen portrayed on tv) and I was completely traumatized by my experience. I spent the entire surgery convinced I was dying and being literally paralyzed with fear, unable to communicate with anyone most of the time. And if the actual surgery wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t get to hold Jax for hours after he was born, which only added to my anxiety. And to top it all off, the recovery was just awful.
Anyway, watching A Baby Story was probably the WORST thing I could have done in those early postpartum days. I didn’t realize then how badly the c-section had affected me mentally and how PPD was setting in (I still wonder if my PPD was a result of the c-section, or at least was worsened by it). If an episode featured a mother undergoing a c-section, I totally lost it in empathy with the woman. If the woman on tv seemed unbothered by her c-section or had an easy recovery, I was jealous and angry all over again about mine. If an episode featured a peaceful non-c-section birth, I felt robbed and cried my eyes out over having missed out on the type of birth I’d expected and prepared for. Either way, I ended up a sobbing mess at the end of most episodes.
But I kept watching. I don’t know why. And neither did my husband, who frequently asked “Why are you watching this?!”
Now, 17 months later, I would bet money I can watch A Baby Story without feeling robbed, angry, or any other negative emotion. But it took me many months of dealing with my traumatic experience via therapy (and EMDR), reading books about c-sections, and talking about my PPD with anyone who will listen to get where I am today. Honestly, I kind of forgot about how much of a trigger that darn show was for me until it came up in the PPDchat yesterday.
I believe that it’s important to know what your triggers are–and to avoid them at all costs! Since my son was born, I rarely listen to NPR anymore, which was something I did every single day before he was born. I don’t watch movies or read books in which children are harmed, even emotionally hurt. I try not to watch baby shows on TLC anymore. And if I can’t avoid a trigger and something sets me off again, which is pretty rare these days, I use distraction to change my thought pattern as quickly as possible. And if distraction doesn’t work, I run a hot bubble bath and soak in it as long as necessary to snap out of the black cloud.
This was a difficult post to write, but one that I hope someone out there who needs help reads and responds to.