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Confessions of a Preemie Mom: My Battle with PTSD

Melissa Harris
June 18, 2012

Postpartum depression (PPD) has been great fodder for many a sitcom writer. Even in pregnancy and birth classes, time is dedicated to the perils of what could happen should you suffer from PPD after you give birth. In fact, 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 emotional perils we face. Giving birth to a preemie and the roller coaster of the NICU can be very traumatic. For many of us preemie moms, that trauma often turns into post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When PTSD meets PPD things can really get hairy.

For me, there was no question that I was suffering from both after the birth of my son at just 24 weeks gestational age.

In many ways, however, 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 the sadness, guilt, fear, anxiety and everything else 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 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 I went into see her in the recovery ICU. There she was, lying still, on a ventilator, tubes coming out of her from every possible place. The sounds of the room and the presence of the monitor showing her respiratory rate, oxygenation levels, heart rate and blood pressure immediately transported me back to the NICU - and not in a good way. 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.

It didn't take too long before I was able to get the panic back under control. 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 last week, 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. Just like last time, 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. This time, I was transported not to the NICU, but to the delivery room just in time to re-experience the overwhelming trauma of giving birth to a micro-preemie.

Again, I hid what was happening from the people around me. Somehow the nurses didn't notice 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 there are experiences I keep running into that 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.

More from Melissa at: http://talesoftheantipreemie.com

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