PTSD and anxieties following premature birth or the ill health of your child come in many forms, all of which are simply not discussed and mothers are not warned.
I don’t have the answers but what I do have is my own very real experience of living with the after effects of the things me and my boys survived and a passion and belief that other preemie mothers and those who have experienced trauma with their children need attention and care for their mental health which extends beyond a health visitor trying to spot PND.
Maternal mental health is not limited to PND and whilst there have been fantastic leaps forward in making it normal to discuss PND the same isn’t happening for PTSD and other maternal mental health issues.
Following the trauma of being separated from your baby, witnessing medical procedures and living with the constant fear of loosing them PTSD in its many forms and extremes is a very real, very long term risk which no-one discusses with parents or asses you for.
There is no follow up on a mums mental health beyond a questionnaire for depression and there is no warning that you may suffer flashbacks and anxiety long into the future.
You suffer in silence, terrified you aren’t coping or your over reacting, you tell yourself to ‘pull yourself together’ you remind yourself that they are safe and well and it’s over but still the memories push through the reassurance at the most unexpected times.
A smell, a song, the sound of beeping machines, the sight of an ambulance, can all leave you feeling that you aren’t in the present but instead burdening the emotions that you were unable to process at the time.
For some people you suffer with panic attacks and become unable to live an normal life, for others the trauma only resurfaces when you’re thrust into certain situations, but however you are being effected you are suffering, your mental health is suffering and you are most likely doing it alone.
This photograph was taken yesterday moments before my smile left my face and was replaced by the tears of traumas from the past. My mum had taken me to the fracture clinic as I’ve hurt my foot and we decided to have a coffee in the women’s and children’s wing. I was in a great mood despite the pain in my foot but within moments of sitting down everything changed.
I was sat distressingly close to the neonatal unit where my boys spent the first few weeks of their lives, and right next to the entrance to the children’s ward where I have spent too many days restraining my children as they have bloods taken and lines put in, holding them as they fit and handing them over to doctors so they can have lumber punctures and other procedures.
All the pain and fear of the many nights spent alone in the children’s ward crying and worrying my children may be seriously ill forced there way once again to the front of my mind, my heart raced, my palms were damp and the tears rolled down my face.
My mum knew it was the force of those traumatic memories which were to strong and to raw to keep contained, it wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.
It’s just over two years since our twins came home from NICU and after more than our share of hospital admissions my mind is battered and bruised and the scars of what I have witnessed and what I have feared are deep.
During the past two years the force of the memories and emotions which burst forward in my mind have caused me to fall to the floor and wail with pain, rocking back and forth and screaming at my husband “the things I have seen, the things I have seen, they won’t go away”. It has caused me to hit myself in the head repeatedly to try and force this pain from my mind and it has caused me to feel that I am weak and that I am being silly.
But after two long years of experiencing these crippling flashbacks, luckily infrequently but nevertheless traumatically I finally decided to shout it out.
I am not silly, I am not weak, I am not being ungrateful for not focusing on the now and my children’s health, I am not ‘not coping’ I am not a bad mother and I am not over reacting.
I am scarred, I am traumatised, my mind is wounded in the same way my broken foot is, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t damaged and most importantly I AM NOT ALONE.
I am not the only one to feel this way, I am not the only one to silently sob in the hospital cubicle for things which have already been and gone, I am not the only one to avoid going to certain places because the memories are too raw, I am not the only one to not be able to process what they have experienced and the things they have seen and it is time that we talk about PTSD in maternal mental health.
Talk to your family, lets talk to each other, lets put our stories out there and make it known and acceptable, but most importantly lets go and talk to our Doctors, it’s OK to ask for help or to need to talk about what we’ve lived through. Not all scars heal with time and that’s OK.