Trigger Warning: This birth story contains details of PTSD and haemorrhage. If you are triggered by these topics you may wish to skip this blog or read it once you have support available. If you are seeking support for your birth trauma, you may wish to contact our Peer Support Service.
What I want you to know…
I am your patient and my anxiety will be through the roof when I see you. My hands will be sweaty, my mind will be racing a million miles per hour and my heart will feel like it is about to explode out of my chest. I will want to throw up. I will clench onto my handbag ever so tight. I have been holding onto it for dear life since I stepped into the waiting room. It has grounded me to stay in the present and has been my connection to the now.
The distinct smell of your waiting room has me on high alert. I smelt it as soon as I walked in, as soon as I opened the door. Disinfectant. You won’t notice it. You are accustomed to the sterile smell. For you the smell probably reassures you of safety. Safety from disease and bacteria. For me, it is the first warning sign of danger my body gets when I come for a visit.
My body wants to run. But my mind knows better and decides to stay. I will use a nail to press down on my skin on the back of my hand to keep me grounded. It will leave a distinct mark. You will not notice it. But it is there and it is the sign I really need you to pick up. It is the only visible sign my great acting skills will give you. The sign I’m not okay about being here.
I will hear my name called by you and look up to see you smile. I will rise from my chair. But I will want to do the opposite. I really want to shrink down on the floor and lay in the fetal position. I will try and listen to your greeting but your words won’t make any sense and they won’t register. With this you will welcome me again with a smile and I will give you are friendly fake one back. I will follow you to your door.
Underneath I want to scream and cry. My legs will be tense and heavy. Each step will feel like a marathon has been run. You will not notice as you are in front of me. I will try my best to act like everything is normal and to you, at this stage, it is. But I’m not your normal client. I am afraid and terrified of where I am about to go. To you it will be the present. For me it will be the past. A past that torments me over and over again.
My anxiety is not in regards to you. I trust your skills and knowledge. I am not terrified of you. I have seen you before. We have got on well. But that was when I could not careless about the objects in your office, or the smell of the environment you worked in. That was before something horrible happened to me.
The things you see on your desk every day: the blood pressure machine and the stethoscope, the objects you work with: the bed, the curtain, the sink, the gloves and the triggers I myself have not yet uncovered, scare the life out of me. My mind knows it is irrational. But my body is trying to take control. The two are on different playing fields and eventually my body will take over.
I will make you feel uncomfortable and distressed. I will avoid eye contact with you, as soon as I sit down. I have a script on hand and I will read it out for you off my phone. I will feel safe telling you like this because I don’t have to look at you, or the objects beyond you. The bed, the curtain, the light. I hate that light so much. It sits above your clinical bed attached to the ceiling. It is the one light I constantly see in my night terrors and behind the light that blinds me, I feel like I am being tortured.
I will look up at you once I finish reading. I will notice your automatic blood pressure machine on your desk. As I do, I will go back to that night. I always do when I see it.
I am lying on my back staring at the ceiling, lying in a pool of blood. I am trying my best to stay still. Praying for the bleeding to stop. The less I move, the less I bleed, I tell myself. I am alone. I have been left here by a nurse who has gone to get help. I turn my face left and here, is this machine. It is not your machine. It is the machine of that night. It’s hooked up to my body and it is now linked to my trauma. I can hear sounds beeping, people talking in corridors and I hear the busyness of an Emergency Department counter.
And then I will hear your voice again. I will look at you and still hear nothing. I can see your lips move. In a hurry I will try to find three things in the room to pull myself back. My heart will be beating so fast as it tries to match my breathing. I will wiggle my toes. I will hear you talk again.
I will look at your sad and sympathetic face. You will look helpless. I will smile my ‘awkward I’m okay smile’ and then go to look at the carpet. My feet are in my shoes. I am Still here with you. I will wiggle my toes some more. I will put my phone away in a hurry. Then I will then try to find a spot in your room that makes me feel safe.
I will be breathing erratically still and I will be forcing myself to extend my exhales. I have my arms and legs crossed as tight as my limbs will allow them. I have had them so, ever since I sat down. Nothing is getting between them. Nothing and no one. Particularly my legs. They will be clamped shut, almost to the point of cramping. But you will not notice. You will be talking and looking at the computer. My feet will be going cold. I will want to run out the door and I will stare at it. I won’t be listening to you.
I really am just trying my best to stay sitting presently in this room. I want you to know I am recovering from PTSD. PTSD from birth related trauma. You must treat me differently. And I really want you to know how brave I am for being here.
I want you to know I am 18 months postpartum. A long journey it is and will be. I want you to know how much I have achieved in such a small space of time. I want you to know with PTSD there isn’t a quick fix and there is always a new hill to climb. With each leap there is always some backwards steps too. But I the thing I want you to know is that I am getting there!