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Allowing Yourself to Grieve


Grieve? What does grieving have to do with Birth Trauma?

Well, you had a dream, a vision of what your life would be like after having a baby. You had expectations of what your childbirth experience would be like. Sometimes things happen that we donít expect. Sometimes situations are beyond our control.

If your birth experience was traumatic, Iím sure you werenít expecting it to turn out that way. You had foreseen giving birth to a healthy baby, but maybe your baby is not totally healthy. Perhaps your precious baby had to be in the neonatal intensive care unit for a while. Perhaps your baby has birth defects. PerhapsÖ you lost your baby.

You had hopes of being happy, but you are not happy. You feel guilty for not being happy, but you are supposed to be happy, right? After all you have a healthy baby, why aren't you happy? Because your dream is dead... Your hopes are dashed... And you feel empty.

The past is over. We cannot change the past. What happened, however horrible it might be, happened, and there is nothing we can do about it. We are disappointed with the way things turned out. We are angry at our doctors, at the hospital, at our family, and we are angry at God. We feel ripped off. Where is the happy ending we hoped for? Why is this happening to us? What have we ever done to deserve such a raw deal? We wish we could go back and do things differently. But unfortunately, we canít. That is why we need to grieve.

Steps to handle the loss resulting from a traumatic childbirth:

Step 1: In order to deal with grief you must admit to yourself what loss you have experienced in having a traumatic childbirth. Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • What feelings did I experience during pregnancy? What expectations did I have about how my childbirth experience was supposed to happen?
  • What feelings did I experience during the delivery of my child? What was traumatic about the birth?
  • What feelings of loss did I experience immediately following the birth of my child? Did you feel anything at all?
  • What feelings of loss did I experience with my child, during my child's:
    1. first three months
    2. first through sixth months
    3. six months to one year
    4. on my child's first birthday?

Step 2: Once you have identified the losses, identify how you handle the five stages of grief for each loss. Review the five stages of grief from www.coping.org:

Denial:

We deny that the loss event has occurred. We ignore the signs of the loss event. We begin to use magical thinking, excessive fantasy, regression, withdrawal, and rejection.

Bargaining:

We bargain or strike a deal with God, ourselves, or others to make the loss go away. We promise to do anything it takes to make this loss go away. We agree to take whatever extreme measures are needed in order to make this loss disappear. We begin to shop around, gamble, take risks, sacrifice. We lack confidence in our efforts to deal with the loss and look elsewhere for answers.

Anger:

We become angry with God, ourselves, or others over our loss. We become outraged and incensed over the steps that must be taken to overcome our loss. We pick out "scape-goats" upon whom to vent our anger, e.g., the doctors, hospitals, clerks, helping agencies, and rehabilitation specialists. We begin to use self-blaming, switching blame, blaming the baby, aggressive anger, and resentment. Anger is a normal stage. It must be expressed and resolved. If it is suppressed and held in it will become "ANGER-IN," leading to a maladaptive condition of depression that drains our emotional energy.

Despair:

We become overwhelmed by the anguish, pain, and hurt of our loss. We can begin to have uncontrollable crying, sobbing, and weeping spells. We can begin to go into spells of deep silence, morose thinking, and deep melancholy. We begin to experience guilt, remorse, loss of hope, and loss of faith and trust. We need support to assist us in gaining the objectivity to re-frame and re-group our lives after this loss. If we are not able to work through our despair, we risk experiencing events in our life such as mental illness, divorce/separation, suicide ideation or attempts, an inability to cope with the aftermath of our loss, rejection of family members, detachment, poor bonding, and/or unhealthy interaction with the parties involved in our loss.

Acceptance:

We begin to reach a level of awareness and understanding of the nature of our loss. We can now describe the terms and conditions involved in our loss, fully describe the risks and limitations involved in treating or rehabilitating the loss feelings involved, problem solve the issues involved in coping with our loss, test the concepts and alternatives available to us in dealing with this loss, and handle the information surrounding this loss in a more appropriate way.

We begin to use rational thinking, adaptive behavior patterns, appropriate emotional responses, patience and self-confidence. We can be growing in acceptance and still be experiencing denial, bargaining, anger, and despair. We need support from others to gain objectivity and clarity of thinking in order to come to full acceptance. Those who have experienced similar losses form effective support groups.

Step 3: Now consider how your spouse or partner has handled this loss. Answer these questions in your journal:

  • How has my partner handled the loss events in the (1) pregnancy, (2) delivery, and (3) birth of our child?
  • How has my partner handled the loss in the various stages of our target child's life? What stage of grief is my spouse in?
  • How have we helped each other cope with our loss?
  • How have we communicated our feelings?
  • How have these losses brought us closer together?
  • How do we handle our differences in grieving?
  • How well are we coping as a team with the loss?
  • What does our joint response to the loss tell us about our relationship?
  • How willing are we to help one another cope?
  • How important is our ability to cope in regard to our target child's welfare?

Step 4: Know that this will take time and that you may need to work with a support group or a professional to accomplish this.


© Copyright 2008 Jodi Kluchar

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