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Overcoming Mental & Physical Trauma After Childbirth: My Story

June 26th, 2014

by Timoria McQueen06.25.14_Overcoming Mental & Physical Trauma After Childbirth_Image 1
Maternal Health Advocate

In March 2014 I gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl. Although I had a long labor, I delivered my daughter with no complications—a far cry from the first time I gave birth, four years earlier.

In April of 2010, just after giving birth to my eldest daughter, I started hemorrhaging. After a long labor (27 hours!), I had an easy delivery and I was looking forward to holding my new baby. Instead of having time to bond as a new family of three, my husband and daughter were rushed out of my hospital room and into the nursery as my life hung in the balance. My uterus would not contract. My doctor massaged my uterus to stimulate it but after forty-five minutes there was no progress.

The machines I was hooked up to began to emit several warning beeps. My blood pressure dropped. I began to vomit on myself. I felt so weak that I could barely keep my eyes open. Soon, my hospital room was flooded with strangers. A special surgeon was brought in. He asked me if I wanted to have more children. I told him the only child I was concerned about was the one I had just given birth to. He then explained my options. He was going to try his best to save my uterus and ovaries. At 31 years old, I faced the possibility of hysterectomy if the bleeding didn’t stop. He also told me that if he could not get the bleeding to stop, I would die that night.

After several blood transfusions and a three-hour long surgery, during which I was fully conscious, I was in critical condition. Instead of staying in the intensive care unit, my doctor fought for me to be reunited with my baby and husband. I was told not to move a muscle. I couldn’t nurse or hold my daughter. I lay awake all night in pain. I was afraid to sleep, afraid to move and afraid that every breath I took might shake loose whatever was keeping me together. I stared at my daughter all night. Her big round brown eyes peered through the bassinet. I made a promise to her that I would be okay–she would not be a motherless child. I survived and we went home five days later. Most of my friends thought I was in the hospital for so long because I’d had a cesarean section.

A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Because of what had happened, I was afraid to leave the house. This was such a new feeling to me. I am a professional make-up artist and I have had the opportunity to travel all over the world. I have never been afraid to go anywhere. Now, when I did leave my home, I was easily startled and wrought with anxiety that something might happen to me, my daughter, or my husband.

It becameOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA increasingly difficult to sleep at night. The demands of motherhood took over and I pushed my personal feelings about what happened aside. I was excited to be a new mom and savored the days I spent with my baby. I challenged myself to get out of the house. I joined a hospital support group for new moms and signed up for “Mommy and Me” baby music classes. As I met more new moms I felt a common bond among us as we talked about breastfeeding, sleep schedules, and baby gear. We also shared intimate details of our lives that you would never think you would share with strangers. I made great friends through that group. Despite my outgoing nature and positive outlook on life, deep inside of myself I felt like a silent victim as a result of what was supposed to be a beautiful day. No one else I met had postpartum hemorrhaging and my feelings about the hemorrhaging and the surgery never went away. My emotions cycled through anger, guilt, fearfulness, and sadness. I often spent several hours a day replaying my terrifying ordeal over and over again in my mind.

When my daughter was napping, I would Google searches like “PTSD” and “hemorrhaging after childbirth.” I found very few resources for both. PTSD is often a diagnosis given to war veterans and victims of abuse and accidents. At the time, it was hard for me to comprehend how I now fit into that category. The most common mental health information in relation to motherhood that I found was about PPD (postpartum depression). Although there were a few overlapping symptoms, I did not feel as that I fit into that category either.

I started my blog in 2012 and began to receive emails from women all over the world who had also experienced a traumatic birth. There was one common sentiment amongst every email—there were very few resources for mothers with PTSD as a result of a birth trauma.

I am disappointed at the lack of resources, attention, and education about maternal health here in the United States.¹ Each year, 86,000 women in this country experience an emergency during childbirth, and out of those, approximately 700 die.² As an African-American woman I was quite alarmed to learn that black women die three to four times more than white women after suffering a childbirth or pregnancy complication.³ 98 billion dollars is spent per year by the U.S. on providing hospital care for pregnancy and childbirth, yet the maternal death rate is more than double what is was twenty-five years ago. The United States currently ranks 50th in the world for maternal mortality. Can you believe that 49 countries are better at keeping new mothers alive than the United States?06.25.14_Overcoming Mental & Physical Trauma After Childbirth_Image 3

I hope that by sharing my story with you, I can bring some attention to maternal health and PTSD. There are so many women out there who have experienced a traumatic birth and seek someone with a similar experience to connect to, but don’t know where to find the resources they need.

I am proud to say that today I am now feeling great! Making the decision to have another child after what I went through was not easy. It took me three years to gain trust in my body and prepare myself mentally. I was lucky to find a therapist who specializes in maternal mental health. Through therapy, I learned that connecting to other women and sharing my story was going to impact my recovery in a positive way. I learned that it was okay to talk about my feelings; that they are honest and normal. Feelings of embarrassment and perhaps fear of being given an inappropriate label often cause trauma victims to avoid discussing their mental and emotional anguish.

I hope that those of you who have experienced birth trauma—or trauma of any kind—do not let the stigma of having a mental health issue prevent you from seeking professional treatment or sharing your feelings with a close friend or relative. If we want our government and health leaders to engage in a real and candid dialogue about maternal health and provide more public awareness and education, it is up to us to do the same.

Learn more about Timoria’s work and find resources at www.timoriamcqueen.com. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

¹ Munz, Michele. “Where Are so Many U.S Women Dying during Childbirth?” Stltoday.com. Stltoday.com, 07 Apr. 2013. Web. 01 Nov. 2013.

² Deadly Delivery. London: Amnesty International Secretariat, 2010. PDF.

³ Wing, Nick. “Fact Of The Day #26: Maternal Mortality Rate Rising Despite Expensive Care (INFOGRAPHIC).” Weblog post. The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 24 Aug. 2012. Web. 01 Nov. 2013.