The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health posted an article in October 2008 titled “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Following Childbirth.” From the article:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after childbirth is an understudied condition. Traditionally, much of the data have been based on case reports, indicating that PTSD can occur following a range of childbirth and child loss situations, including long or complicated labor, severe pain with labor or delivery, cesarean section, and unanticipated pregnancy outcome, such as child loss, miscarriage or infant birth defects. PTSD related to childbirth is frequently overlooked by physicians; the relative newness of the diagnosis and lack of literature on this topic are factors which may hinder recognition of this disorder.
These studies have reported a wide range of PTSD symptoms, including flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and avoidance of reminders of the trauma. Women with PTSD also may experience feelings of numbness, anger, depression, social isolation, and chronic sleep problems.
While earlier reports suggested that PTSD after childbirth appeared to be precipitated by delivery trauma, a recent study by Zaers and colleagues suggests that there are certain predisposing factors which raise the likelihood that a woman will develop PTSD after childbirth. In this study, 6% of 60 postpartum women reported clinically significant PTSD symptoms at six weeks postpartum. At six months postpartum, 14.9% reported PTSD symptoms. The strongest predictor for post-traumatic stress symptoms was anxiety late in pregnancy. Other predictors included psychiatric symptoms in late pregnancy, stressful life events, and the delivery experience. Nearly one quarter of the women in this study also reported depressive symptoms at 6 weeks and 6 months postpartum. [Emphasis mine]
One reader shared her story (posted here with her permission) about how obstetric bullying in last weeks of her pregnancy, coupled with a subsequent unnecesarean six months ago, left her with postpartum depression with symptoms of PTSD. The collaborative effort of care providers to scare women into unnecessary planned cesareans in the last month of their pregnancies is without a doubt aiding women in meeting this criterion for PTSD.
I had a TERRIBLE week leading into a completely unwanted c-section. Being diabetic type 1 and having been intruded upon for my entire pregnancy, my son was looking to be in the 10 lb range around 38 weeks pg and that’s when the week from hell began. I was literally told that if I didn’t at least go along with one of their “suggestions” I would be dropped from their practice (AT 38 weeks PG!) and would have no doctor.
I declined to have a procedure done on me starting at 34 weeks pg - where I would go into the hospital every Friday and they would administer 10 minutes worth of Pitocin through an IV and hooked up to a fetal heart monitor and if the baby showed normal signs of heart rate during each Pitocin induced contraction, then I could be signed up for induction…. umm yeah right. I said absolutely not, I’ll continue with outward monitoring as I am diabetic and thought it would be wise because complications can arise with baby. I had a quick ultrasound every other week from 34 weeks on (probably a stupid idea but I was nervous).
At 38 weeks, I was adamant that I be left alone to birth when ready, but they had been pushing the whole fear thing on me the entire pregnancy “baby is too big to push out” “you have polyhydramnios, baby could die,” “shoulder dystocia” “baby stuck in the birth canal, emergency c-section - you both could die” “stillbirth” “placental death due to diabetes” Let’s not forget to mention I was a well controlled diabetic type 1 the ENTIRE pregnancy on an insulin pump…first son was induced at 38 weeks with a vaginal delivery and NO epidural. I had him after 15 hours labor and 45 minutes of pushing with no problem.
I told them this over and over again - not to mention that my mother AND her mother had 10+ lb. babies fine vaginally. They insisted I couldn’t do it. So, I set up a meeting with two of the head doctors at the practice and a nurse, and my mother for support. I literally sat in that office that day for over 2 hours, BAWLING because they were pushing me so far into a c-section they said that if I didn’t comply with at least induction, they would drop me. At 38+ weeks pregnant and diabetic, what do you do?
I was scared and they were fear mongering me. I accepted to go with induction and they put a 6 hour dilation time frame on me. I get to the hospital and because of having extra fluid, they say baby hasn’t descended and there was no point of even trying to induce. After a week of pure hell, fighting with the doctors and them pushing all the fear in the world that I or my baby would die, I reluctently accepted the c-section.
As I was prepped and walked into the OR room, I IMMEDIATELY started to cry walking into that cold, steel room. They sat me on the table and all the nurses and docs in there tried to console me. I couldn’t hold back. I felt like running away. I felt like escaping the hell I knew they were going to put me and my baby through. I felt like a failure. I felt like a weakling for giving up after an entire pregnancy of fighting that this is NOT where I wanted to be. They put the spinal in and I lost all control, hysterically sobbing the ENTIRE way through. My blood pressure was PERFECT the entire pregnancy, but only during the c-section and my sobbing was it at 150/90+. I felt like they were ripping my baby from my body. It was so awful. He was born weighing 9 lbs., 10 oz. and bloated from the polyhydramnios so he ended up weighing 8 lbs., 5 oz. leaving the hospital (he nursed wonderfully the entire time I must say and it was confirmed by the pediatrician that babies born from mothers with polyhydramnios are normally bloated slightly and don’t weigh quite as much as the scale says when born— doc estimated he weighed probably closer to the high 8 pound range)
After seeing this post and from other women, I just decided to Google PSTD instead of PPD - what I have been suffering from now for the last 5 months (baby is almost 6 months old now) and even my therapist agrees I have PPD - however, most of the signs of PSTD, I fall under or did so in the last 5 months at one point or another. I will NEVER be able to come to terms with how they pressured me and pushed me into that c-section that day. I hate them for that. And parts of me, hate myself for not being stronger.