Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Bed Rest Chronicles 4: Oh, the Trauma!

I remember learning years ago that women who were sexually abused as children can struggle with pregnancy and childbirth as the changes in their bodies cause stress and revive painful memories.

I can't say that's exactly my situation. However, this isn't to say I haven't had problems. Maybe if my pregnancy had no complications I wouldn't be having the struggles I have, but that's not the case. Instead, having issues since roughly my third week has meant being examined by what at times has felt like an assembly line of doctors and other personnel. And each time has been increasingly difficult rather than easier.

Now I think it's safe to say on behalf of all women that a sense of personal dignity goes out the window when one is pregnant. There is a loss of privacy as well as a sneaking suspicion that our bodies are no longer our own. Such is the nature of the process, especially in these days of what strikes me as a hyper awareness of pregnancy and a woman's role as the bearer of children.

But it is different for those who have been abused as a whole host of PTSD related issues can rear their ugly heads, usually at the worst possible time.
There is for me a feeling of vulnerability, fear even, whenever I have to be examined, and I can't seem to get over a slight feeling of violation.
Having my husband with me has helped me a great deal. I find on the rare occasion when Q is not present my level of fear increases dramatically. Unfortunately, my body's way of dealing with all of this is to tense up, which causes more problems. Here then, is where deep breathing exercises can help me a great deal but unfortunately, not always.

Upon entering the surgery room before my cerclage, in addition to my fears about having surgery, I suddenly became so frightened of being alone in a room full of strangers and facing a surgery that would render me completely vulnerable and my body completely exposed, that I had to be given something to relax me as my attempts at deep breathing and relaxation exercises failed miserably. For those of us who deal with PTSD, the "fight or flight" syndrome is a familiar experience, and when there is no way to engage in flight then fright can easily take over.

The night after I returned from the hospital after my surgery, Q had to rush me back to the maternity triage because we feared a miscarriage. I was taken into the exam room while Q was told to stay in the waiting room. Not a good idea. Already overwrought by the experiences of the past four days and the fears of losing the baby, I nearly went into hysterics when the nurse attempted to insert a catheter in me to get a clean urine sample. I made her stop, going so far as to sit up and push her hands away.
Fortunately, we do live in a more understanding age and the nurse immediately stopped, and was kind to me in the process. Yet I knew I still had to face the cervical exam!
It was this evening that for the first time I admitted out loud that I have abuse issues. Despite having already been to two hospitals and seeing a whole host of doctors, midwives, nurses and technicians, I had not ever allowed myself to say those words. I had certainly thought them, though.
Saying it out loud helped. Duly noted in my record, the young nurse was professional and kind, helping me feel that I did the right thing. I managed to "talk myself down off the edge" and got through the rest of the exam.

This was the same night that upon learning I had not miscarried, the "fetus" became the "baby." Up to this point I had done what I could to remain emotionally removed from the life growing in me in order to protect myself. I worried that being too attached and then losing the pregnancy would be too painful to overcome. But that night, when I heard the heart and saw the baby on the ultrasound, I sobbed in relief and knew I was in 100% no matter what would happen.

However, nothing is that simple for me. I do still feel a bit removed, at times as if it's all unreal. I understand it can be normal for any pregnant woman to feel like there's really not a baby growing inside of her, but I wonder how much of it stems from my abuse issues, as removal from self is the ultimate safety of the abused.
It bothers me to write this. I worry it makes me a bad person, a failed mother before even starting, but I also know that this is part of the impermanence of my feelings and nothing to be attached to. Just like those hormonal bursts that make me horrible to be around, or the cravings, or depression over being on bed rest, it is fleeting, like clouds passing a mountain, and it cannot touch the love I already feel for this jumping, bumping little girl growing inside of me.

In a sense, what I experience now is nothing compared to what I went through as a young woman. It's a long, painful road back to one's self after one has been abused, and it never leaves one entirely. I find it makes things a bit easier by accepting that it will always be with me in some way. This is not giving up or giving in, rather it's a letting go.
Of course, if it was up to me I'd have no more exams, but it's not about me. And I also believe there is a line between taking care of oneself and hemming oneself into a restricted life by making all kinds of rules and accommodations to the past. I've seen more than one woman ruined by doing this and I won't be one of them, at least not any more.

It can be discouraging after all this time to be in a situation that brings up so much pain, but unlike when I was younger, I know now I can deal with it. Even when I'm not at my best I am still "dealing with it." And the love I now have in my life, something I lacked for many years, is an unexpected gift that helps in profound ways.


  1. I've been there myself Tree, and the trauma plays out over again in times of vulnerability. There was a freedom when I finally shared the unthinkable events with a loved one...only recently. It's very cathartic to write your feelings and you will always have a sympathetic ear here. Bless you!

  2. Thanks, Wendilea. I'm glad to know you found someone you trusted enough to share your experiences with. Those people can be hard to find.