Processing Postpartum PTSD: Making Sense of Your Story When it Wasn't Supposed to Happen This Way...

The subject of pregnancy, childbirth, and becoming a mother is a tricky one at best. Most women associate their fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth stories in a positive light and reflect on their stories with feelings of happiness and gratitude (Ayers, 2017). However, most women have also at least heard of the “baby blues” or postpartum depression, a mood disorder following pregnancy and childbirth that affects 1 in 7 women the year after giving birth (Langdon, 2022). It is also estimated that nearly 50% of mothers with postpartum depression are not diagnosed by a health professional (Langdon, 2022).

But what happens if what happens isn’t what was supposed to happen? Due to an increasing number of difficulties surrounding infertility, poor health or complications in pregnancy, a history of PTSD, a negative subjective birth experience, having an operative birth (i.e., assisted vaginal or caesarean section), and lack of support during birth (Ayers, 2017), to name a few, some women find themselves tangled in a web of emotions that they neither understand nor can communicate. The percentages of women who experience postpartum PTSD or other postpartum mood issues works out to at least 157,000 in the United States alone, every year (Ayers, 2017). The new mother in some of these situations may grapple with anxiety, guilt, stress, overwhelm, sleep deprivation, anger, sadness, and/or grief that don’t seem to fit into the “baby blues” category.

Making sense of your story and what you’ve gone through may begin through giving yourself permission to not be okay. There’s often a pressure new moms feel, compounded by well-meaning family and friends (and even sometimes some strangers) who only see the external results of what you’ve gone through (maybe they see you pregnant again after loss, maybe they see your baby healthy and happy, maybe they try to hold out hope for some future situation that would make your current story “all better”). What would it be like to be rid of that pressure and just try to understand more about what your story actually IS, not what you thought it would be or what some think it could be?

In my story, ONE precious person in my life could see my struggle continuing eight months postpartum and call it what it was – trauma. The interesting thing about trauma is that it is subjective – kind of like “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” trauma is in the eye of the experiencer. This is what makes it so difficult to share infertility, pregnancy, and childbirth stories sometimes, because a person can look very different on the inside than they seem to everyone else, and each person will process a situation from completely different perspectives. And that’s okay.

Perhaps this resonates with your story or the story of someone you know. I would encourage you to have them reach out to a professional counselor who can hold space for them and equip them to work through their story of what happened when it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

Michelle's Book Recommendations
How to Heal a Bad Birth: Making Sense, Making Peace, and Moving On
Heal Your Birth Story....Releasing the Unexpected
Birth Trauma: A Guide for You, Your Friends and Family, to Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Following Birth

Ayers, S. (2017). Birth trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder: The importance of risk and
resilience. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 35:5, 427-430, DOI:                         10.1080/02646838.2017.1386874

Langdon, K. (2022). Statistics on postpartum depression - postpartum depression resources.