Post-natal PTSD and Safe and Sound Protocol

I often tell my clients of how I feel my medical trauma is healed, and yet I had an experience late in 2022 that made me realise that I’m not all the way there quite yet – but I DID feel empowered to explain this to medical professionals, who now listen to me as a result of my explanation of what’s going on in my physiology.

If you’d told me even five years ago that I was a trauma survivor, I would not have believed it.

However, I realised that I had trauma from the birth of both my children during somatic training a while back, in which that out-of-control situation and body position were re-enacted, and my reaction was identical to my reaction to the hideousness of my very medicalised birth, as a result of an induction that I wish I’d not consented to (I wish I’d insisted on a C-section, even though that’s not a politically correct thing to say – and even though our NCT facilitator made us feel that water births by candlelight were the only way to go).

I remember a health visitor coming to visit when we first moved to our current home. She decided that I must have post-natal depression because I wasn’t working and my child (aged 13 months) wasn’t going to nursery yet. I decided that health visitors were nosey parkers who could not distinguish between someone who wanted to spend time with their baby and their narrow-minded narrative of post-natal depression. After all, I didn’t WANT to work – I was happy just hanging out with other mums and babies at that stage. However, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether she was partially correct – except it was PTSD. But I kept rationalising and telling myself that I was “fine” – because that’s what a traumatised person does. After all, we’ve survived the experience and even “moved on”.

Through further work with Polyvagal Theory and story telling, I realised that my medical trauma goes back even further: back to a time that I was admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis as a teen and was treated like a body rather than a person. However, this potential root cause is a relatively recent discovery.

As a result of my birth trauma, which has included flashbacks and nightmares, whenever I drove past the Royal Surrey County Hospital, where I had my first child, I used to get a rising sick feeling and feel angry and upset. I couldn’t work out why. I used to take both children for various hospital appointments there, and from the moment an appointment letter arrived, I’d feel powerless and shouty. When I visited the hospital, I used to walk past the maternity department and would feel triggered. I would arrive around 3 hours early for appointments – using the terrible hospital parking situation as an excuse to be so early -and be spontaneously rude to people without realising why. I wondered at the time if there was something wrong with me, as I thought it was strange that I used to be suddenly so spiteful and unpleasant – that is not the usual me. My trauma was so obvious (and yet not obvious to me at the time).

Following my first ever round of SSP back in 2018, I remember taking my youngest child to a hospital appointment at that hospital, and not only did I arrive at an appropriate time – around 20 minutes early, which allowed for traffic and parking, but I was socially engaged for the appointment, wasn’t rude or defensive with anyone and then walked back past the maternity department and thought “oh yes, that happened…” but I didn’t feel triggered! I still felt angry about what happened, and the fact that things SHOULD have been different, but my body had not reacted in the same way – I hadn’t gone into fight or flight. I had acknowledged a time when I didn’t feel safe, but wasn’t dominated by it.

We are all offered talking therapies by the hospital we give birth in. We can even sit and go through birth notes (albeit selectively) with a midwife. However, this does not even touch trauma, because as I’m sure you know, trauma is non-verbal.

During a recent traumatising incident involving breast screening and negative framing of my very small chance of having a malignant growth, I pretty much lost my powers of speech. During my horrible, medicalised induction, I fell into a state of appeasement and so probably looked calm.

This step towards birth trauma healing is just one of many wonderful effects that the Safe and Sound Protocol has had for me.

In the past year, I’ve had to take my child for two general anaesthetics, which is not an easy thing to do – remaining calm and cheerful when they’re artificially put to sleep and potentially wake up in pain. I have dealt with both incidents easily without being ragey from the point of receiving an appointment letter, or bursting into tears.

All of this was achievable without having to attend counselling (which wouldn’t have worked, as I would not have admitted to or even accessed the feelings associated with the event).

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