Childbirth can trigger PTSD - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Childbirth can trigger PTSD

(WMBF) - When you think of post-traumatic stress disorder, chances are you think of soldiers returning from Iraq or victims of sexual abuse.  However, few people realize it can also be triggered by a long, complicated childbirth.

Now, moms and medical experts want to spread the word.

Jodi Kluchar still remembers the intense pain and fear she felt after a complicated emergency c-section several years ago. Kluchar gave birth to a healthy baby boy, but says she felt emotionally numb. 

Nightmares and flashbacks of her son's birth terrified her.  She was anxious and depressed.

 "It was not so much that I was depressed that I would cry all the time," She remembered.  "I was just empty.  I just wasn't there."

Those feelings carried right into her second pregnancy and Kluchar decided she needed help.  Her doctor diagnosed her, not with post-partum, but with post traumatic stress disorder. 

Unlike other post-partum illnesses, PTSD is triggered when a mother perceives that her life or her child's life is in danger.

Dr. Cheryl Beck has been studying birth trauma for 25 years and was recently involved in a study that suggests up to 9 percent of mothers in the United States are experiencing this disorder.

 "The core of their perception of a traumatic childbirth is that during labor and delivery they feel a lack of control of events," Beck explained.

Beck said that although many times medical charts will indicate a completely "normal" birth but that's not always the case.

"A traumatic childbirth is in the eye of the beholder," Beck said. "So that all that matters is the perception of the woman."

There are distinct warning signs that a mother has developed PTSD.  Dr. Sue Varma with the American Psychiatric Association said those symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, irritability and avoidance.

 "So the person, in this case the woman, is avoiding any memories or any triggers of the trauma," Varma explained, "Whether it be the hospital, the doctors and sometimes even the baby."

Back then, not only was Kluchar unable to bond with her son, she was also haunted by thoughts of hurting him and herself.

"I never thought about actually doing anything," Kluchar admitted, "But just the thoughts frightened me so much that I would have to put him down."

The first step towards recovery is finding a mental health specialist.  He or she can determine the proper course of treatment - whether it be psychotherapy, a support group, medications, family support.

By the time Kluchar gave birth to her daughter, her symptoms were under control.  Seven years later, she continues to take medication and see a therapist.  She also became an advocate, creating an online support group.

"There is hope." Kluchar said, "I've been in the deep dark pit that I never wanted to be in and I've made it to the other side."

Visit Kluchar's website at ptsdafterchildbirth.org.

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