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My experiences of Postnatal PTSD, Intrusive thoughts, and Postnatal Anxiety by Lisa Thompson

This article shares details of a traumatic birth and the symptoms of, and dealing with PTSD and Postnatal Anxiety. So read with caution if you have symptoms that may be triggered. There are sensitive subjects in the article, shared in the hope that it will help anyone who is currently going through a similar situation. If you yourself are currently dealing with PTSD, intrusive thoughts and/or Postnatal Anxiety, please do not suffer alone. Seek help if you can, there are contact details at the end.

If you are pregnant reading this, then know that what happened to me was extremely rare, however feelings of grief or failure after a birth are sadly very common. If your child’s birth does not go the way you planned, then please know it is not your fault. Mother nature just sometimes has other ideas.

It’s fair to say that my experience of childbirth was not the one that I had planned. There were many complications which meant the birth was nothing like the natural birth that I had hoped for.

From the second my labour started, I knew that things were not quite right, and I wasn’t wrong; My baby was back to back and pushing on my spine, I had previously undetected pre-eclampsia, maternal sepsis, hyponatremia, blood loss during an emergency c-section followed by a postpartum haemorrhage that left me fighting for my life. My son also had sepsis and hyponatremia. It was a difficult and scary time for all of us. But I will forever be grateful to the NHS workers who saved our lives and looked after us for the week we were under their care.

Although things were tough, that first night together my son slept holding my finger all night and the need to protect him overwhelmed me. With all the sedatives & painkillers I was on, the rush of love (or any emotion really) I expected did not come in those first few days and I beat myself up for that for many years. However, it did come in the days that followed and gets stronger every day, so don’t worry if you don’t feel it immediately.

Dealing with trauma and guilt

Following my son’s birth, I was physically and mentally broken. The recovery was long, and I was wracked with frustration and guilt. I felt that the birth going wrong was somehow my fault and I was resentful that the movie scene moment that I had pictured hadn’t happened.

It’s no surprise that my mental health suffered following all of this and over the next couple of years I experienced PTSD, intrusive thoughts and postnatal anxiety.

Although I have the most incredible support network, the fear about what would happen if I shared what was happening meant I kept it to myself. I was having intrusive thoughts, and I was so worried that if I told people the full extent of everything, they would take my son away. I was so determined that how I was feeling would not affect my ability to be an amazing Mum and so just continued pretending that everything was ok and shutting it away in a far corner of my mind.

What are postnatal intrusive thoughts?

I had never heard of intrusive thoughts before; however, it is estimated that around 70% of new mums experience them and they are related to OCD.

These thoughts are shocking and unwanted thoughts, images or impulses that pop into your head unexpectedly and can be really scary, confusing, and upsetting. More often than not, they are about some form of harm coming to the baby. It’s very important for me to point out that thinking these thoughts, in no way means you wish to harm your baby. In fact, the reason that these thoughts are so distressing is because they are so at odds with the loving and amazing parent you are and want to be.

These thoughts gained a huge power over me, and I started obsessing about why I might be having them and what they meant. When I finally shared them with a psychotherapist the relief was overwhelming when she told me that they were ‘normal’ and that I wasn’t a terrible person.

What is Postnatal PTSD?

Before I had my son, I believed that PTSD was something that soldiers and the emergency services were affected by. I would never have thought that someone like me would experience it. However, I now know that it can affect anyone, and it is something that new mums can experience after challenging births. All trauma is relative and so if you think that you recognise some of these symptoms, don’t dismiss them because of a view that what happened to you wasn’t ‘big’ enough. Just the perception of danger can lead to PTSD.

For me PTSD meant:

● Flashbacks

● Nightmares & difficulty sleeping

● Racing thoughts

● Hyperarousal - being on edge and irritable

● I was more affected by violent images than before

● Memory induced vomiting

● Physical stress symptoms including itchy and burning palms & feet

● Cognitive avoidance - doing anything to avoid thinking about it

● I was deeply resentful that those around me were carrying on as normal and I could not.

● Feelings of impending doom

● Panic attacks

● Anxiety about leaving the house; especially at night

Coupled with this I felt a deep-rooted sense of shame and failure that I had not given birth in the right way. I felt like less of a woman and defective. This can also be very common for women in this situation and is of course, completely untrue.

Seeking help

As with all emotional health issues the more you try and suppress them, the more insistent they get to be noticed. For a while, I was in a cycle of being OK and then having panic attacks and back to being OK again. So, after three years of riding this wave and a final huge panic attack. I decided enough was enough. I reached out to my GP and was referred to a psychotherapist.

Almost immediately after the first session I felt lighter, safer, and understood. My worst fears at sharing those hidden thoughts did not come true. She was understanding and helped me to realise that what I was experiencing was (sadly) common and not insurmountable. It was like the clouds had parted and I no longer had to carry that guilt, shame and fear around and I was ready to live life to the full again.

A little later on I set up a maternity debrief with the hospital. I would recommend that all women have one of these after their births. If it is not offered, then ask for one. The consultant remembered me well and went through everything that happened. She even apologised for the failings that had led to some of the complications. When I explained my feelings of guilt, she took me through how none of it was my doing. I cannot put into words the difference this made to my thinking and self-perception.

My son is now almost six. He is wonderful and brings so much joy to our family. We both went through so much, but you’d never know. I am so glad that I found the support I needed, and I hope that anyone reading this feels supported & encouraged to do the same.

If you are struggling:

For anyone out there reading this and going through the same thing please know:

1. You are not alone

2. It’s not your fault

3. It’s ok to let people know what’s going on, they will show you love and kindness

4. It can get better with the right help

5. You are a wonderful parent and are doing the best you can

Where can you seek help?

It can be incredibly difficult to reach out for help but is the first step to recovery and feeling like ‘you’ again.

If you need to reach out for help, then we recommend that you contact your GP to tell them how you are feeling. Or, get in touch with charities specifically created to talk to you when you are struggling, such as:

● The Birth Trauma Association -

About the author

Lisa Thompson is the owner of Mountain HR, an independent HR, Training and Coaching Consultancy based in South East London. Creating safe and inclusive workspaces through HR initiatives is her passion; with a particular focus on raising awareness around mental health and supporting women at all stages of their careers.

As a pregnancy & maternity expert she helps new parents and businesses create the foundation for happy & healthy pregnancies at work. Believing that prevention is much better than cure and that many workplace struggles could easily be avoided.

If you would like to find out more about her experiences or her services then you can contact her, or on LinkedIn ( / Instagram

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