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Report: New moms fighting PTSD

October 17, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
When you think of post-traumatic stress disorder, chances are you think of soldiers returning from Iraq or victims of sexual abuse. But few people realize it can also be triggered by a long or complicated childbirth. Jodi Kluchar still remembers the intense pain and fear she felt after a complicated emergency C-section several years ago.

"I was surprised to be awake because I thought I was going to die," said Jodi Kluchar, who had PTSD.

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

Those feelings carried right into her second pregnancy and Jodi decided she needed help.

Her doctor diagnosed her, not with post-partum depression, 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.

"The core of their perception of a traumatic childbirth is that during labor and delivery they feel a lack of control of events," said Cheryl Beck, DNSc, CNM, FAAN Birth Trauma Expert.

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

Dr. Beck says that although many times medical charts will indicate a completely "normal" birth.

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

There are distinct warning signs that a mother has developed PTSD.

Dr. Sue Varma with the American Psychiatric Association says 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, whether it be the hospital, the doctors and sometimes even the baby," said Dr. Varma.

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

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

The first step toward 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," said Dr. Varma.

"You do have to be ready to face what happened," said Kluchar.

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

According to the Childbirth Connection's most recent study - nearly 9 percent of all new mothers appeared to meet all the formal criteria for post traumatic stress disorder.

 

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