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PTSD after losing a baby

I recently came across an article, by a licensed therapist, equating her experience of delivering her stillborn daughter to PTSD. It really resonated with me, because her experiences and explanations made total sense, and all along I've felt this "grief" is far different than the grief of a loved one.

DSM-5: PTSD Criterion A 
A. The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows: 
1. Direct exposure 
2. Witnessing, in person 
3. Indirectly, by learning that a close relative or close friend was exposed to trauma.

If the event involved actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental. 

4. Repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). 

It started with A3, learning that a close relative had died. Then A1 and A2, witnessing directly the dead relative exiting my body through painful childbirth.

B. Intrusion symptoms

I am reminded of bits and pieces of the experience frequently throughout the day and night. I am reminded of what is NOT going to happen just as often... seeing the empty crib in the garage, seeing a pregnant woman, hearing a newborn cry.

C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma

I avoid seeing pregnant women and newborn baby boys as much as I can, but it's inevitable. I have intense anxiety about going near the Women's Hospital where he was delivered (despite the fact I delivered three of my other healthy living children there). I can not and will not attend baby showers.

D. Negative alterations in cognitions and mood that are associated with the traumatic event

I forget a lot of things. This has always happened and probably happens to everyone - in the middle of doing something like adding spices to dinner, I remember that I need to email our foster son's teacher about something. But then in the 30-60 seconds it takes to finish the first task, I forget the second. I remember that there IS a task, but have no idea what it is. This happens to me far, far more often than it ever did in the past. I am cranky and short with people because I am always internally struggling to keep the bad thoughts away and it's exhausting. I feel alienated from others because I know that my pregnant friends avoid me (I remind them of their worst nightmares) and because people just plain don't know what to say. A dead baby creeps people out. I get that. I have also experienced distorted and I know UNTRUE thoughts, like in the middle of a workout class hear the thought "everyone in here knows you killed your baby," in my own voice. Enough to make me run out crying. It's not something I feel consciously I believe - either that I did kill him (I did not) or that anyone in that room has any idea of any of it. But the thoughts come, seemingly uncontrollably.

E. Alterations in arousal and reactivity that are associated with the traumatic event

As I said, I am tired, but I can not sleep. Trying to fall asleep is the worst time because suddenly my stomach feels too flat, my heart feels too empty, I go to bed knowing I won't be waking up with a full bladder or the cries of a hungry baby. When I do fall asleep, I wake up earlier than I want to, and once awake, within moments "your baby died" enters my mind and the sadness drives out the tiredness. Sometimes I am able to sleep a little longer, and other times I just lie there until it's a decent hour to get out of bed.

F. Persistence of symptoms (in Criteria B, C, D and E) for more than one month 

Almost 12 weeks now since we learned he died.

G. Significant symptom-related distress or functional impairment 

I would classify the distress as "significant." The functional impairments are that doing mundane tasks like buying a crib sheet causes me to have to literally close my eyes in the baby aisle of Target and have my 9-year-old daughter guide me through, otherwise I will break down into sobs. Or actually breaking down into sobs when the woman in front of me at gymnastics class pick-up turns around and I see her huge round pregnant belly. Shaking uncontrollably when I receive a medical bill for my "abortion" as they call it.

H. Not due to medication, substance or illness


And so where does this lead me? We have kept in touch with a RN from the hospital who seems to specialize in these cases (she heads up the bereaved parents' group - the one we went to with 2 PREGNANT women, once). She suggested a therapist there at the hospital who is not taking any new clients. They suggested another place. We haven't looked much more into it because right now we are so overwhelmed with trying to get our foster license. Our foster son is an amazing kid, for the most part (aside from his major medical issues) easy to take care of, although he eats us out of house and home and is growing so fast he needs all new clothes once it turns cooler weather! So getting that license will mean getting per diem to help with his care. We have our final foster care class, our first aid & CPR class, did our AED and universal precautions training online, got our background checks, went to get fingerprinted, filled out dozens of forms and got copies of bills and pay stubs... so hopefully in the next few weeks after our THREE home studies are done, we can get licensed and think about something else. Like finding a good therapist.

I'm not bad every day. Some days I feel really ok. There is always an undercurrent of sadness. Milestones seem to hit me out of the blue, like the official first day of fall was hard. I heard the words "sweater weather" on TV and it made me so sad. I was going to have a fall baby for the first time. I was going to be pregnant in fall and get a maternity sweater. Not now.

Mostly, I'm just too busy to be sad too much of the time. Jacinda is very active, and homeschooling keeps me busy for a good chunk of every day. Caring for our foster son, attending meetings for him, takes up time. I've been trying to get in a lot more exercise and attend several exercise classes at the Y every week. All of this is probably therapeutic in its own way, but I know I'll eventually probably need help to become more stable and normal long-term. I'll never be the same. I'll never be "over it" and I don't want to be over it.


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