Monday, July 12, 2010

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

It has been talked about among mothers of adoption loss in groups and on forums. It is something that most people think only applies to soldiers, what was once called "Battle Fatigue." But when perusing the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it has become clear that many of us exhibited some or all of the traits of the disorder.

My symptoms fell within the categories of avoidance and arousal although I was also tormented by dreams of babies being thrown off a cliff. Below, are the symptoms of PTSD. It seems that trauma does not have to involve a direct threat to your physical life. For a woman, even a very young woman, the kind of experience we endured when we lost our babies to adoption seems to do the job all too well.

1. Reliving the event:
•Flashback episodes, where the event seems to be happening again and again
•Recurrent distressing memories of the event
•Repeated dreams of the event
•Physical reactions to situations that remind you of the traumatic event

2. Avoidance
•Emotional "numbing," or feeling as though you don’t care about anything
•Feelings of detachment
•Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
•Lack of interest in normal activities
•Less expression of moods
•Staying away from places, people, or objects that remind you of the event
•Sense of having no future

3. Arousal
•Difficulty concentrating
•Exaggerated response to things that startle you
•Excess awareness (hyper vigilance)
•Irritability or outbursts of anger
•Sleeping difficulties

You also might feel a sense of guilt about the event (including "survivor guilt"), and the following symptoms, which are typical of anxiety, stress, and tension:

•Agitation, or excitability
•Feeling your heart beat in your chest (palpitations)
It's really demoralizing to express those symptoms to a professional, then say it is connected to your surrender experience only to be told, "well, you just need to move on." They don't say that to the returning POW or the person who survived a plane crash, but we are seen as so unimportant by so many that we are blamed for what was done TO us. We are seen as the perpetrators of our own disillusionment and grief.
People really seem to have an aversion to the word "victim" as if anyone who says they were victimized walked around with a big target saying "shoot me" on their back. So let's refresh the slaves to pop psychology with the definition of "victim."
 vic·tim   /ˈvɪktɪm/ Show Spelled[vik-tim] –noun
1. a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency: a victim of an automobile accident.
2. a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency: a victim of misplaced confidence; the victim of a swindler; a victim of an optical illusion.
3. a person or animal sacrificed or regarded as sacrificed: war victims.
4. a living creature sacrificed in religious rites

Well now, Golly, Gosh, Gee Whiz! Take a look at number two! Although, from the standpoint of us Bible Belters, I cannot be sure that number four doesn't include us, as well, I have to say that is a pretty good description of what happened to most of the mothers of the BSE/EMS.

So, we WERE victims of that impersonal agency and a judgmental society. To say we weren't is to deny history. That doesn't mean we are still victim material. But it is a perfectly good word that means nothing bad about those who have been victimized. Sorry Dr. Phil (Ill), but blaming the victim is not sound psychology. These celebrity life gurus do more damage than good, in my opinion. Meanwhile, those who feel guilt at having survived their trauma, can feel more because the good Dr. says they caused it, themselves. Arrhg!

I have often hesitated to apply this disorder to mothers because the PR of the industry has already presented us as emotionally frail and in need of "protection." I don't want to encourage that kind of thinking. But the fact that many of us have been affected by PTSD and survived and made lives for ourselves says more about our strength than our weaknesses. It is an individual thing as to how much each mother was affected, but I know a lot of really smart, strong and accomplished women who have fought this battle. Our fallen heroes, like Di Welfare, Carol Anderson and others are prime examples of what we CAN do.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our experience with PTSD can become a sword of battle rather than a burden to slow us down. We can respect ourselves for dealing with this emotional mine field for decades and we have the right to ask that the rest of this society respect us, as well.

In fact, I think it is time we demanded that respect.


Lori said...

Robin - may I link to this - excellent post!

Robin said...

Yes, Lori. Be my guest.

Mother said...


I went to my therapist and asked that I get EMDR which is a fairly new therapy they give vets to help with ptsd. My therapist was trained but she decided I had to go back to look at my mother and I's issues of abandonment.

She gleaned this to be the important issue even after I told her I had lost my son. I didn't want to have to go all the way back to that issue when I knew where my problem was and how it originated and it was from losing my baby at birth. Who wouldn't have a problem after that?

Needless to say I did not get the help I asked for from my private insurance.

I do believe we have ptsd and have had it since losing our babies. I do believe vets have it no doubt from being sent to war.

My war is still being fought everyday when I relive my reality even after a reunion with my son.


Sandy Young said...

It sounds like your therapist is sticking with the old model that we were mentally unstable in the beginning which is why we "went and got ourselves pregnant."
That kind of thinking leaves soooo much room for them to continue to punish US! Sort of a perverse
blaming the victim..

Chris said...

I won't say that only the surrender caused life-long problems for me, but certainly was a major contributor. My first trauma, I believe was the sexual abuse by my step-father. Then later the surrender of my newborn and then living in a life-long marriage, that in many ways was traumatic for me, but I 'normalized' it. Just yesterday, my youngest son and I were discussing PTSD..he brought the subject up. So we were talking about the things that trigger and startle us. Since Joe died I no longer have terrible skipped heartbeats. They have all but disappeared since I moved back to Chicago. The startling noise thing..of all things that could startle me..was the Airwick automatic air freshener!! Just that squish sound could make me jump..that had been going on for a couple of years. Just recently I noticed that sound doesn't startle me anymore. A couple of months ago I thought the thingymajig had died..because I didn't 'hear' it anymore. was working..just that little bitty noise is now most times inaudible to me. By the time I was 30 yrs old, I suffered from profound, severe agoraphobia..took me years to come out of that. Also for at least 10 years I had terrible psoraisis (sp?) on the back of my hands. I can't even begin to count the doctors, the prescribed ointments, ultra-violet ray treatments that I paid for, all for was painful and embarrassing. About 6 mos after I found my daughter..Bingo-Bango! the psoraisis had completely disappeared, without treatment or any doctor visits and has not returned. Thankfully, now almost 11 yrs that horrible stuff has not reappeared.
I do believe that trauma can affect the human being in a myriad of ways..even years later, physically. Is why I have become quite selfish in what I will and will not allow into my life now. I have a better handle on myself now and simply cannot allow anything or anyone into my life that can possibly cause me further harm. Been there, done that!

Von said...

Unquestionably, who could doubt otherwise? Doesn't mean you're not smart or a survivor or as fesity as all get out but how can it be otherwise?
Adoptees too of course.After a discussion only yesterday it seems the degrees are finite and the sudden and uncontrollable flashbacks of PTSD may be replaced by recurring memories of bad events, feelings etc which are just as painful and difficult.
I don't believe whether mothers have PTSD or not is up for discussion, they must have due to circumstances.
So many therapists and counsellors are not equiped, not experienced to deal with this area of our lives and often not interested.