This is a blog post I’ve tossed around inside the corners of my brain for a long time, extremely hesitant to talk about it. I think it’s safe to say, No one wants to talk about trauma. I don’t talk about it with even my closest of friends. And if Chad and I talk about it, its always in the vaguest of terms. Honestly, I don’t want to write a blog post about it.
So why am I? I think I feel motivated to write about it for a couple reasons. First, I’m part of a facebook support group for angel moms and SIDS moms. The effects of trauma from losing a child frequently comes up on the discussion pages. The distress around the trauma symptoms are real and it’s easy to feel “crazy” or out of control. So I think I’m mostly motivated to normalize trauma reactions. And the best way to do that is perhaps to share my own. Secondly, I think it might be helpful to share with people who haven’t experienced a traumatic loss like ours, to know this other side of the experience. The side people wonder about and those of us who experience it just DON’T talk about.
That side is the trauma side.
In this journey I’ve been dealing with grief. But because our loss was also traumatic, I’ve been dealing with trauma as well. I think anyone who loses a child experiences a traumatic loss but I don’t want to speak for other angel moms out there. I don’t know how my experience may be different for moms whose children are stillborn or die shortly after birth? Or for moms whose children have a poor prognosis at birth? I am only speaking from my experience in this post. It may seem as you read this post that I am approaching this trauma experience from a “clinical” perspective. And you’d be right. Talking about my trauma experience in a more removed, “clinical” way, is really the only way I can talk about it. Otherwise, my brain will go there and I don’t want to invite trauma reminders. So this is my attempt to share this part of my journey in as painless a way possible.
As a psychologist, I’ve worked with many clients who have traumatic histories. But I never understood trauma on the level I do now; until trauma happened to us. I will not discuss the details of the trauma of finding Charlie unresponsive and trying to revive him. The gratitude post I wrote awhile ago is as detailed as I think I’ll ever go regarding the details of that day. It’s incredibly painful to remember let alone describe the details. Further, when people often react to our loss they express, “I can’t imagine what that must have been like. ” And they’re right, they can’t. And I don’t WANT them to imagine it. It’s horrible. So, don’t worry, I’ll definitely spare you the details.
However, I want to express the effect trauma has had on me in this process. Grief is painful in a growth-promoting way. The pain of grief can even feel beautiful and meaningful. But trauma pain is totally different. It is unique and just horrible. It’s so sharp and unbearable that when I experience it, I sometimes honestly feel I would rather die than process it. Ok, that sounds really dramatic, but in those moments it’s that painful.
Prior to going on maternity leave with Charlie, I worked in an inpatient and residential facility for women struggling with severe eating disorders. Many of these women have traumatic histories and over the course of working at this center, women with trauma histories typically followed a similar pattern. As they began to recover from their eating disorders, suddenly the effects of past trauma become more powerful: they would experience nightmares, memories, sometimes flashbacks, and become more anxious and hypervigilant of their environment. This pattern seemed to occur about 3 to 4 months into treatment.
I seemed to follow the same pattern myself. About four months after Charlie died, I suddenly experienced exponentially more trauma reminders. I suddenly had more nightmares, and memories of that day flooded my mind at unanticipated times. I had increased anxiety and hypervigilance about Hailee’s and Chad’s safety as well. I’m grateful I haven’t developed symptoms beyond these, as I know some people may experience more severe symptoms than mine in reaction to a trauma. And trust me, the memories, nightmares, and anxiety are distressing enough.
As those memories and nightmares became more prevalent, it was easy for me to feel like I was somehow, “getting worse.” I was grateful in this process for my background as a therapist because the cognitive part of me was aware that I wasn’t actually getting worse. Actually, it was indicative of the opposite: my body had healed enough that it was now trying to process and understand the trauma of losing Charlie. I recognized that this was a normal reaction to an abnormal and horrible event.
My body couldn’t process the trauma in the early days, weeks, or months after Charlie died. It suppressed to some extent the emotional enormity of the trauma as a means of protecting me. But at about four months, it was as if my brain was saying, “I’m ready to take this on.” The processing of the trauma is horrible. I can’t really adequately express how horrible it feels. I wake up from the nightmares with my heart pounding and my eyes drenching my pillow with tears. I am often flooded with the unwelcome memories while I am driving and I may cry so much I can no longer see through the windshield. Even when the nightmares end or the memories pass, the rest of the day I feel completely battle worn. I HATE it. I do NOT like thinking of that day. I never willingly think about that day. Or at least certain aspects of that day. And I also understand my brain needs to do this work. So against my will…it will go there.
Luckily now over six months out from Charlie’s death, the nightmares are decreasing and the memories are not as pervasive. I’ve also learned how to hasten the unwelcome memories out of my brain when they come, whereas before I didn’t feel capable of doing that. I don’t know the trajectory of these symptoms, having never experienced anything like this before, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ve passed the worst of it.
PS. This is another post that I “sat on” for a few days and I wanted to acknowledge that even just writing about the symptoms of my experience, brought me there and the day I wrote this post was a difficult day for me. This may feel like a very “clinical” entry, but when I re-read what I wrote, the words blurr with my tears. I’m trying to be patient, kind, and protective of my self. For this reason, I’ve written about my trauma in the only way I can. It’s as vulnerable as I can be about this sensitive topic.
Traumatic loss is just complicated and painful. Period. My body is trying to figure out how to internalize and process the memories and reactions of an experience that no one can be prepared for or should ever have to experience in the first place. And just like grief, trauma is a journey of its own. A journey I hate but recognize as necessary for me to experience in order to carry on.