Posted on 27 January 2017
At my clinics in Harley Street and Henley on Thames I work with many clients who suffer from Post Natal PTSD. Jenny’s story (name changed to protect client confidentiality) is very typical of the kind of experience that clients have had.
Every time she heard a loud noise, Jenny jumped out of her skin. She started to sweat and got an overwhelmingly strong flashback of the hospital room on the day her son was born. She had had a painful and long labour and any loud noise brought back memories of the ping of the monitor on the baby’s head, which she associated with her terrible fear and pain on that day.
She remembered it so clearly. It was like a very vivid dream. She kept telling the midwife and the obstetrician about the terrible pain she was in, but they seemed not to be listening. She had begun to panic . . . she felt this could not be right, she was terrified that her baby was dying and felt she was going to die herself.
Jenny gave birth five years ago, but to her it seemed like today and she couldn’t get over it. She was terrified her son would get hurt, yet she frequently felt disassociated from him. And she had nightmares.
Jenny had always wanted a big family, but she felt unable to face the experience of birth again. Her relationship with her husband was difficult, he could not understand why she couldn’t put what he agreed had been a ‘nasty’ experience behind her. Also, their sex life was not good (partly because Jenny was so afraid of getting pregnant again).
Jenny’s GP put her on antidepressants, saying she had a bad case of post-natal depression, but they made little difference.
Then another bad thing happened which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. A soldier friend of Jenny’s was injured in a firefight in the Middle East. As part of his rehabilitation he was given therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When he described how he felt to Jenny, she recognised how similar his symptoms were to her own.
So she googled “difficult births and PTSD” and suddenly everything became clearer. The hypervigilance, the sense of isolation, the sense of detachment, the avoidance of anything which reminds of the traumatic events, it exactly described her experiences. Jenny was amazed at how common post-natal PTSD was, with 10,000 women in the UK every year experiencing full-blown PTSD and up to 200,000 having some symptoms. Being able to give a name for what she was feeling was a help in itself for Jenny. But she also found some good support networks and began to look out for ways she could get help to get better.
Jenny came to see me in 2016 in my clinic in London and one of the main techniques I used with her was Eye Movement Integration Therapy (EMI) which has become an established treatment for PTSD. This is a technique which has been established over the past 20 years and relies on the fact that our eye movements are related to how we process our memories. (this is to do with the positioning of the optic nerve and the brain).
We know that the movement of the eyes can tell us which area of the brain we are trying to access. (for example, looking upwards and to the right usually means we are trying to visualise remembered images). It is also known that we process traumatic, threatening events differently from everyday events. Because of this they can become frozen in our minds, and feel like they are immediate and present, rather than in the past.
We worked through Jenny’s using EMI and helped her process the memories differently, so the painful and traumatic events stopped being such a problem. After the treatment, Jenny still remembered the events around her son’s birth but, as she described it, the ‘heat’ had gone out of the memory.
With the memories being non intrusive, Jenny and her husband felt they had the space to look at their relationship. They now both say that they are on the path back to being a happy couple. They are even considering having another baby.
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