Fireworks freak me out. I used to be okay with them, and I looked forward to big displays every year. I was so excited when aerial fireworks were legalized in Utah because I wanted to be able to organise my own spectacular show. I was always the first to volunteer to light fireworks, and while I treated them (and the fire I yielded) respectfully, I never thought of them as explosives, just as semi-dangerous fun.
And then when NJ was a baby, we had friends that invested several hundred dollars in some of the biggest aerial fireworks to put on a show for a bunch of us. I was excited about it for weeks, so I planned what snacks to bring along and what patriotic outfit my 7 month old should wear. I invited a few family members to see the show and waited with giddy anticipation.
It was a disaster. The fireworks weren’t shooting up like they should. One tipped over and several blew out the sides instead of the top. A few fireworks flew right to where I sat with 7 month old NJ on my lap in the grass. I screamed and ran. My parents arrived and a firework exploded on the hood of their brand new car. Thankfully there was only one person injured and no property damaged.
We all walked away, and we were all “okay”.
But I was terrified. I had full-on ran with a baby in my arms. I worried that I had given her brain damage from the shaking she endured. I replayed the scene over and over in my mind, trying to figure out how I could have changed the outcome. I pictured sitting further away. I pictured the fireworks actually hitting my baby and me. I pictured us in the hospital, covered in burns and hooked up to IVs and machines that say “beeep”. I pictured us refusing to go at all, and wished that was reality.
I couldn’t drive past the location of the firework show for months. I would go out of my way to avoid it, even though it was right down the street from my house. I was tense for the rest of the month and slowly relaxed. I can drive past now.
But I still get freaked out by fireworks. I find myself hiding in the house, turning the TV way up and staying up far too late, because I can’t sleep while they’re happening. I can’t watch my kids play with sparklers or watch a firework show even from half a mile away without jumping at every boom. It’s embarrassing and I’m trying to work through it, but this time of year is really hard for me.
My triggers happen annually. I’m seldom reminded of the incident except during the month of July. For a woman suffering the after effects of birth trauma, her own baby might trigger flashbacks.
Many women have traumatic birth experiences. They might not be able to drive past the hospital/birth center where they gave birth. Maybe sex is scary because they’re terrified to get pregnant again. Certain sounds and smells and sights trigger them, and they end up shaking and clammy and gasping for air. Planning a pregnancy after birth trauma can be terrifying. If they choose to do so, they deserve respect, support, and acknowledgement.
Postpartum PTSD is a real thing. It’s scary and isolating, and it happens even when everyone comes home “healthy”. Maybe a birth is traumatic because a mom that planned on medication didn’t have time to get an epidural (or it stopped working), and she wasn’t ready for or okay with the sensations of natural birth. Maybe she had a cesarean birth that wasn’t planned on and feels as if the decision was taken out of her hands. Maybe she planned her cesarean but had a bad reaction to the anesthesia or can’t remember the moment of meeting her baby because she was shaking too hard. Maybe a planed unmedicated birth ended up with pitocen and medication and vacuum extraction.
Maybe, just maybe, everything went according to plan, and she’s traumatized anyway. She feels even more alone, because everything that happened was asked for. Everything that happened was part of the plan, but the feelings she’s having, the flashbacks and insomnia… that wasn’t part of the plan. Her feelings are dismissed because everyone is okay.
If any of this sounds familiar, please know that you are not alone. Please talk to someone if you haven’t already. There is help and hope. You are not broken. You are not stupid for feeling this way. Your feelings are valid and you deserve help and closure.
My firework fiasco happened in 2013. I managed to sit outside for the city display last night, and I even let my kids do sparklers. I still jump at the booms, but with a squeeze on my husband’s hand, I can feel reassurance that I’m okay and that my feelings are valid.
The same thing can happen with subsequent births after birth trauma. Don’t rush it, but do know that with a supportive partner, understanding care provider, and perhaps a doula at your side, you can make it through.
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