Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Car Seat Blog! (important car seat safety tips that every parent needs to know)

My friend Emma is a Child Passenger Safety Technician which is fancy-talk for saying that she is certified in installing car seats correctly and safely into vehicles. In our circle of friends she's known as the Car Seat Goddess. What this means in application is that she is approached, a lot, with car seat questions.

Car seat safety has become something Emma is passionate about and her passion is pretty contagious because I am now pretty obsessed with it myself. Whenever I observe someone putting their baby into a car seat, I review the lessons Emma has taught me and make sure they're doing it as safely as possible (and if they aren't I'm not shy about (tactfully) speaking up a bit - hey this stuff can save a life!). And needless to say, anytime I strap Henry into a seat I review the list as well.

Because she is so often hit with questions and because she knows that I am very into car seat safety myself (and okay, because I'm wordy and have three different blogs I can post this to) Emma and I recently decided to collaborate on a project lovingly referred to (in my head) as The Car Seat Blog Project. This is a project in which I sat down and interviewed Emma to ask her a million and one different car seat questions that she gets regularly. Emma kindly replied and from that dialogue a (hopefully) comprehensive blog post is born that will hopefully help other moms, dads and little ones out there have safe rides in their car seats from here on out.

So with all of the preamble said, here is that magical, informative and comprehensive post: The Car Seat Blog!

Key: I am RL and we will refer to Emma as CSG (for either Car Seat Goddess or Car Seat Guru, take your pick)

Rhian Lockard: So what is the most important thing people should know when it comes to choosing a car seat?

Car Seat Goddess: The most important part of choosing a car seat is choosing one that fits the child properly, and that the parent can install correctly and buckle the child correctly into EVERY time.

RL: Tell me more about installation. If you could only give one piece of installation advice what would it be?

CSG: Make sure to thoroughly read the car seat owner's manual AND the vehicle owner's manual! Different cars and different car seats all have different rules!

RL: So there might be specific things to know about installing a car seat in your vehicle that you wouldn't find in just the car seat manual?

CSG: Yes. That's why it's important to consult both manuals.

RL: What is the LATCH system? Do all cars have it?

CSG: LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren, and refers to the metal hooks in the crevice of the seat (lower anchors) and anchors behind the seat (top tether). All cars manufacturered after September 2002 are required to be equipped with LATCH. Some vehicles as early as 2000 have LATCH, it just wasn't required until 2002.

RL: Is LATCH better than just using a seatbelt to install the seat?

CSG: No, LATCH and a seat belt are equally safe. LATCH is sometimes easier to use, but one is not safer than the other. LATCH also carries a weight limit - depending on the vehicle, when the child reaches somewhere between 40-50 pounds LATCH can no longer be used and you must switch to the seat belt.

It's also important to note that many vehicles do not allow LATCH to be used in the center seating position. It's a very common mistake parents make by installing a seat with LATCH in the center of a lot of sedans and small SUVs. Check your vehicle owner's manual to determine if your car has LATCH in all seating positions

RL: How do I know if my car seat is tight enough?

CSG: The car seat should move less than an inch at the belt path (where the seat belt or LATCH strap runs through the car seat)

RL: How do I know if my child's straps are tight enough?

CSG: Pinch the harness straps vertically at the collarbone, if you can grab any material, they are too loose and the straps should be tightened.

RL: What is the chest clip for?

CSG: The chest clip is designed to keep the straps even and parallel over the body. To do so, it is important that it is positioned at the child's armpit level. If the chest clip is too low, the child can be ejected from the seat in a crash. Always line the chest clip up with your child's armpits.

RL: Okay so I've taken your advice, I've read my manuals and have put my seat into my car. But how do i know if my car seat is installed correctly?

CSG: The best option is to go through a seat check with a Child Passenger Safety Technician like me! You can find someone in your area here:

RL: Recently the rules have changed about keeping a child rear-facing. What is the new rule? How long should a child stay in a rear-facing car seat?

CSG: Kids should be in a rear-facing car seat from birth until they max out the limits of a convertible car seat. The AAP and NHTSA recommendations are that kids stay rear facing at least until age two, however most convertible seats on the market will allow a child to easily stay rear facing even longer than that, with 35-45 pound weight limits to accomodate toddlers and preschoolers.

RL: So you're saying that even if the child is 2 years old but hasn't met the weight-limit that they should still stay rear-facing?

CSG: Remaining rear-facing is safest until the child is at the maxium weight limit in a convertable car seat.

RL: These are the new recommended guidelines but are they the laws?

CSG: The law in most states is that kids are allowed to be forward facing when they are one year and twenty pounds, however the law is not the best practice safest option. 1 and 2 year olds are FIVE times more likely to be killed in a crash if they are in a forward facing position than if they are in a rear facing position. Toddlers still have a very immature neck and spine, and in a forward facing position their neck and spine take all the force of an impact in an accident which often results in seperation of the spine and death. Keeping your child rear-facing allows all that force to be absorbed by the seat rather than their neck and spine. Wouldn't you want the seat to absorb that impact and not your kid? Whether the law says so or not?

RL: Wow. That's so scary. So why don't all parents keep their kids rear-facing all the time? I don't get why anyone would be resistant to keeping a child rear-facing while it's the safer option.

CSG: It's because they aren't knowledgable about the risk and they let smaller inconveniences dictate when they turn the seat around. For example: the biggest concern I hear from parents about keeping their child rear-facing are the child's legs. This is because as kids get older there isn't much leg room in a rear facing seat, and most kids prop their legs on the vehicle seat back or cross them.

The child's legs really shouldn't be a concern though and I'll tell you why: as far as comfort goes - most of the time it's actually more comfortable for a child's legs in a rear-facing seat because they have someplace to rest them rather than dangling them from a forward facing seat. Also, just think for a second of all the weird positions kids sit in at home on the couch - our perception of discomfort is very different from theirs - they are way more flexible than us! And in terms of safety - there are very few instances of leg injuries to rear-facing children after a crash. The way that force is applied in a crash, it just isn't in the direction that would cause a leg injury to a rear facing child. And it's easy to fix a broken leg - not so easy to fix a broken neck.

RL: Good point.

CSG: I mean, I understand where parents are coming from but keeping a child rear-facing makes such a huge difference that it is entirely worth a little bit of annoyance. Is it a little bit more inconvenient to put a 2 or 3 year old into a rear facing seat? Absolutely. But parenting isn't about convenience! It's not exactly convenient to wake up in the middle of the night to feed an infant, or sit down in a restaurant and try to eat a meal with a toddler. Parenting isn't about doing what's easiest; it's about making the best possible choices for the safety and well-being of your kids. And I'll take a few minutes of inconvenience every day over losing a child in an accident every single time.

RL: I've heard people say there should be "no projectiles" around or near your child in a car seat, what does this mean?

CSG: In the force of a crash, things go flying! If you hand something to your kid in the backseat, that item will become a projectile in a crash. It's a good rule of thumb that if you wouldn't want it flying at you at 50 mph, secure it somewhere or leave it home. Stick to soft toys and paperback books to keep kids entertained, think carefully about heavy toys with batteries and lights, etc.

RL: Is it safe for a child to wear coats and be in a car seat? What about those Bundle Me things?

CSG: I'm glad you asked this because this is one of the biggest mistakes parents make. In short, the answer to your question is: No. It is not safe for a child to wear a coat or to have on a Bundle Me on their seat. Anything thick like a bundleme or a coat that goes behind the straps (regardless of whether it's behind the child or directly between the child and the straps) will compress instantly in a crash. That means there is extra distance that the child's body will travel in a crash and extra force will be applied to their neck and spine.

Babies are also susceptible to overheating easily, and those bundles can easily overheat an infant. It is far better to stick with a blanket placed over the child once they are already strapped in. Or choose an infant seat that comes with a cold weather boot that keeps the child covered when outdoors.

When you are transporting a toddler or older baby in the winter, have him or her wear their coat to the car, get into their seat and then strap them in safely and cover them with a blanket. They can put their coat on again when they get unstrapped. Again, is it slightly less convenient? Yes. But can it save their life or a lifetime of disability? Yes. Definitely worth it.

RL: Okay so no projectiles and no coats. What about toys hanging from the bar on an infant seat?

CSG: Some seat manufactures require the handle to be down, so those are absolutely out. And some manufactures prohibit attaching anything to the bar. It's another thing that could be a projectile, so if you must attach something and the manufactuer allows it, stick with something soft and short enough that the child can't be hit with it.

RL: I see a lot of car seats for sale on craigslist or at yard sales. You've told me that it's not safe to buy those in the event that they could be expired. Why do car seats expire? How long are they good for?

CSG: Most seats expire somewhere between 6-8 years from the date they were manufactured. You can find the specifics either stamped on the seat somewhere or in the instruction manual. Car seats are made out of plastic, and that plastic degrades over time and can become brittle. Often in crash tests, expired seats crack and break and the harness rips through, ejecting the child from the seat.

RL: In the event that I am in a car accident, do i have to replace my car seat? What about the base? What if the accident is really minor?

CSG: Most car seat manufactures state that the car seat needs to be replaced after ANY accident. A few allow the seat to continue to be used if the crash meets very specific requirements of a minor crash. All parts of the seat that were in the crashed vehicle need to be replaced, and insurance will almost always cover seat replacement as part of the claim.

RL: Kids are messy as you know so the car seat gets pretty messy too. I'm afraid of "messing it up" somehow though if I clean it so can you give me some advice on that? How often should I clean the car seat? Is there a good way to do it?

CSG: Sure! Most covers can be removed fairly easy and machine washed on gentle, and then air dried. Don't put a cover in the drier to avoid shrinkage that may interfere with the harness straps. Harness straps should be spot cleaned with a damp cloth only, don't use any kind of cleaner or submerge them in water as it can interfere with the strength of the straps and may interfere with their performance in a crash.

RL: Thanks! So let's talk about the position of the seat in the car. Is it better to have a car seat in the center seat or behind the driver or behind the passenger? Basically, where is the best spot to put the car seat?

CSG: If the center seat is available, it is statistically the safest, as it will likely have the furthest proximity from any impact. It is completely acceptable to put a car seat behind the passenger or driver, as long as it is installed correctly. Proper installation and proper use are the most important factor, seat position is just icing on the cake!

RL: Okay, so what about older kids, how do they fit into this? When my child passes the weigh limit on a convertible seat, what do we move to next?

CSG: A rear facing convertible seat is outgrown when the child's head is within one inch of the top of the shell or when they have reached the weight limit.A forward facing convertible seat is outgrown when the top of the child's ears are over the top of the shell, their shoulders are over the top harness slot, or they have reached the weight limit.

If the child has outgrown the seat rear facing, hopefully they are somewhere between 2-4 years old, and it is acceptable to turn them forward facing in the convertible seat, however rear facing as long as possible is preferred if another seat is available that would allow more rear facing time.

If the child has outgrown the convertible seat forward facing, the next step is a  belt positioning booster that properly positions the adult seat belt over a child. There are two very important factors to consider when moving to a booster seat: the child's physical size and the child's maturity level. They need to be physically large enough that when sitting in the booster, the lap belt is low on the hips/high on the thighs, and the shoulder belt is across the collarbone and not cutting into the neck. Typically 40 pounds is the minimum. The child also needs to be mature enough that they can sit in the seat for the entire ride without leaning out of the seat, moving the seat belt, unbuckling, bothering their siblings, etc. The proper level of maturity isn't there with most kids until 5 or 6, so if they have outgrown their convertible seat before they are ready for a booster, there are many forward facing seats that will keep an older child harnessed long enough to achieve both the physical and behavioral maturity.

RL: What comes after that? What criteria does my child need to meet in order to sit in the front seat?

CSG: Well, a lot of kids won't like this but again, this is about safety and longevity of life. In order to safely sit in the front a child has to be at least 13 years old. Yep. 13 years old.  This is truly about safety here. Airbags deploy at an alarming rate of speed, and by 13 the child has entered puberty and their skeletal system has strengthened considerably compared to pre-teens so they are able to withstand the force of an airbag. You don't want to be in the awful situtation of having a child survive a crash only to be permanently disabled because of the airbag. 13 years old is safest.

RL: Okay so no front seat until the age of 13 but what about getting out of the booster seat and sitting in the back? When can that happen?

CSG: Kids need to pass the five step test, and while most states only require a booster until 6 or 8 years old, most children are much older (9-11) before they are large enough to actually be out of the booster seat. Here's the test:

The 5-Step Test.
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat? 

2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?

3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm? 

4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs? 

5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

they need to meet all of those criteria before being safe to sit on the seat without the booster.

RL: Okay and here's my last question: why are some car seats more expensive than others, does that mean they're safer?

CSG: All car seats meet the same federal standards for crash performance, and any car seat will protect your child in a crash if it is used properly. Some of the more expensive car seats have nicer features that make it easier for the parents to use, which is the most important factor of all. There are some great, very easy to use $50 and $100 car seats, and there are also some $300 seats that are a huge pain in the neck. So the most important factor is making sure it fits your child, fits your car, and you understand how it works!

RL: Thanks so much for doing this with me, Car Seat Goddess Emma! I really hope we're able to make a difference and help other parents install their seats correctly.

CSG: Me too, you'd be amazed how much of a difference it makes to have your child in the seat safely and correctly. You can literally safe the life of your baby this way.

{for always}

Sunday, June 5, 2011

PTSD: my birth trauma

As many of you know (and many of you don't), I had a really traumatic birth experience when I had Henry (who at the time of writing this is just about to be seven months old so it's still fresh in my mind).

This was quite a shock to me because not only am I a planner (perhaps obsessively) but I am also very holistic and new-agey and tend to err on the side of being that annoying woman who skips asprin when she has a headache because I don't like chemicals in my body and yada yada yada.

Of course therefore I intended to have a medication-free, natural birth. I had the whole thing imagined in my mind: the would be lights dimmed, my soothing playlist would be singing from my iPhone, my husband would be massaging my back like we learned in childbirth class and a doctor would be there and he wouldn't be doing any kind of intervention whatsoever; in my mind he was basically just going to put out his hands and catch my perfect baby once I pushed him out easily and without smearing my eyeliner. And then we would wait for the cord to stop pulsating before cutting it, the baby would be placed on my stomach and he and I would gaze into each others' eyes and just have this beautiful sense of knowing recognition. There you are we would both think and it would be magical. And then I would nurse him and someone would take pictures that I would put in black and white and post on my blog and the whole thing would be just perfect.

Obviously that's not what happened. Not even a little bit.  Not even close.

I wrote a really long Birth Story but in case you are in the tl;dr crowd (too long; didn't read), i'll attempt to sum things up for you here in a shorter bullet format (though I warn you now, I'm not good at writing short accounts of anything):

- I was in false labor for 4 weeks before giving birth. I don't know if this has anything to do with my birth going down the way it did but it did set me up mentally to be in a bit of a negative place from the beginning. Being in false labor is like being in a tortured state of limbo. I scrawled out cryptically emo status updates on facebook. Things like, "I am forever in a waiting room."
It's just that false labor is tough: you have constant contractions that don't go anywhere and just when they start to formulate a pattern, they pitter out. And then every time the contractions start up again you get excited that something is going to happen and that this might be It...but it's not. It never is. and then you get upset and wonder why your body is doing this to you, what is wrong and how you can fix it.

- So this happened for four weeks and three days. And that sucked.

- When labor finally began for real it moved quickly and progressed easily. Things were going great. I was at 7 centimeters within about three hours and the pain was completely manageable.

- then transition came and something changed. Things started getting really, really, really, REALLY painful.

- did i mention it was really painful?

- Transition is supposed to be painful so I was expecting this. But then it stayed that way. And stayed. And stayed. And it hurt so bad. And I had basically stopped progressing. I stayed at about 8 centimeters for what felt like forever. I tried walking around but I almost threw up from the pain.  

- I also couldn't change position without crying because it hurt so much. Laying down was excruciating, moving from the bed to a chair was unbearable, being on all fours was a nightmare. The only position in which i was even somewhat okay was sitting up. And even then I was in searing pain. I just could somehow cope with it that way.  

- Seriously though, this labor pain was it was so bad that i quite literally could NOT prevent myself from screaming at the top of my lungs when a contraction would come. Like i wasn't yelling, i wasn't moaning, i wasn't calling out in pain, I was screaming. Screaming like someone was murdering me. The people who do the sound effects for horror films should have been there to record me, that's how big and bold these screams were.  And the worst part was that I could not control it. I couldn't. I just couldn't stop myself - I tried. I would apologize to my nurse in between contractions because i felt so awful and embarrassed for carrying on that way but i could not help it. I knew that all of the nurses in the hall were probably rolling their eyes at me: the Natural Birth lady who was screaming bloody murder and probably scaring their other patients.

- On top of this my contractions, the ones causing all the screaming, were doubled up. Apparently this means that I was having one right after the other. And I was having them every sixty seconds. That meant that there was one minute break in between them. So two contractions in a row for two minutes, one minute of rest. Lather, rinse, repeat.

- this went on for hours.

- I tried to figure out a way to describe the feeling of what was happening to me during these contractions because I had always wanted to know what contractions would feel like (and by the way, this is atypical, so don't be scared if there are any first-time moms reading this): it literally felt like what i would imagine it's like if someone were to snap my pelvic bones into pieces from the inside out. That's the closest description i can come up with. Bone snapping torture for two minutes in a row with a one minute break in between.

- Finally after two or three hours of this my resolve broke and i tearfully gave in. I asked for the epidural. (note: they tell women who want a natural birth that there will be a time in all births when you think you want the epidural and to come up with a "code word" to use to tell your husband/partner/support team member that you mean business. The rule is you only get the epidural if you say the code word otherwise you can say "give me drugs" all you want but you won't actually get any without uttering this magical phrase. The code word is the access key to the epidural. My code word was "Lord Voldemort" (i figured i should pick something no one wants to say for something i didn't want to do, right?) so when I started screaming "Lord Voldemort" through my contractions, my husband knew it was serious business lol).

- The epidural lady came and had me sign some papers. This wasn't easy but I did it after a few last harsh words to myself for giving up on my natural birth. "I just never expected this much pain" i said to try and justify it. At this point somehow no one had noticed that anything weird might be going on despite my insistence that i typically have a really high pain tolerance.

- She inserted the epidural and we waited.

- and waited...

- and waited.

- and nothing happened.

- oh and the worst part? I had to lay flat for 20 minutes. 20 minutes of sobbing because laying flat was the worst possible position for me. It hurt the most.  Laying down at all was excruciating. I remember thinking to myself, "I literally don't think I can survive another contraction like this....can people die from pain?"

- After 20 minutes was up, my nurse ran an ice cube up my legs to see if they were numb.

- i felt every single drop of that ice.

- the epidural failed to take. It failed completely.

- and so i soldiered on.

- Finally within about forty minutes I felt the overwhelming urge to push. I started yelling out to someone that I needed to push (because at this point in the game it's a NEED not a want. Your body just starts pushing whether you want it to or not). And a resident ran in to check me. "You have a little bit of a lip left. Don't push just yet." she said. riiiight like that's even remotely possible. (hint: it's not. your body pushes whether you tell it to stop or not).

- I tried not pushing for ten more minutes but it became impossible. "I have to push! i seriously have to!" i yelled. She checked me again. "Okay, the lip is gone, go ahead! you can push!"

- I was given brief instructions on how to push and away we went. I started to push, the resident put her hand in me during the push and suddenly her eyes got wide and she said, "STOP." she felt around for a moment and said, "Do NOT continue pushing." and got up and ran into the hallway.

- I panicked. Not only did my body want to push and I couldn't control it but something was obviously terribly wrong. A doctor came in with the resident, not my doctor, just whatever doctor was wandering by. Suddenly she was checking me. Her face registered concern and then she looked up at the nurses and other doctor and said, "Call the OR."

- She looked at me and said, "This baby is coming face first. You need to have a C-Section."

- There was chaos in the room, someone pulled my bed out from the wall, someone started to lean the headrest back. I screamed, "What? No! How?" and then i said, "I can't have a C-Section: the epidural didn't work!" She said, "I know, we're going to have to knock you out."

- this is where time paused and my brain broke a little bit. Knock me out? Sorry but did they not read my birth plan? That is the exact OPPOSITE of what I was ready for or able to process.  I had read horror stories about this kind of thing. I didn't want to miss my baby's birth, I didn't want him being unresponsive when he was born and full of those drugs. I didn't WANT to have surgery, i was terrified of surgery. What if they knocked me out but it didn't work just like the epidural didn't work? What if i felt them cutting into me?

- So then time unpaused and i said, "I want my doctor! Where is my doctor? I do NOT consent to this, I need another opinion. Oh my god, I want my doctor!"

- and i guess that was the daughter-of-a-lawyer in me screaming out these commands but I think that they heard the words "do not consent" and they sent someone looking for my doctor. The threat of law suit in the medical field is a huge thing.

- Within a minute my doctor was in the room and he was checking me (not very gently I might add but at that point who cares).

- "This baby is face first." He said and we all nodded, old news. "But she CAN deliver him safely. He's sunny-side up as well so he'll be fine...if he were face down, then we would need an emergency C-Section."

- At this moment, despite the pain i was in i managed to smile, "Thank God!" i said. and my bed was wheeled back and my feet were put back into stirrups and I was finally allowed to push.

- Slowly word spread of my face-first baby being delivered. Apparently this is very rare (only 0.4% of births are born this way, I googled it later) and since I was delivering in a teaching hospital, my room started filling up with people. Seriously there must have been 30 people present at the birth of my son.

- "His lips are being born first!" the doctor said. "This is so amazing, such a miracle!" and people leaned in and watched.

- After only 30 minutes of pushing (pushing felt amazing by the way, finally somewhere for all that pain to go), my little 7 pound 12 ounce baby was born. Henry Ryan entered the world.  And the room broke out in applause.

- but did i get to hold him? No. Did we make eye contact? Did he nurse? Did the cord pulsate? No, no, no. He was immediately taken away. He was suctioned to make sure he could breathe because his face was extensively bruised from being born face first.  He was wrapped in warmers and bright lights were shined all over him. I don't even know if he cried.

- He was taken to the NICU "just in case". I barely got to see him, my husband had to bring me a picture of him snapped over the shoulder of a doctor on his cell phone so i even knew what he looked like. And just like that he was gone from the room as if he had never even been there and I was immobilized on the bed being sewn up from my second degree tear. I wanted to get up and run down the hall after him. My baby, whisked away just like that.

- And then I was alone. My husband was with the baby, the nurse was getting some paperwork. The doctor had sewn me up and my room had emptied out. I was alone. My body was physically shaking, my emotional state was shaken and I was stunned and dazed. The baby who had been literally a part of my body just minutes before was gone and I was alone.

Since my birth I have had several flashbacks to it. For hours after giving birth whenever I would feel a cramp as my uterus shrunk back to size I would start to cry a little bit in anticipation of the horrifying pain of a contraction. My whole body would tense up, I would cringe in fear of it happening again and I would wait for the crippling pain to come over me. Of course it didn't, the birth was over and I wasn't having contractions anymore. My logical mind knew that but my body and my emotions didn't and those parts of me were afraid.

Speaking with my nurse and googling things later taught me that this kind of birth is probably one of the most painful experiences you can go through. A baby being sunny-side-up is more painful than a baby who is positioned correctly. A baby being sunny-side-up AND face first is even worse. In fact, it's probably THE worst. This was bad, really, really bad.

Not only that but I felt like I couldn't trust anything anymore:

I couldn't trust myself because my body had abandoned me during the birth, it had turned on me. Not only had it lied to me during my four weeks of pre-labor but I couldn't control the pain, I couldn't get through it. My entire life I have had a mantra during painful situations that goes "the mind has control over the body" and it has gotten me through the terrible stomach aches that plagued me as a child, the migraines and back pains as an adult and whatever illnesses i've also encountered along the way. That mantra had been, up until this point, flawless. But when I tried saying it through this experience nothing happened. Nothing. I was still in pain, i couldn't make it go away and not only that I couldn't even stop myself from screaming. I had no control over it whatsoever. None. And that felt like a betrayal.

I also couldn't trust the hospital: my epidural had failed. After all that. It had failed. Just when I finally gave in and admitted defeat relief didn't come to me.

I had made all of these careful plans, I had researched every, single, little thing and nothing had happened the way I thought it would and that really and truly threw me for a loop. I guess I had thought that if I informed myself of everything, if I planned for the most natural and healthy thing I could and if I was diligent enough that I could make sure everything went well, that everything would be okay. How wrong I was.

But being wrong in this situation really did a number on me.

I had nightmares about my birth for weeks. I cried about it all the time. When I would try to fall asleep at night I would remember that woman doctor saying, "we're going to knock you out" and fear would surge through me again as I envisioned it happening.

Lucky for me I have a network of great friends and they all told me the same thing when I would talk about this: GO GET SOME HELP.

And so I did. At only 10 weeks post partum, I started seeing a therapist.

After our first meeting she said, "You absolutely have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from this birth." and then she told me it was going to be okay and we would get through it.

We talked. We talked a lot. She told me to talk even more with my husband about it. She told me to write about it and talk with myself.

So I did. And slowly my perceptions began to change.

I said to my husband, "I feel betrayed by my body...I couldn't stop screaming even when I wanted to." and he said, "What if that's not your body betraying you but your body helping you? What if that was exactly what your body needed at that moment? What if that was the best thing you could do for yourself in that moment?"

I hadn't thought of it that way.

I talked to myself and I realized that I had been so afraid of my birth that I had tried to plan the whole thing out and remove every single unknown factor so I could have control over it. Unfortunately though you can't have control over everything in life. You don't get to control how someone is born. Just like I couldn't stop the false labor on my own terms, I couldn't choose how Henry was born either - HE got to decide both of those things all on his own.

I talked to my therapist: i said, "I feel like I let myself down." she said, "are you kidding? you stood up for yourself! you wouldn't let them wheel you into the OR. Do you know how brave you had to be to stop them from taking you in? to demand a second opinion at that moment? You didn't let yourself down, you stood up for yourself."

I slowly pulled myself out of the fear of it, I slowly moved away from the trauma.

And the point of me telling you all of this is to say: you CAN have control. No, not over the experience itself but over how YOU see it retrospectively. 

There is a LOT of power in looking back on a situation and reframing it. There is a lot of growth to be found in the dissection of trauma and the desire to view it with new eyes and a true wish to move on. I looked back on my birth over and over again and realized that I was there for myself that day, that i did cope with things to the best of my ability at the time, that i was an advocate for myself and for my baby and that even though a lot of things happened that were completely outside of my control I was always there making the best choices I could with the information I had for myself and for Henry.

I'm proud of myself for that.

Even if I had gone through with the C-Section, I would have been proud of myself then too. And even if the epidural had worked I would be proud of that as well.

The point here isn't that natural birth is superior or that c-sections are bad or anything else. If you take either of those messages from this than you're really missing what I'm saying. My whole entire point here is that it is overwhelming and scary when the birth experience you wanted fails and when the rug of it all gets ripped out from underneath you. It is horrible to go through a traumatic birth and it can scar you for a long, long time. Emotional scars like this aren't visible, they lurk around in your brain and come up again and again when you least expect it but they are real and they are strong and they an hurt.

BUT there is a release from it. There CAN be salvation from those scars! That's the point here - you don't have to have those flashbacks, you don't have to relive those moments, you don't have to be afraid of that pain anymore. You really, really don't.

There is personal power to be gained from reframing a traumatic birth. There is empowerment and courage and appreciation and a greater sense of self to be had from seeking out a therapist and talking about what happened.

Birth Trauma is a real thing, don't let anyone minimize it or tell you that it isn't. If you've had a traumatic birth and if it weighs on you and causes you fear and heartache, you are going through something very real and it deserves attention just like any other kind of trauma. It is something that not only deserves being addressed but it is something that you MUST address in order to be well. You can get past it, you just have to put in a little work. 

Birth Trauma is not a joke, it's not silly and it's not something you should disregard if it has happened to you. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can happen to anyone who has undergone a scary event that causes injury or the threat of injury to your person. It's terrifying and it's real and it deserves attention. Don't leave this untreated if you are going through it because you can get past it and you can find power in the experience, even if it seems hopeless.

I thought that my birth was horrible. I thought that something had happened TO me and that I would never get over it. I thought that this birth ended my dreams of having a large family and more pregnancies in the future.

Now I know that I can trust myself, that if and when I do have another baby that i CAN get through it - even if (GOD FORBID) the same thing happens again, I will be okay, no matter what the outcome because I will be there for myself in whatever way i need to be - even if that way isn't something I can predict. Now I know that I can relinquish control and trust the process a little bit more. Things will work out alright in the end if I just have a little bit of faith and if I realize that I will always have my own back.

Now I know to look at the positives in situations, to see what's being done FOR me instead of what's being done TO me.

Now I know that there is power to be had even in the most frightening of experiences. Empowerment is always there to be seized, even if we don't see it at first. And now I know how to give myself credit for it when i do reach out and take that power (like by demanding to see my doctor for example) instead of just feeling sorry for myself and letting the fear overrun me.

Everything that happens in life is up for interpretation. I choose to look back on the birth of my child and to see it as a gift, as a miracle and as a place where I got to really learn just how much I can take and just how much I can do. I am proud of myself and I won't let it get me down anymore.

You can do that too. Don't be afraid. Don't let your past dictate your future.

If you've had a traumatic birth it's never too late to talk to someone and to reframe it and to get the fear out. That fear is ruling your life and scarring your interactions. Find someone and get to work on yourself because chances are that you are doing much better than you give yourself credit for.

For help locating a trauma therapist in the U.S., treatment center, or support group in your area, contact the Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute by email or by phone at (410) 825-8888 ext. 203.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Playdate: Henry and Nya

This week Henry and I had a playdate with my lovely friend Lauren and her beautiful daughter Nya. Lucky for me, at Henry's age (almost seven months old!) "Playdates" really mean that mommy gets to sit around and talk to her friends while the babies look at each other and reach for one another's faces.

But of course, there were photos. Seriously, would it be possible for me to be around two babies hanging out without snapping a few shots? No way. 


Nya was like, "'scuse me. you need to ask my permission before taking my picture."





Nya was realllllllly into the balloons tied to Henry's Pack N'Play

Henry was very excited to have a friend visit!

And he found Lauren very charming as well!

smile with teeth!

Practicing her Miss. America wave

Henry thought it was funny!


It was a good visit. Quick because somebody needed a nap at the end (and okay, Henry was tired too) but good. 

Yay for mommy playdates!