Welcome to birth trauma stories Podcast

Shutting Down Does Not Heal PTSD 

by Victoria D'Antimo


For a little while when people heard when I went through, they would say, wow, you’re so strong, and I would always think well I don’t feel very strong, but I guess I am, because I got through everything and every obstacle that was put in my way. But as time went on, and people kept saying “wow you’re so strong“ I thought yes I am, but I didn’t have a choice. I was strong because I had to be, not for any other reason except things out of my control, kept happening, and I was falling apart, but on the outside I got through it, so I was “strong“ but I had no choice in the matter. 

Everything was happening around me. 

I went though a lot during pregnancy and in my postpartum, more than most would or should go through during something as “normal” as pregnancy. Some of those things include, gestational diabetes, extreme hypertension, Cushing syndrome, HELLP syndrome, which lead to a premature birth, and a NICU stay for my daughter. I would later find out I also had cancer during this time. I was admitted to the hospital around 31 weeks, my blood pressure was very high and they admitted me almost immediately. The blood pressure medication did not work the way it should, and they started doing exploratory testing, because they felt like something else might be going on. During the ultrasound, they found an 8cm tumour on my adrenal gland, it was at this point, I was transferred to a more specialized hospital, about an hour away, as they knew something was very wrong. On day 16 of my stay, my labs showed that I was in liver failure, from HELLP syndrome, and I needed to be induced, they said I was too sick for a C-section, it would be more dangerous for us both to cut me open. I was induced late that night, and laboured the whole next day. I was on a magnesium drip, and had to have an epidural when I started to feel too uncomfortable, because they had to manage my pain levels. Shortly after one of my doctor checks, I told my nurse I had to push, she tried to call the doctor back, and he refused, saying he had just been in there and he wasn’t coming back. Right around the same time, the baby went into distress, we were then rushed to the OR, where I had to deliver, as it was the closest spot to the NICU team. 

9 minutes later, I delivered my sweet baby girl, Evelyn Catherine, who was a very healthy 6lbs 6oz. 

Our NICU journey was tough. After birth, didn’t get to see the baby for 40 hours at that 40 hour mark I wasn’t allowed to hold her because it wasn’t “holding time”. The next day, I finally got to hold her, and those moments are perfect, but then I had to go back to my own hospital bed because I was still an impatient for an additional six days after she was born. When I was being discharged, we asked for Evelyn to be transferred to a hospital closer to home, they agreed, as she didn’t need the level NICU she was in, so it was safe to be at a lesser level hospital. She was doing very well, she just needed some time to learn how to eat, and some time under a Billi light because she was jaundice. When she was moved closer to home as when our real nightmare started. In the NICU, we were meant to feel as if, when she was there, she was not our child, she was the child of the nurses tending to her, and we were guest in their home. It was the most awful experience of mine and my husbands lives. I had a very aggressive lactation consultant, I had nurses that would physically take the baby out of mine or Collins hands, because we were told we held her too much, many days ended in tears over the way we were treated, and the experience we were living through everyday.

When we finally got to come home, everything seemed to be perfect for a moment in time.

But when Evelyn was not even 2 months old, I had a surgery to remove the mass found when I was pregnant. That is also the time when Covid shut down the world. When the biopsy results came back, that is when I found out the mass was cancer. My husband and I had to make decisions about my health, what treatment, if any, we wanted to move forward with, and if we wanted any more children in the future, we would need to freeze eggs. Due to Covid, all my appointments were on the phone or virtual, and then the fertility clinic was closed down, so we were unable to freeze eggs, and ultimately, the decision that we were not having anymore kids was made for us. 

Everything that was happening was out of my control, but keeping things clean and in order was within my control, and that was a huge part of my daily life, and it use to have a strong hold on everything in my house. 

I have been taking anxiety medication since I was 15, as I have always been an anxious person and was diagnosed in my teens, but I knew that I needed something more. I called my specialist, and I explained that I thought I needed to talk to someone about my mental health. The next day, my family doctor called me, he told me that my endocrinologist had called him, and I completely broke down on the phone. I was so touched that my medical team cared enough about me to call me and speak with me, to ask if I needed anything immediately, in addition to sending a requisition for therapy. Shortly after, I started with a therapist, we had appointments for a little while, which is when she officially diagnosed me with PTSD/OCD in addition to my anxiety, and referred me to a PTSD specialist, as she felt like I needed a more specialized approach to my therapy. 

The PTSD was causing severe flashbacks, I always felt like I was reliving having to fight for Evelyn, or fighting for the feeling that she really was dependant on us. Because we were truly made to feel like we were secondary while she was in the NICU. I would have night terrors that would cause me to scream in the night, most of the time I wouldn’t even remember it, my husband would tell me in the morning. I was often on edge, and irritable, I needed everything in the house in order. I could not even go to bed if we had one dirty dish in the sink. The pull to have everything organized and clean was starting to impair my day to day life, and I knew I needed help with calming the situation. 

My therapist and I have worked through a lot, she has made me feel heard, she has made my concerns feel valid, and she has helped my with ways to cope when I am feeling triggered, I am, and will forever be, grateful to her. 

I still have issues with sensory overload, if too many things are happening around me, I tend to get very anxious, and that is when I start to yell. I can only have so many noises at once, I get touched out very easily, and when it all happens at once, my nervous system overflows. 

I often have to calm me nervous system, as it only has two settings now, “everything is regular” and “I’m going to die”. I have very truly been on deaths doorstep, whenever my nervous system is in danger, it puts me into panic mode, almost always for things that are not life or death. As part of my therapy, I use a scent, that I chose, to calm me, the scent grounds me, it’s an oil roller, and let my nerves, my body, and my brain, all work together to react at an appropriate level. 

For a while, if something was very upsetting, I would shut down completely, and I felt nothing. In some very serious situations, I still feel nothing. Shutting down is my bodies way of not dealing with the hard stuff. I know this is common for trauma survivors, but it always feels weird to me, I have never been the calm in the storm, and now I tend to be the most grounded. 

PTSD, and other mental health issues are now, and forever should be, something we share, we talk about, and work through together, because making them an everyday part of our health, will hopefully lead us to a world where treating them feels like less of a burden. 

Victoria D’Antimo is married to her wonderful husband, Collin, and they have a beautiful daughter, Evelyn. They always knew they wanted kids, and shortly before their first wedding anniversary they found out they were expecting their first child. They were so excited. They never expected that it would lead to severe, life threatening pregnancy complications, a premature birth, a NICU stay, and a cancer diagnosis.

To listen to Victoria share both of her stories click below!

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