Struggling to move on

TRIGGER WARNING – perinatal trauma

It’s Friday and here’s my Full Perspective response to one of your questions.

“I’m struggling a little with grief over the loss of the experiences/moments I lost out on when my son was born as he needed to go to the NICU. I’m not really sure how to move past it but what’s made it harder is my husband is struggling with my feelings and wants to move on”

Congratulations on the birth of your wee boy!

I am so sorry to read this – I want to acknowledge how difficult this has been for you. It must have been extremely frightening.

From reading this I think there’s two issues here.

The first issue is that it sounds to be like it’s registered in your brain as a traumatic event

In a normal circumstance – even if it had been difficult, your brain would be able to move on and say ok that’s just something that’s happened, but it’s over now, let’s file it away and move on.

When you brain registers it as trauma, it’s keeps this memory in what we sometimes call the ‘alarm centre’ (known as the amygdala). What you’re describing is a trauma symptom (not necessarily PTSD – having trauma symptoms does not mean PTSD, but they are often confused).

The brain is very clever. It does this as a protective measure to stop dangerous things happening to you again. It’s a sign of a perfectly healthy functioning brain to do this.

Imagine if say, you’d had a car crash. It would be a bit weird if the brain didn’t keep signalling its worry that something might happen in the car when you’re around it, so it keeps reminding you of things you should have done etc.

Unfortunately, the brain can’t suddenly move on. It doesn’t recognise that the ‘threat’ is over.

There are some things you can do, which I’ve written about in my perinatal trauma guide.

You might need professional help to help the brain process the memory so it can be filed away with the normal memories. Sometimes you can access NHS services, but there are many private practitioners who can help, including me (if you want to find out more then send me a message).

The second issue you’re describing is not feeling supported or understood

One of the things that happens is that each one of us experiences a situation differently based on everything that’s happened in your life before. Your brain has been wired on your life experiences. And your husband’s brain has been wired on his life experiences. What that means is that two people can experience the same event, but perceive it differently. It’s called neuroception.

That means you and your husband have experienced one event, but possibly there’s an expectation that you’d both perceive it in the same way. So maybe there’s a frustration on both your sides that you feel differently – for you that he can move on, for him that you’re stuck.

Added on top of that, as the birthing parent, you are ‘wired’ to perceive things more dangerously as a way to protect you and your baby. It’s why many women will experience pregnancy or postnatal anxiety (and why your sense of smell increases too so you can smell danger and illness and protect yourself and therefore your baby).

This means that not only would you NORMALLY perceive the same experience differently, but this time you’re in a much more heightened state.

My suggestion would be telling your husband explicitly what you need from him. He might think he’s ‘reassuring’ you or helping you to move on, but possibly what you need is to have your feelings really heard and validated. Sometimes partners are able to do that, but sadly sometimes partners can’t. Rarely is it because they are mean or nasty – it’s just not their strength or they’ve never been shown how. Therefore you can decide to keep asking and working on it or you can decide to get heard and validated from someone else.

I hope that this helps you and sending all the love.

Much love, Tricia xxx

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