Recovery: Single Mom Edition- How to Handle Triggers During Postpartum

As I bet you know, being pregnant is hard.  Being a new mom is hard.  Being a single mom is hard.  Being a first-time mom is hard, but when you add recovering and healing into the mix of being a mom, it’s by far the hardest thing you can do as a mother. 

In my case, I didn’t really start dealing with my childhood sexual abuse until I was pregnant and found out I was having a little girl, and my world spiraled out of control.  I was having flashbacks, triggers, and I was going crazy.  Luckily, I found this great book called: When Survivors Give Birth and it really helped me get prepared for birth and how to deal with my triggers during delivery.  I also started going to therapy and I was in the middle of some serious spiritual work with Johanna Burkhardt.  I knew I could potentially be triggered during delivery.  I knew I could potentially be triggered all my life with having a daughter.  I could without having a child.  Eventually, I started walking into the darkness and facings my fears. Which helped me understand and heal my triggers.   (If you want more on recovering from childhood sexual abuse, click here.)

Anyway, I was prepared for delivery and the possibility of being triggered, what I wasn’t prepared for were triggers during postpartum.  This is what I want to share.  We, as mothers, are recovering from childbirth, most likely not sleeping well, dealing with hormones, and learning a new child.  Things are quite overwhelming then add triggers on top of it, can make things ten times more difficult. 

I’m going to share with you 3 personal incidents which took place during my first month postpartum.  Then share how you can deal too.  I want to share the personal stories to give you an idea of what triggers might look like.

3 Personal Incidents

  1. Breastfeeding.  I wanted nothing more than to breastfeed my child.  I wanted to because I wanted to bond with her, I wanted to nurture my daughter, provide her nourishment, I wanted to save money, I wanted to lose weight, etc. I had so many reasons. I was actually at my ex’s house after my daughter was born, so my situation wasn’t quite comfortable.  (In hindsight- I should have been home.  I probably could have breastfed. I can’t do anything about it now.)  Anyway, by the 3rd night my daughter was crying nonstop.  I didn’t know what was going on.  We couldn’t figure it out.  I went to the doctor and discovered I wasn’t making enough milk.  I cried.  I cried a lot.  I knew part of me believed my ex would try to take my daughter away.  Because he was pushing so hard for breastfeeding.  Plus, not being able to breastfeed made me feel inadequate.  Like my body was damaged.  I felt like an object; my body was only good for sex.  I couldn’t even do what nature intended me to do.  On top that, it put everyone in a position to feed her and bond with her.  I remember feeling like a failure as a mother. I wasn’t even a week in.  Yes, people were telling me: well at least you can get more help now.  But I was afraid to talk about how much it was triggering me.  Plus making me question my worth as a mother.   I just wanted to be able to provide for her.  I couldn’t.  Eventually I accepted I couldn’t breastfeed.  I calmed my triggers by explaining to myself this happens to a lot of women.  It had nothing to do with my abuse.  This was a lot harder to convince myself when my ex decided to back out of our visitation agreement because I couldn’t breastfeed and decided that 50/50 visitation is best because I can’t breastfeed.  Making the acceptance of not breastfeeding a little bit harder.  The point is, a lot of women deal with this.  It doesn’t make you any less of a mother.  Even if you do have an ex or a significant other who thinks otherwise.

  2. Peeing.  Ladies, lets talk bodily fluids for a sec.  We all know that conversation about pooping during delivery.   No one wants to do it.  Even if you’ve never been in a sexually abusive situation before, no one wants to poop in front of a bunch of strangers and your support people.  Well, I did.  I did big time.  I can’t even lie about it.  It was triggering.  It was embarrassing for me especially because my ex was in the delivery room and we weren’t together at that point.  The nurse had to convince me that everyone in the room loved me.  I didn’t believe her.  Now, it really doesn’t matter.  Anyway, while I was at my ex’s house, I had a hard time making it to the bathroom- just peeing. Sometimes I was holding my daughter during the night and couldn’t get up quick enough to pee.  At least it wasn’t enough for my ex to know.  Until one day I was getting my daughter ready for her doctor’s appointment and I was making a bottle when out of nowhere I had to pee so bad I couldn’t move.  Then I peed… a lot (I had just gone to the bathroom too.) I said: Omgosh! Omgosh! Like 5 times.  Of course, my ex walked into the kitchen and asked what happened. I was completely embarrassed but I told him. Then I had to clean everything up and get into the shower instead of feeding my daughter; which I was already struggling with letting other people feed because I didn’t get to bond with her as much.  It was triggering for me. When I was abused as a child, I was wetting bed and getting in trouble for it.  Then I was peeing my pants until I was in 6th grade.  Then here I am at 31 years old peeing in my ex’s kitchen.  I was ashamed and embarrassed.  I couldn’t believe how much it was happening.   What helped? Leaving my ex’s house but also talking to my therapist.  She told me it was normal.  Honestly, at 4 months postpartum, I can’t even sneeze without having problems still.  I have to show myself some grace with this because I still experience trouble with it.  It still brings me back to the little girl with issues making it to the bathroom.

  3. The men in my life.  I’m gonna be super honest again.  I don’t trust men.  I never have.  I have manifested so much BS in my life to the point where “men aren’t sh*t” was so real I couldn’t even trust the men in my family, wholly. (It’s different now.)  My father came to stay with me in September.  We’ve put in work to repair our relationship. He’s even aware of my abuse.  He was never the source of the abuse, but there was a night when I put my daughter down for bed and I could hear him go the bathroom and something inside me started freaking out: What if he goes in her room? What if he does something and I can’t hear it?  I wanted to go get her out of her crib and put her in my room.  I was having an internal conflict.  I was freaking out.  Luckily, I was able to calm down.  I told myself a few things.  1: he was never the source of the problem, why would he be now? 2: I have supersonic mom hearing and her door is open and so is mine if anything happened, I would know in a heartbeat.  3: Just because he is a man, didn’t make him a bad guy.  I did have trouble sleeping that night, but I did sleep and I didn’t go get her.  I totally had trouble the next day when there were 3 men in my house (all family) plus my ex.  I seriously had a minor anxiety attack about how I was going to handle this.  Everything eventually calmed down.  Because they left and I didn’t let go of her until I felt comfortable. I just allowed myself to be triggers and do what I felt comfortable with.  There wasn’t another way around it.

How to Cope with Your Triggers

I seriously don’t know what I would have done in these situations if I hadn’t gone to therapy and my spiritual healing.  I really don’t because some of these are enough to make you snap.  Like I was one more internal battle away from snapping.  Which would have been terrible.  Especially in my current situation where my 4-month old daughter goes to her father’s house without me there.  (I don’t believe he would do anything.  Don’t get me wrong.) But the thoughts happen.  The anxiety and triggers from this sh*t when you have a child is real.  If you don’t have coping mechanisms in place you will fly off the handle.  So, before I give any advice for this, please, please start getting help.  This is the answer.  Whether you find a professional, support groups, get The Courage to Heal Workbook, read all my blogs etc.  Get help.  There are ways to start dealing with this and it’s the most important thing you will do in your life.  It will help you, your family and your children. 

In this recovery blog we’re going behind the scenes of how Angela handles postpartum triggers related to childhood sexual abuse.  She shares 3 personal stories of her first month of postpartum.  Plus how to cope with the triggers.  Read the blog to learn how you, too, can cope with triggers, if you’ve suffered from sexual trauma as a child or an adult.

Okay- for real.  How to deal.

  1. Accept your emotions.  No matter how crazy or far out they are. Accept them.  If you don’t, you’ll spend all your time fighting your emotions instead of working through them.  Fighting them, will make you crazy.  Accepting your emotions will help them subside in 2.5 seconds.  All you have to say is: I feel this way. Alright.  I accept that.

  2. Tell yourself: Your child is not you.  Because you’re aware and recovering and healing the cycle will most likely not repeat.  (I could go on about this forever but I won’t.)  Remember what has happened to you will not necessarily happen to your children.  Don’t let your fears run your children’s lives. It’s the worst thing you can do to them.

  3. Understand you can’t control everything.  You can’t always be there to protect your child.  You can’t always expect your child won’t be in dangerous situations.   You just have to accept you can’t control everything and you have done enough healing in your life that you only attract the right people in your life.  Meaning these people love you and want what’s best for you and your children and would do no harm.  That’s the only way to let go of this fear when your child isn’t around.

Postpartum isn’t easy.   Recovery and healing from childhood sexual abuse isn’t easy.  Mixing them is like the ultimate hell sometimes.  The only way to get through is to notice your triggers and accept them.  When you do this, you take your power back over your fears and emotions.  That’s so important because you don’t want to snap or cause damage when someone is just trying to help.  No matter what happens, forgive yourself.  Dealing with this isn’t easy.  Which is why it’s important to get help.  It’s the best thing you can do for yourself. 

Have a question, a story or can relate?  Leave a comment below.  Let’s connect.