The August 5, 2008 Wall Street Journal ran a short article on a new postpartum illness akin to PTSD. The author, Rachel Zimmerman, reports that though”PTSD is commonly associated with combat veterans and victims of violent crimes, but medical experts say it also can be brought on by a very painful or complicated labor and delivery in which a woman believes she or her baby might die.”
While Postpartum depression has received more attention of late (the paper reports the NIH statisticof 15% of mothers affected), there is some speculation that as many as 9% meet criteria for PTSD, and most of these who have given birth to children with serious and immediately life-threatening health issues. These find themselves re-experiencing the traumatic birth, avoidance of places that bring these flashbacks up, and persistent symptoms of increases arousal and hyper-vigilance. Per the article more states are now trying to screen and/or education new moms to this problem. NJ requires all mothers to be screened for depression prior to discharge.
As an adoptive father, I recall well the anxiety and hyper-vigilance of bringing home our first child when he was 4 days old. I didn’t sleep for days, or so it seemed. I worried about his breathing. I felt like I had lost my independence for the rest of my life (I was the stay-at-home dad at the time). It was an overwhelming time for us. And we were healthy, he was healthy, and we were not recovering from the trauma of even a normal birth.
So, I can well assume that if you add all of the normal birth trauma plus medical crises, helplessness, etc. that these experiences can result in symptoms like PTSD. I would suspect, however, that for most people these symptoms would dissipate quickly, especially if the medical crises passes in a day or two. So, we should be careful not to overreact to transitory symptoms and medicate everyone with a struggle. If it is PTSD, then the symptoms should persist for more than a month.