PTSD in a Pandemic


Eight months ago, I sat in a room with a psychologist, and even though I knew where the conversation was leading, hearing the words was a little bit like when your kids are all in bed, and one of their creepy toys starts telling you from the darkened playroom, “You are special.” It was terrifying. How exactly am I supposed to continue being a normal suburban mom if I have PTSD? For me, trauma feels a bit like everything looks normal, while inside, I’m silently screaming how every single scenario playing out around me is going to lead to the worst possible outcome you could envision.  

One morning in December, I woke up dressed festively for some Christmas caroling and headed off to a routine midwifery appointment. No concerns from me, though I’ve lost pregnancies before, I was into my second trimester, we had even announced our pregnancy to social media the day before. There I sat, in my glittery antler headband, with my two-year-old in my lap, when suddenly there she says, “oh, Molly, I am so sorry.” This isn’t the first time I’d heard those words, but I was wholly unprepared for them. I didn’t need to go over pre-op procedures; I’ve done this before. The “trauma” portion of my diagnosis continued over the next few weeks, things I still can barely discuss, talking about them feels a bit like I am about to be the guy from Grease 2 that does the kamikaze jump off the cliff on his motorcycle. I drive a minivan and occasionally let my kids watch too much TV because I am enraptured with a good book that’s as rebellious as I get. Right now, I feel like I should write an itemized list because I think I will always feel that I need to justify my diagnosis. My trauma is mine, though, and a lot of people that are quite a bit more educated (and well-rested) than me assure me that I “qualify” for those four little letters. 

With the holidays over, I talked myself into believing that I was ok. Go back to normal, don’t live off dry shampoo. Except, I was waking up from a dead sleep convinced one of my two boys had stopped breathing. Before I was even alert, I ran into their rooms and violently shook them, convinced their tiny bodies would be cold. Constantly finding myself convinced that my whole family had died, or someone had cancer. No seemingly innocuous activity could go on in which I wasn’t silently predicting that my entire world was going to collapse around me.  

I wasn’t ashamed of my diagnosis of PTSD. When not fully triggered, I was fully aware of what my PTSD symptoms meant. I’m a privileged woman with outstanding medical insurance and excellent medical professionals, so I asked for help. Everything is on track; then, I found myself in the fetal position clutching a positive pregnancy test one morning. My mind could not literally fathom a single scenario in which this baby would possibly survive. So, I told the right people, and I made the right appointments. I made plans to visit my mother and newly-evacuated-from-Beijing little sister in Florida. There was a virus spreading there; she had had to leave with her family.  

By the end of my visit, I was six weeks pregnant, and cases were popping up in the United States. My midwife was wearing a mask when she told me no more traveling. You know what happens next, a pandemic. Somehow, I found myself experiencing every single one of my triggers while the world fell apart. In all of my doomsday thoughts, this was one I hadn’t imagined. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t possibly any other thing that could go wrong- but then I go a few moments without feeling my daughter kick, and the next thing I know, I’m sweating through my clothes frantically trying to find my doppler.  

Let me tell you something; a pandemic PTSD pregnancy has taught me only one thing: it is ok to survive and not thrive. There are days that I know I cannot let the world in because I can barely survive in my own head. There are other days that I can convince myself not to “borrow trouble.” Today I’m weeks away from my due date, trying to convince myself that it’s ok to buy a car seat or get the crib out. I don’t know what the “ending” of this story is, maybe more heartbreak and trauma. I will give birth to a perfect baby girl in a few weeks and find myself suddenly realizing that ten years of pregnancy loss and struggles with infertility is over, the end of the baby era. One thing I know is, I’ll always have post-traumatic-stress-disorder. I can only hope that I can find ways to heal.