Have you hit a pregnancy anniversary or trigger yet? The day you found out you were pregnant. A due date you never hit. Hearing the heartbeat for the first time. Your baby shower you never got to have.
Your baby's birth day.
Your kiddo's due date.
The day you were discharged from the hospital.
The day you brought your baby home from the hospital. Some anniversaries are filled with so much joy and bring you back to some amazing memories. But many anniversaries are not. In fact, so many women who go through a high-risk pregnancy or deliver preterm have a LOT of anxiety-provoking anniversaries that they hit throughout the year. This coming Wednesday is one for me. September 27th is the day that I landed in the hospital at 22 weeks and 4 days. It was the last day I was pregnant at home. I remember the first year that this day came along. My son had been home for almost 9 months and was doing great. We were busy with his therapies and appointments but we had gotten into a bit of a routine that was easier than when he was first home from the NICU. We were starting to feel more secure and starting to feel like we lived our lives slightly more at home than we did inside a medical setting. But as we hit mid September, I noticed my mood started to change. I was suddenly way more stressed out. Way more crabby. Way more short with my husband. I felt my body was way more tense.
I felt jumpier than usual, every little sound from V making my stomach leap into my throat. The tiny amounts of milk that I was pumping became even less. I wasn't sleeping great. Something just felt off. Being a stay-at-home mom on lockdown, it didn't really matter what the date was so I hardly ever knew. All that mattered was, is it a day my husband is home or not? Beyond that, every day was exactly the same. It wasn't until I sat down to check my email one day during V's nap. I happened to glance at the calendar and it said Sept 26. My heart stopped and my eyes widened. This is what my body was remembering. It had stored the memories and it had remembered the anniversary coming up way before my brain had caught up to it. Body memories are so amazing like that, working in the background and preparing yourself for what your body knows will be an emotional day.
They're also the key to helping yourself heal from the trauma of a high-risk pregnancy, preterm delivery and/or traumatic birth.
Your body memories are giving you clues to help you heal
Every time a body memory is triggered, it's a sign for you that an unresolved trigger is coming up.
That can be an anniversary of something you experienced (like my admission to the hospital).
It can be getting ready to meet someone that reminds you of a scary time during your pregnancy.
It can be smelling something that takes you back to the NICU.
The thing with body memories is that they often work separately from mental memories, which catches a lot of women off guard. They feel find in their heads....calm, confident, happy.
But then all of a sudden they start experiencing what seems like regressions in their healing process.
The nightmares come back. The flashbacks intensify. Mood plummets and anxiety soars.
It can be frustrating to experience because you think you've done so much work to focus on your life right now, why is this happening?
It happens when trauma recovery only focuses on the mental triggers and symptoms and ignore your body and the memories (and potential for healing) that it carries.
Releasing body memories is critical to long-term healing
There are several steps to take to help yourself truly heal from your high-risk pregnancy, preterm delivery and/or traumatic birth that involve your body memories.
Step #1: Recognize the signs your body is giving you that it's holding onto a body memory.
Notice if there are certain times of year that you're experiencing a shift in your mood or anxiety. If it's not connected to time of year, identify the patterns.
For me, it was time of year (right around September 27th) but also for a little over a year, it was driving when it was dark, because it reminded me of that drive on September 27th when it was pitch black and we were terrified of what to expect when we got to L&D.
Are there certain locations, smells, people or sights that regularly bring on changes to how you feel both physically or emotionally?
Find those patterns and you'll get a much clearer idea on how many and the types of memories your body is holding on to.
Step #2: Treat yourself as you treat your child
I know how much self-blame there is and how much guilt you're carrying around for going through what you did. But you don't take it out on your baby, right?
So don't take it out on yourself.
I know you want someone to blame and to be angry at. But that anger is going to impede your ability to heal.
It acts as a literal barrier on your path to healing. You cannot circumvent it or deal with it later and try to push forward. Psychologically and physiologically we just do not work that way.
So, be extra kind to yourself. Show yourself compassion. One of my favorite ways to do that is to say out loud or write down a validation for how you're feeling.
For example, for myself, I have said:
It makes sense that you're feeling scared, anxious and unsafe as you approach September 27th. That was a horrible day during your pregnancy. You didn't realize that you had just 15 days left and you were going to meet your son way, way too soon. Of course you will be feeling scared, anxious and unsafe as you approach that day again.
Acknowledging how you're feeling and recognizing the compassion that you need, is extremely powerful and as you try it, I expect a wave of intense emotion to come over you. Because that compassionis exactly what you need to help you heal.
Step #3: Take care of your body
Identify where in your body you're holding on to the memory. Maybe it's tension in your shoulder. Or achiness in your stomach. Or restlessness in your head that's keeping you from sleeping.
Find where it's primarily residing and then do something to inject relief to that body part.
For example, if you're mind is constantly racing, ask your partner for a head massage.
If you feel like your hands are shaking, get a manicure or soak your hands in a warm water bath.
You want to give your body a new, positive, healthy physical sensation to replace the memory that you are releasing.
Releasing body memories as long lasting effects
Not only will you feel better in the moment, releasing these body memories helps stop nightmares and flashbacks. It keeps you calm even when you hear the microwave beep. It helps you feel stronger, more confident and so much safer in your life, no matter what anniversaries and triggers lie ahead.
The more often you practice releasing body memories, the more quickly you will find yourself healing from the trauma you went through.
Enhance your healing with effective anxiety management
This process - triggered body memories and releasing them - can bring up your anxiety. It's very normal. If you're looking for ways to effectively manage your anxiety at home, check out the little known strategies to manage postpartum anxiety in 5-minutes or less.
In it, I share my 7 favorite strategies that are really powerful at bringing your anxiety down quickly.
You've been on a long road to get here. And there is a long road ahead of you toward healing. But with the right tools and strategies in your toolbox, you will heal from this.
We're hitting up on the 5 year anniversary of my hospital admission and I can tell you without any doubt that this year has been the easiest year yet as we approach September 27th. No triggers, no symptoms, none of it because the body memories are finally gone.
This will happen for you too.
Take it one day, one step at a time. You can do this.