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Giving Birth after Battle: Increased Risk of Postpartum Depression for Women in Military

November 11th, 2013 by avatar

Today, November 11th is Veteran’s Day in the United States and Americans honor those who have served and continue to serve in the Armed Forces in order to protect our country.  Today on Science & Sensibility, regular contributor Walker Karraa, PhD, takes a look at the impact serving in battle has on women who go on to birth.  In an exclusive interview with expert Cynthia LeardMann, Walker shares with S&S readers what the study says and receives more indepth information that provides additional insight into just what women in the military face in regards to their increased risk of PPMADs.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

Introduction

The rate of postpartum mood or anxiety disorders in general US population for new mothers is 10-22%1-3.  Although approximately 16,000 active duty women give birth annually4, less is known regarding the prevalence of postpartum mood disorders in this population. In a striking finding, Do et al., (2013)5 recently reported “Service women with PPD had 42.2 times the odds to be diagnosed with suicidality in the postpartum period compared to service women without PPD; dependent spouses with PPD had 14.5 times the odds compared to those without PPD” (p.2)

Pixabay © David Mark. 2013

Furthermore, a recent study, Is military deployment a risk factor for maternal depression?6 , examined the relationship between deployment experience before or after childbirth, and postpartum depression in a representative sample of U.S. servicewomen.  The objectives included addressing the lack of research regarding maternal depression in military mothers.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to interview Cynthia A. LeardMann, MPH, Senior Epidemiologist at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Naval Health Research Center, and Department of Deployment Health Research regarding this important study. Particularly, I inquired as to how childbirth educators might integrate this data in practice, and how childbirth education might be suggested for future intervention.

Walker Karraa: Can you describe for our readers how the rate of maternal depression was found to be attributed to experiencing combat while deployed?

Cynthia LeardMann: In this study, the rate of maternal depression was highest among women who deployed to the recent conflicts and reported combat experiences.  Among women who gave birth, 16 to 17% screened positive for maternal depression who deployed and had combat-like experiences prior to or following childbirth. Rates were between 10 and 11% for women who did not deploy and between 7 and 8% for women who deployed and did not report combat-like experiences.

Moreover, we found that women who deployed after childbirth and experienced combat had twofold higher odds of screening positive for maternal depression compared with women who did not deploy after childbirth, after adjusting for prior mental health status, and demographic, behavioral, and military characteristics. However, this increased risk appeared to be primarily related to experiencing combat rather than childbirth experiences.

WK: Working with the Millennium Cohort Study7 benefitted the ability to investigate the relationship between military deployment and increased risk of maternal depression. Can you briefly describe the MCS and the process of working with it?

CL: Launched in the summer of 2001, the Millennium Cohort Study  is the largest longitudinal study of military service members, including active duty and Reserve/National Guard members from all services. The primary study objective is to evaluate the impact of military service on long-term health.  Since family relationships play an important role in the functioning and well-being of US military service members, in 2011 the Millennium Cohort Study was expanded to include spouses of military personnel. The overarching goal of this Family Study is to assess the impact of military service and deployment on family health.

Crisis line resources for active military and their familiesMilitary One Source1-800-342-9647

Crisis line resources for veterans and their families

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1-800-273-8255 (press 1)

Online chat is also available

WK: It was interesting that the rates were higher for women in the Army as compared to women serving in US Air Force or US Navy. Can you share the thinking around possible reasons for that difference?

CL: Women serving in the Army may be deployed longer and more frequently than those serving in the Air Force and Navy. In addition, there may be more ongoing imminent fear of deployment and while on deployment they may experience more intense or severe combat-like exposures, which may lead to increased risk of depression.

WK: How did you define combat-like exposure for your sample?

CL: Deployed women were classified as having combat-like exposures if they reported personal exposure to one or more of the following in the 3 years prior to follow-up: person’s death due to war, disaster, or tragic event; physical abuse; dead and/or decomposing bodies; maimed soldiers or civilians; or prisoners of war or refugees.

WK: One of the recommendations from your study was the need for early intervention and reintegration programs for service personnel. What are some examples that you would hope to see in the future? What role do you see childbirth education playing in the prevention or early intervention of maternal depression in military personnel? 

CL: Currently there are some programs that focus on supporting service members and families before, during, and after deployments, such as the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. This DoD (Department of Defense)-wide effort prepares Reserve and National Guard families for the challenges of deployment, educates them on programs that are available to help ease their concerns about reintegrating into the community, and provides information about seeking mental health care. While more services and programs are needed, these types of resources may successfully reduce the emotional and psychological impact of deployment. Childbirth education may play an important role as it may help couples understand and identify various feelings and symptoms related to mental disorders that may arise after childbirth. If educated, the mother or her partner may be more aware of certain symptoms and feel more comfortable seeking mental healthcare.

WK: The rate of comorbid PTSD in women who screened positive for depression was high (58%). Given what we know about the prevalence of PTSD following a traumatic childbirth in general population, what are your thoughts regarding how traumatic childbirth may have played a role? 

CL: We did not obtain any data on the childbirth experience itself, but it is possible that non-combat traumatic experiences, including traumatic childbirth, may have increased the risk for depression with comorbid PTSD.

WK: Would data on mode of delivery be useful in future studies?

CL: The Millennium Cohort Study does not currently obtain data on mode of delivery, but we could investigate mode of delivery among active service members using medical data records. We do not have current plans to examine mode of delivery, but it may be useful in future studies.

WK: What is the next phase of this important research?

CL: Currently, we are investigating the potential association between deployment and other related reproductive outcomes, like miscarriages and perceived impaired fecundity. We are also planning to examine depression among military spouses. We would like to better understand the inter-relationships and associations between service members and their spouses, including maternal depression and reproductive health outcomes.

WK: Many of our readers work with military families as childbirth professionals (doulas, lactation consultants, midwives, and childbirth educators). How would you recommend childbirth professionals integrate the findings in your study?

CL: The current findings add further evidence that screening and early intervention of depression among new mothers is critical, since parental depression can have a profound and lasting impact on children and families. In addition, the findings support the need for effective post deployment social support and reintegration programs, especially for women who have had combat-like experiences during deployment.

Conclusion

The service of the women in our military is a dedication for which I am grateful and humbled. The findings here underscore the critical need for better screening, intervention, and social support for childbearing women in the military who see combat during deployment.

As childbirth professionals, how do you see your role in supporting military women with mental health? And how might Lamaze become a champion in this area?

Acknowledgements

I would like to extend my appreciation to Ms. LeardMann for agreeing to the interview, and taking the lead in getting approval for its content.  Additional acknowledgement is extended to military personnel who participated in reading, reviewing and clearing the content for publication. And thanks to Sharon Muza for her continued support of the research regarding perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

References

  1. Gaynes BN, Gavin N, Meltzer-Brody S, et al. (2005). Perinatal depression: Prevalence, screening accuracy, and screening outcomes. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No.119. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, No. 05-E006-2.
  2. O’Hara MW, Swain AM. (1996). Rates and risk of postpartum depression: A meta-analysis. Int Rev Psychiatry,8, 37–54.
  3.  Peindl KS, Wisner KL, Hanusa BH. (2004). Identifying depression in the first postpartum year: Guidelines for office-based screening and referral. Journal of Affect Disord,80, 37–44.
  4. Rychnovsky, J. & Beck, C.T. (2006). Screening for postpartum depression in military women with the postpartum depression screening scale. Military Medicine,171, 1100-1104.
  5. Do, T., Hu, Z., Otto, J., & Rohrbeck, P. (2013). Depression and suicidality after first time deliveries during the postpartum period, active component service women and dependent spouses, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007-2012. Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, 20(9), 2-9.
  6. Nguyen, S., Leardman, C.A., Smith, B., Conlin, A. S., Slymen, D. J., Hooper, T. I., Ryan, M. A. K., & Smith, T. C. (2013). Is military deployment a risk factor for maternal depression? Journal of Women’s Health, 22(1), 9-18. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2012.3606
  7. Smith, T.C. (2009). The U.S. Department of Defense Millenium Cohort Study: Career span and beyond longitudinal follow-up. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 51, 1193-1201

About Walker Karraa

Walker Karraa, PhD is a perinatal mental health researcher, advocate and writer. She is currently a regular perinatal mental health contributor for Lamaze International’s Science and Sensibility,Giving Birth With Confidence, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) Midwives Connection.Walker has interviewed leading researchers and providers, such as Katherine Wisner, Cheryl Beck, Michael C. Lu and Karen Kleiman. Walker was a certified birth doula (DONA), and the founding President of PATTCh, an organization founded by Penny Simkin dedicated to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth. Walker is currently Program Co-Chair for the American Psychological Association (APA) Trauma Psychology Division 56. She is writing a book regarding her research on the transformational dimensions of postpartum depression. Walker is an 11 year breast cancer survivor, and lives in Sherman Oaks, CA with her two children and husband.


Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, Postpartum Depression, PTSD, Research, Uncategorized , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t Ever Give Up! An Interview with Katherine L Wisner, M.D., M.S. American Women In Science Award Recipient

April 30th, 2013 by avatar

“Childbirth educators are crucial front-line professionals in providing information to women about their risks for medical complications related to pregnancy and birth, and postpartum depression is a common problem.” – Dr. Katherine L Wisner

Katherine L. Wisner, M.D., M.S., has been involved in clinical work and research since the mid-1980′s. Prior to her medical training, she achieved a Master’s Degree in Nutrition. Dr. Wisner did a pediatrics internship, is board-certified in both adult and child psychiatry, and completed a 3-year postdoctoral training program (NIAAA-funded) in epidemiology. Her major interest area is women’s health across the life cycle with a particular focus on childbearing. In January 2011, Dr. Wisner was chosen as the recipient of AMWA’s Women in Science Award for the year 2011. Dr. Wisner is a Norman and Helen Asher Professor of Psychiatry and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Most recently, Dr. Wisner and colleagues (2013) published the largest American study to date (N = 10,000) investigating the value of screening for depression in postpartum period (4 to 6 weeks) using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)1

I know I speak for all in welcoming Dr. Wisner to Science and Sensibility.

_____________

Walker Karraa: Congratulations to you and your colleagues on this most recent JAMA Psychiatry study. The findings have significant implications regarding the value of screening for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. What role do you think childbirth education has in the area of perinatal mental health?

Dr. Wisner: Childbirth educators are crucial front-line professionals in providing information to women about their risks for medical complications related to pregnancy and birth, and postpartum depression is a common problem.  

WK: Should childbirth educators and doulas be trained to screen for PMADs? 

Dr. Wisner: My answer would be yes, but the controversy in the field is about routine screening – that women with depression can be identified, but getting them to mental health treatment if it exists outside the obstetrical care setting is difficult.  So the counterpoint is– why screen if we don’t have on-site, accessible, acceptable services for mental health?  My opinion is that we ought to work toward this model of integrated care rather than decide not to screen!   I certainly think childbirth educators and doulas can increase education and awareness and are often the first professionals that women call for help, so that group of women who want to and can access care can get the help they need.

WK: How could childbirth education organizations use this study to inform their practices and curriculum?

Dr. Wisner:The study provides evidence that the prevalence of depression is high both during and after pregnancy and evidence that screening is effective in identifying women with major mood disorders.  Women with psychiatric episodes certainly can be assured that they are not alone, which is a common belief of pregnant women and new mothers.  

WK: Due to the prevalence of self-harm ideation in postpartum period found in your study and other studies supporting this alarming rate, and the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of maternal death, how might childbirth education organizations and professionals address this critical problem?

Dr. Wisner:Screening with the EPDS, which has the item 10 self-harm assessment questions, and sensitive exploration of self-harm and suicidal ideation is the primary approach to suicide prevention.  It has to be identified before intervention can occur.  

WK: A remarkable finding in your study was the rate of bipolar disorder among women who had screened positive (10 or higher) on the EPDS. Additionally, among those with unipolar depression, there was high comorbidity for anxiety disorders. What are your thoughts as to how childbirth education might begin to help childbearing women unpack and understand the symptoms of anxiety in prenatal education?

Dr. Wisner: In our study we found that women with depression usually had an anxiety disorder that pre-dated the depressive episodes—this observation is true for women who are not childbearing as well.  Having anxiety or depression as a child or adolescent increases the risk for peripartum episodes.  There are excellent pamphlets and websites about perinatal depression (www.womensmentalhealth.org; www.postpartum.net) which can be used to frame a brief discussion and give to the patient for reference.  This also gives the message that talking about mental health before and during childbearing is an important topic, just like surgical births, anesthesia etc.    

WK: The data you have contributed to science are unsurpassed, yet early in your career many questioned whether postpartum depression was real, and doubted if you would be able to pursue a research career in postpartum mood disorders.

Dr. Wisner: Indeed!

WK: How did you persevere–and particularly in a male-dominated field?

Dr. Wisner: I got angry that so few data were available to drive care for pregnant and postpartum women and never let go of the importance of obtaining that information.  That motivation was coupled with a real joy in taking care of perinatal women and their beautiful babies!  

WK: Do you think there is still an underlying doubt as to whether postpartum depression (or perinatal mood/anxiety disorders) is real?

Dr. Wisner: Not in academic medicine, and I have not heard anyone say this in about a decade (thankfully!). 

WK: What is your favorite part of the research? Data collection, analysis, or interpretation?

Dr. Wisner: Publishing findings that make a difference in women’s lives, and holding the babies. 

WK: What new trends do you see in research as hopeful signs of progress?  

Dr. Wisner:  The incredible number of young clinicians and investigators who are interested in perinatal mental health.  Also,  our field has been so accepting of interdisciplinary enrichment of research questions.  

WK: What advice would you share with women in research today? 

Dr. Wisner: Network with  your colleagues inside and outside your organization frequently, attend perinatal mental health meetings and don’t ever give up!  

___________

What are your thoughts regarding Dr. Wisner’s expert opinion?   How do you currently address postpartum depression and anxiety in your childbirth classes?  After reading this interview and taking at look at Dr. Wisner’s just published research, might you reconsider how you teach about this important topic or change your approach?  Let us know in the comments section below- Sharon Muza, Community Manager

More about Dr. Wisner

Dr. Wisner’s research has been NIMH funded since she completed her post-doctoral training in 1988. She served on NIMH grant review sections continuously from 1994 to the present. Dr. Wisner completed was a founding member of the NIMH Data Safety and Monitoring Board, and is only the second American to be elected President of the Marce International Society for the study of Childbearing Related Disorders.

Her major interest area is women’s health across the life cycle with a particular focus on childbearing. She is a pioneer in the development of strategies to distinguish the effects (during pregnancy) of mental illness from medications used to treat it (Wisner et al,JAMA 282:1264-1269, 1999; MHR01-60335, Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy).

In recognition of her work, she was a participant in activities related to the FDA Committee to Revise Drug Labeling in Pregnancy and Lactation, a committee member for the National Children’s Study (Stress in Pregnancy), a consultant to the CDC Safe Motherhood Initiative and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Report Perinatal Depression: Prevalence, Screening Accuracy and Screening Outcomes.

Dr. Wisner was elected to membership in the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in 2005. She received the Dr. Robert L. Thompson Award for Community Service from Healthy Start, Inc., of Pittsburgh in 2006 and the Pennsylvania Perinatal Partnership Service Award in 2007 from the State of Pennsylvania. 

Dr. Wisner was the first American psychiatrist to collect serum from mothers and their breastfed infants for antidepressant quantitation as a technique to monitor possible infant toxicity. She published the only two placebo-controlled randomized drug trials for the prevention of recurrent postpartum depression and showed that a serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor was efficacious.

References 

1.Wisner, K.L., Sit, D., McShea, M. C., Rizzo, D.M., Zoretich, R.A., Hughes, C.L., Eng, H.F., Luther, J.F., Wisneiweski, S. R., Costantino, M.L., Confer, A.L., Moses-Kolko, E.L., Famy, C. S., & Hanusa, B.H. (2013). Onset timing, thoughts of self-harm, and diagnoses in postpartum women with screen-positive depression findings. JAMA Psychiatry, Published online March 13, 2013. Doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.87

 

Childbirth Education, Depression, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, New Research, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression, PTSD, Research , , , , , , , , ,

EMDR Part Three: Listening to Women; Personal Experiences of EMDR for Treating PTSD

February 28th, 2013 by avatar

In this series about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Part One looked at qualitative research evaluating EMDR as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (childbirth onset). In Part Two, EMDR clinicians weighed in on their feelings about the safety of EMDR during pregnancy. When those EMDR posts were published, I received a lot of behind the scenes feedback from women who either loved or hated their experiences with EMDR; there didn’t seem to be a middle ground!

Women Thrive When They Learn Emotional Skills Istock/GoldenKB

I felt these women’s voices need to be heard (many thanks to Sharon Muza, S&S Community Manager, for her gracious agreement!) The results are here: four interviews conducted with four real women who suffered from trauma in the perinatal period and tried EMDR.

It’s unfortunate these lovely women suffered extreme emotional turmoil at such an important time in their life; when they were working and hoping to build their emergent family and when they were primarily responsible for the safety and care of their infants.

Through sharing their stories, all women indicated to me that they hope that their voices will contribute to the collective movement to incorporate mental health care into the overall care of women and their families in the childbearing year.

Characteristics of Their Trauma

All of the women interviewed experienced trauma in the early postpartum period. Three suffered specifically from birth trauma; all experienced a severe perinatal mood disorder. Three of the women additionally were coping with complex, long-term, multi-layered emotional trauma, stemming back to abuse in childhood.

All of the women interviewed were seeing licensed therapists who incorporated EMDR into their overall treatment plan for trauma. Some asked to have their identities masked, so identifying details and names are obscured, but the overall personal statements and feelings are preserved.

They are empowering to all of us in that ALL of them valued their mental health and were brave enough to seek professional help!

Personal Healing Processes

The women interviewed are all emotionally mature adults. They’re aware of their life situations and the impact of trauma on their well-being. They’ve worked hard to explore and develop life-long skills and methods of managing their emotions. Thus, these are all women who are proactive, sophisticated and intelligent about their emotional healing processes. Before they used EMDR, all of the women had already incorporated many forms of healing into their personal self-care plans.

Their self-care plans included: long-term psychotherapy, journaling, expressive therapies such as art, music and movement, yoga, exercising, gardening, cognitive behavioral therapy, goal setting and medication. One woman indicated she was in so much pain from long-term, severe, past abuse she had seriously discussed electroconsulsive therapy with her psychiatrist. So, when their trusted therapists suggested trying EMDR, specifically designed to treat trauma, all the women agreed.

Personal Perinatal Traumatic Events:

In their own words, the women share their individualized, personal perinatal trauma experiences below.

Birth Trauma:

Kim (not her real name) shares her traumatic birth story:

“My son was born after an easy pregnancy but a complicated birth. I’d very nearly had a vaginal birth; the nurses could see the top of his head, but it was turning to the side each time I pushed. After nearly 2 hours of this, I underwent a c-section because I had spiked a fever and things were not progressing. During my c-section, I was overcome by anxiety and completely paralyzed by fear.

I literally thought I was dying as my son was being born, yet due to the panic, I was unable to verbalize this fear to anyone.

I spent that time shaking and having what I thought were my last panicked thoughts and breaths. It was the the most afraid I’ve ever been in my entire life, and also the most alone I’d felt, despite being surrounded by others.

After the surgery, I wasn’t able to hold my son for 3 hours. I spent the time in recovery, scared that something were wrong and nobody was telling me. I am still not sure of the reason for the delay.

My maternity leave felt long, due to postpartum anxiety and depression and a baby who barely slept and I cried nonstop some days. I felt like a terrible mother who was unable to console her child or enjoy him. I felt tremendous guilt. In addition to the emotional aspects, my c-section scar was not healing properly, so I felt as if I were constantly making a 30-mile trek (newborn in tow) to my ob-gyn’s office for checkups. “

Birth Trauma Layered on Childhood Trauma:

Karen (not her real name) said:

“My very traumatic birth triggered already active memories of severe childhood abuse, parental suicidal attempts in front of me, active alcoholism & substance abuse in the family and severe childhood neglect.”

Helen (not her real name) said:

“I was working on birth trauma at the start of the EMDR, but later on, abuse, illnesses, and marital distress. I was mainly focused on the birth trauma I had experienced when I used EMDR.”

Postpartum Traumatic Event Layered on Childhood Trauma:

Jessica Banas explained her perinatal trauma as such:

“I was traumatized by my childhood with my father. He was very emotionally abusive. Seeing him overdose (on a drug called GHB) the first night my parents were to supposed to have been watching my infant son for me, so I could rest, felt like the ultimate betrayal. Once again, not only were they NOT there for ME, but I had to SAVE them (again) instead!!!”

Women’s Experiences Show Us Moms with PTSD Suffer Co-morbid Perinatal Depression & Anxiety

It is fascinating and sad that all three women with pre-existing trauma stated their prior trauma was re-triggered by a perinatal traumatic event (traumatic birth or other traumatic event postpartum). And all four suffered from severe postpartum depression and anxiety after their traumatic perinatal event. A woman’s mental health is an important aspect of the childbearing year.

As discussed in a previous blog post, one in four women suffers depression at some point in her life, and women are more likely to suffer depression during and shortly after pregnancy than at any other time (Nonacs, 2006). Ruta Nonacs, MD (2011), editor-in-chief of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center of Women’s Mental Health’s website estimates annually in the US, there are about 4 million births, and about 950,000 to 1,000,000 mothers suffer from depression either during or after childbirth every year. 

Having a personal history of a mental illness in her lifetime, such as depression, anxiety, PTS/PTSD, OCD or bipolar disorder (remember, this is whether it was diagnosed & treated or undiagnosed & untreated) increases a woman’s risk of postpartum depression. A previous history of previous postpartum depression increases a woman’s risk of a recurrence to 50 – 80 % risk of recurrent PPD, as compared to a 10- 20% risk factor without having had a prior episode.

It’s important to note that the women’s constellation of PTSD symptoms intensified and they developed severe postpartum depression and anxiety.

Jessica eloquently states how important women’s mental health is to the postpartum period:

” One important symptom of my PTSD that complicated and worsened my PPD was when my infant son would cry and interrupt my ruminations of my father Od-ing. I’d get angry….that would trigger thoughts of wanting to harm my son and cause me great anxiety and incredible guilt…..there were many times I was too afraid if I went to tend to him, I’d treat him harshly, or hurt him This created such a sense of worthlessness and shame, I thought of suicide one night. Instead, I told my husband and we reached out and got help.

It is a very important aspect of PTSD in that I am personally aware how detrimental it is on PPD. My PPD rapidly escalated after getting PTSD. And one seemed to feed on the other. Getting treated for BOTH issues was very important.”

Women’s Experiences Show Us the EMDR Outcomes

Two very positive experiences

Kim’s Experience with Traumatic Birth & Postpartum Anxiety & EMDR

Kim, who suffered from birth trauma and postpartum anxiety, had a positive experience with EMDR. Here is her story of healing.

Kim said that her therapist incorporated EMDR into her current psychotherapy sessions. She said she hadn’t realized that she’d been suffering with PTSD until almost a year after the incident. She says she discovered her anxiety was stemming from a traumatic birth experience at a therapy session:

Kim says:

“…of course I’d had PTSD from thinking I was dying while my son was being born! My anxiety, which had a lot to do with waiting for something terrible to happen to me or my son, started to make sense in light of this new revelation.”

Kim experienced the EMDR itself as calming. She held tappers in her hands while her therapist led her through visualizations. Her therapist warned her that EMDR could be emotionally triggering and if she needed to call her, she was welcome to do so. And it was triggering for Kim. After her first session, she suffered from an anxiety attack and had to call her therapist, and received the help she needed.

Ultimately, Kim’s overall experience with EMDR was emotionally freeing and healing.

She goes on to say:

“Up until the EMDR, I was unable to speak about my c-section at all. I couldn’t see anything related to the birth experience (with or without c-sections involved) on television, either. If I caught a glimpse of a birth on TV, I cried. I had a lot of anxiety on the few occasions I tried to watch A Baby Story on TLC, as a test to see how I felt watching another woman’s experience.

After EMDR a few times, I became more comfortable thinking about and processing my experience, and even eventually talking about it with others. I no longer viewed my scar as something horrible and ugly. Having EMDR gave me back my confidence because it helped me stop seeing myself as a failure (because I needed a c-section instead of birthing vaginally). “

Kim would recommend EMDR to another person trying to recover from trauma, but with some warnings about the emotional response.

Jessica’s Experience of Postpartum Traumatic Event, PPD, Suicidal Ideation & EMDR

Jessica, who experienced the trauma of her father’s overdose while her parents were supposed to be watching her baby, had a positive experience with EMDR. Here is her story of healing:

Jessica said that her therapist incorporated EMDR into her current psychotherapy sessions. Her therapist suggested she try something “new” that would remove the sting of the trauma from her mind. Jessica was skeptical but thought she’d give it a try.

Jessica says:

“The EMDR was pretty much wrapped around by talk therapy in that we’d start out by talking and end up by talking… EMDR took the emotional ties from the traumatic memories away. I no longer find myself reliving any of those memories that were treated with EMDR. I no longer feel any emotional pain from the OD event. I have no loss of sleep, anger, depression, or any anxiety over that event.”

Jessica says she did not find the EMDR emotionally triggering at all, but many childhood memories came flooding back. .

“Not at all…frankly, I thought it was lame at first (wiggling a finger in my face? REALLY?) and had no hope it would have ANY effect at all. Once we (quickly) healed the OD trauma, memories from my childhood did come flooding back! I found that to be very interesting! Fortunately, my childhood was not as terrible as many, so I could handle this phenomenon.”

Jessica recommends EMDR:

“…as long as the person is seeing a well trained, compassionate therapist! EMDR helped me and I have gone on to suggest it to other people who were in pain as I was….those people have been healed by EMDR as well….I find it a useful treatment and extremely non-invasive compared to other treatments!!”

Two very negative experiences

Karen’s Experience with Birth Trauma, Past Trauma, PPD, PPA & EMDR

“My experience was physical and emotional and in both cases negative. I felt physically ill, vertigo, nausea. Disorientation, short-term memory loss, headache. Emotionally, it was detrimental as it brought up my most difficult trauma and I felt completely triggered. I tried to hang in there with the process, but only did a few sessions. The EMDR sessions were not processed with in-between traditional talk therapy sessions. The EMDR made my symptoms worse, my anxiety worse, and the neurological side-effects were horrible. While my therapist did a wonderful job at regrouping,  after we decided to stop doing it, I actually went up on my medications and saw her 2x a week for a while. It was just too much. What I think had happened to me was more resurfacing of old memories that I had compartmentalized in years of talk therapy and medication. I actually think I needed a medication adjustment when I was so desperate for relief. “

Karen would not personally recommend EMDR to another.

Helen’s Experience with Birth Trauma, Past Trauma, Postpartum Mental Health Complications & EMDR

“My therapist suggested the EMDR may be helpful for both traumas (birth and childhood). I had 6 sessions that were each an hour long. Some of this process was also traditional talk therapy in between the EMDR. I found EMDR not helpful in treating my traumas.”

“It was extremely triggering and the therapist pushed me into a lot of it. She would try to help me regroup by taking deep breaths and little breaks in between. But I always felt drained after each session and even more triggered with PTSD.”

Helen would not recommend EMDR for another person:

“I do not think I would personally recommend EMDR to another person for a trauma. I believe the therapist shoved me into it too soon and left me for days swirling in the emotions of that. I have heard it can be wonderful and healing for others. For me, it triggered too much to soon and my experienced left me more traumatized. I can’t think of those (EMDR) coping skills and techniques without feeling overwhelmed with memories.” 

Conclusions

As we can see from real women’s experiences, EMDR was extremely triggering to two of the women, but resolved emotional distress well for the two other women. Again we are reminded that one size does not fit all when it comes to treating mental health.

The women’s experiences indicated that when working with EMDR for trauma, even experienced and trusted therapists encountered strong triggering responses in their clients. In these instances, these therapists needed to know how to appropriately re-group and therapeutically support their clients either in the session and/or be appropriately available outside of scheduled sessions.

It was not appropriate for a therapist to urge a client to try or keep using EMDR if the client did not really want to, or if the client was having an overall non-therapeutic effect.

As we can see from these real women’s experiences, the treatment of post-traumatic stress has the potential to be devastating to the client as far as awakening or re-triggering compartmentalized past emotional distress.

In this small article and small example, it is interesting to me that the four women who volunteered to share their stories in this small had extreme reactions to EMDR, none neutral. These results reinforce my usual conservative approach to managing emotional distress, that is, if one is suffering from debilitating mental and emotional distress, it is best to consult with a licensed professional.

What I find empowering about these interviews is that ALL of these women VALUED their mental health and were brave enough to seek help. Fight the stigma! Don’t be afraid to get help!

Author’s Note: None of these women were or are my clients. I sought out non-clients for the purpose of these interviews.

References

Nonacs, R. (2006). A deeper shade of blue. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Birth Trauma, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Depression, Do No Harm, EMDR, Evidence Based Medicine, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression, Pregnancy Complications, PTSD, Research, Trauma work , , , , , , , ,

The Unexpected Project: Pre-eclampsia Researched, Revealed and Reviewed. Part II of an interview with Jennifer Carney

February 7th, 2013 by avatar

By: Walker Karraa

Regular contributor Walker Karraa wraps up her interview with Jennifer Carney, who became active with The Preeclampsia Foundation and the Unexpected Project after suffering from eclampsia while pregnant with her second child.  Have you had to answer any questions in your classes or with your clients and patients after the recent episode of Downton Abbey, where one of the characters developed eclampsia?  What have you shared with your pregnant families? Part one of Walker’s interview with Jennifer Carney can be found here. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager.  

Walker: What do you see are the common myths regarding pre-eclampsia?

JC: Common myths? Oh, there are so many. A lot of people seem to think they know what causes preeclampsia and how to cure it. There’s a whole faction of advocates who buy into the work of Dr. Tom Brewer, who in the 1960′s, devised a very high protein diet for mothers based on the idea that preeclampsia is caused by malnutrition. This isn’t supported by the current research, but it gets repeated all the time. Other people argue that preeclampsia is a so-called “lifestyle” disease – caused by obesity and poor prenatal care. Obesity is a risk factor, but it is only one of many and poor prenatal care can cause the disease to go undetected, but it will not cause it to happen in the first place. There are also a lot of people who think that the delivery of the baby will end the risk to the mother – and while it’s true that the removal of the placenta is essential, preeclampsia or eclampsia can still happen up to 6 weeks after delivery. There are other myths, but it strikes me that so many of these myths are rooted in a desire to control pregnancy. If we can blame preeclampsia on one central cause or on the women who develop it themselves, then we can reassure ourselves that we won’t develop it, too. There are risk factors that can increase a woman’s chances of developing the disease, but women without any known risk factors have developed it, too.

It’s not comforting to think that no one is safe, but with knowledge of the signs and symptoms – a woman can react to it promptly and receive the care that she needs. But this will only happen if women get the information and understand that it CAN happen to them. I am blown away by the ways in which preeclampsia and other serious complications are downplayed and dismissed in pregnancy books, online and even by some medical practitioners. Preeclampsia CAN happen to you – but you can deal with it IF you know the signs and the symptoms.

Walker: Can you share with our readers what you are doing with Anne Garrett Addison at The Unexpected Project?

JC: The Unexpected Project is a documentary, website, and book project that will examine the rate of maternal deaths and near-misses in the United States. Anne Garrett Addison, who founded the Preeclampsia Foundation, and I are both classified as near-misses due to preeclampsia. With Unexpected, we want to take a look at all maternal deaths regardless of the cause – preeclampsia, amniotic fluid embolism, hemorrhage, placenta previa, placental abruption, infection, suicide, and any other causes. We also want to look at the women who survived these complications because the line between surviving and dying is in these cases, often quite thin. Every case is different and there is no one factor to blame for the maternal death rate in the US. We will look at interventions and cesarean sections, but we will also look at the lack of information available to women and the tendency of some birth activists to minimize the dangers of serious birth complications.

Current Preeclampsia/Eclampsia StatisticsMaternal mortality and morbidity are, unfortunately, a part of the pregnancy and childbirth experience for women and their families in the US and the world.  While most (99%) of maternal mortalities occur in the developing world, the 1% that occur in developed countries like the US are still of concern to maternity care providers and advocates.  Indeed, U.S. still ranks 50th in the world for its maternal mortality rate (1).

More common than a maternal death, are severe short- or long-term morbidities due to obstetric complications (2).  Some estimate that unexpected complications occur in up to 15% of women who are otherwise healthy at term (2).  

In particular, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, including elevated blood pressure, preeclampsia, eclampsia and HELLP syndrome are estimated to affect 12-22% of pregnant women and their babies worldwide each year. (3)  Adverse neonatal outcomes are higher for infants born to women with pregnancies complicated by hypertension.  

In the U.S., upwards of 8 percent or 300,000 pregnant or postpartum women develop preeclampsia or the related condition, HELLP syndrome each year. This number is growing as more women enter pregnancy already hypertensive (cite).  Preeclampsia is still a leading cause of pregnancy-related death in the US and one of the most preventable.  Annually, approximately 300 women die and another 75,000 women experience “near misses” – severe complications and injury such as organ failure, massive blood loss, permanent disability, and premature birth or death of their babies.  Usually, the disease resolves with the birth of the baby and placenta. But, it can occur postpartum–indeed, most maternal deaths occur after delivery.

Recent statistics from Christine Morton, PhD.

The trend toward “normal” or “natural” birth does not seem to allow a lot of space for our stories to be heard or to be told. This has the effect of making survivors feel marginalized – as though their experience is somehow too far outside “normal” to be a part of the overall conversation. The one constant of all of our stories is that none of us expected to become statistics. Our birth plans did not include emergency cesarean sections, seizures, ICUs, blood transfusions, strokes, hysterectomies, CPR, prematurity, PTSD, depression, or death. No one was more surprised than us. This isn’t about assigning blame – this is about finding answers, improving birth for ALL moms to come, and learning to live with the unexpected.

Walker: How did you get involved with researching for the Preeclampsia Foundation?

JC: I started out volunteering with the March of Dimes in the spring following my son’s birth. I started a walk team and raised money, hoping that I would be able to meet other moms who had been through something similar. I felt very alone in the months following his birth. I was dealing with postpartum depression (PPD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and struggling to feel normal again. I had a premature infant – which meant sleeping through the night was a problem for a long time. When I returned to work, I was greeted by a coworker who declared that she now no longer wanted to have children because of what I had gone through. This weighed heavily on me – and I felt like I was the cautionary tale, the one bad pregnancy story that everyone knows. I know I had never heard a story as bad as mine – so I felt deflated, flattened by the whole thing.

With the March of Dimes, I found moms to help me deal with the preemie part of it. As he matured and grew out of the preemie issues, I found that I still had a lot of issues to deal with regarding my own health – both physically and mentally. I decided to volunteer with the Preeclampsia Foundation after they merged with the HELLP Syndrome Society.  The Preeclampsia Foundation is much smaller than the March of Dimes, which allowed me to be much more active as a volunteer. I was able to use my writing and editing skills to work on the newsletter – and when I suggested that someone do a review of the available pregnancy literature based on how well they cover preeclampsia, I was given the opportunity to conduct that research and write the report myself. This was something I had been doing informally in bookstores for a while anyway, so it felt good to be able to look at the literature and confirm that the information really is severely lacking if not downright misleading in a large number of so-called comprehensive books. It really isn’t my fault that I missed the symptoms.

This year, I am coordinating the Orange County, California Promise Walk in Irvine as part of the foundation’s main fundraising campaign on May 18. I am hoping to bring a mental health expert from the California Maternal Mental Health Collaborative out to the walk to talk to the moms about dealing with the emotional impact of their birth experiences.  Many of these moms lost babies, delivered preemies, or suffered severe health issues of their own. Our community as a whole is at a very high risk for mental health issues, myself included.

It wasn’t until this year – 6 years after the birth of my son – that I finally sought professional help dealing with the PTSD from the very difficult birth experience. I feel that the volunteer work helped fill that spot for the past 6 years and brought me to the point where I can now process the trauma in a healthy way. I am not happy that I had eclampsia, but I am beyond grateful for all of the great people that it has indirectly brought into my life.

Closing Thoughts

To have to wait 6 years to receive the vital treatment for PTSD is a travesty. We are so thankful that Jennifer survived both the initial trauma, but endured its legacy of traumatic stress that lingers today. Unfortunately, PTSD subsequent to traumatic childbirth is growing in prevalence, and under-recognized by the majority of women’s health and maternity care providers.  I have learned a great deal from Jennifer and look forward to the work she and her colleagues will continue to do for the benefit of all women.

References

1.  WHO. Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2008 estimates developed by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank, World Health Organization 2010, Annex 1. 2010. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2010/9789241500265_eng.pdf. Last accessed:January 3, 2011.

2. Guise, J-M.  Anticipating and responding to obstetric emergencies.  Best Practice and Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2007; 21 (4): 625-638

3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Diagnosis and management of preeclampsia and eclampsia; ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 33. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2002;99:159-167. 

 

Birth Trauma, Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, Maternal Mortality, Maternity Care, News about Pregnancy, Postpartum Depression, Pre-eclampsia, Pre-term Birth, Pregnancy Complications, PTSD , , , , , , , , , , ,

Beyond Downton Abbey: The True Life Trauma of Pre-eclampsia, Eclampsia, and Its Psychological Aftermath—An Interview with Jennifer Carney of The Unexpected Project

February 5th, 2013 by avatar

By Walker Karraa

Regular contributor Walker Karraa interviews Jennifer Carney, a mother of two, who suffered from eclampsia at the beginning of her third trimester.  Jennifer shares her real life story, on the heels of a favorite character’s similar experience on the popular TV show “Downton Abbey.”  Today, we learn about Jennifer’s experience and on Thursday we learn more about resources and organizations working hard to make this potentially deadly disease less harmful to pregnant and postpartum women.  - Sharon Muza, Community Manager

Introduction: 

http://flic.kr/p/dJBJhW

The recent episode of “Downton Abbey” brought much needed attention to the maternal health issue of pre-eclampsia. Why is it we rely on fiction for permission to get real? Where is the line between evidence-based research and fictional representations of the lack of it? How do we encourage each other and the next generation of maternal health advocates to harness the undeniable power of media but not become part of a social construction of maternal mortality as not real? As a qualitative researcher, I believe that some of our best evidence stems from researching real experiences from real women. It is my pleasure to introduce a real woman who experienced the full range of eclampsia and its psychological aftermath: Jennifer Carney.

Note: Consultation with Science and Sensibility contributor, Christine Morton, PhD was conducted to insure accurate and current statistical data regarding pre-eclampsia and eclampsia. 

Walker: Jennifer, can you tell us your story?

JC: My second pregnancy was easier than my first. Up until it wasn’t. I conceived as soon as we started trying. We had no soft markers on the ultrasounds, no need for an amnio, and no borderline gestational diabetes. I was only 34 and with a successful full-term first pregnancy; I was considered “safe” from preeclampsia. The only risk factor I had was my weight, but even with that, statistically my risks were much lower than for a healthy first time mom. There was something about it that seemed too easy. I felt like the other shoe was going to drop – but I never imagined that it would fall with such force.

In my 32nd week, I began to feel ill – like I had the flu. I took a day off from work to rest and recover. I thought I was getting better, but that night I began feeling worse. I called in sick to work again – it was a Friday – and my husband and son went off to work and daycare. I was alone. I laid down and slept for about 4 hours. When I awoke, I felt much, much worse. The headache radiated out from behind my eyes. I was seeing spots. I was incapable of thinking clearly. The phone rang several times, but the receiver was not on the base. I couldn’t locate it before the answering machine picked up. By this point I was aware that something was very wrong, but I wasn’t able to do anything about it. I stayed on the couch, barely moving for as long as I could.

Signs and Symptoms of Pre-eclampsia

  •  High blood pressure. 140/90 or higher. A rise in the systolic (higher number) of 30 or more, or the diastolic (lower number) of 15 or more over your baseline might be cause for concern.
  • Protein in your urine. 300 milligrams in a 24 hour collection or 1+ on the dipstick.
  • Swelling in the hands, feet or face, especially around the eyes, if an indentation is left when applying thumb pressure, or if it has occurred rather suddenly.
  • Headaches that just won’t go away, even after taking medications for them.
  • Changes in vision, double vision, blurriness, flashing lights or auras.
  • Nausea late in pregnancy is not normal and could be cause for concern.
  • Upper abdominal pain (epigastric) or chest pain, some- times mistaken for indigestion, gall bladder pain or the flu.
  • Sudden weight gain of 2 pounds or more in one week.
  • Breathlessness. Breathing with difficulty, gasping or panting.

If you have one or more of these signs and symptoms, you should see your doctor or go to an emergency room immediately. 
Source: Preeclampsia Foundation

Sometime after 5:00, I realized that I was going to have to call someone else to pick up my son at daycare by the 6:00 closing time. I managed to get to my feet and stagger toward the kitchen. I reached out to steady myself on the counter and missed. I fell to my left, onto the hard tile floor in front of the stove. I knew this was bad, but all I could think was that I had to hold on and that someone would be coming. I told myself that I couldn’t let this happen. Shortly thereafter, I tried to scream and felt the beginning of what I later learned was a tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure.  

This was eclampsia – full blown seizures caused by extremely high blood pressure. Somehow, I held on. Somehow, I held on in this state for something like 3 full hours. I have no way of knowing how many seizures I had in that time. When my friend arrived after 8:00, she found me on the floor. I came to long enough to answer her question – “yes, I know where I am. I’m fine.” I tried to get up – and immediately started seizing again. She called 911 and within minutes the paramedics arrived. 

My son was born, not breathing, about an hour later. The doctors were able to revive him, thankfully. He went off to the NICU and I was sent to the ICU. Two days later, I regained consciousness. I was on a respirator and completely disoriented. I was later diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, eclampsia, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and sepsis – any of which can be fatal on their own. My son was moved to another hospital with a larger NICU, and I spent 8 days in the hospital where he was born. I saw him briefly before they transferred him – but was unable to hold him until after I was discharged – more than a week after he was born. For the next 20 days, I was only able to see him and hold him during daily visits to the NICU. It would be 4 full weeks from his birth before we could take him home to meet his 4 ½  year old brother for the first time. This was definitely not what we had envisioned.

This experience changed my entire perspective on life. It was the first significant health crisis that I had ever faced and it shook my sense of security and safety. It took a long time to recover physically from the trauma and emotionally I was just a wreck. I was aware that Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was a possibility, but I think the picture I had in my mind of what PTSD was turned out to be very different from the ways in which I experienced it. I had envisioned a quick, big breakdown – but the reality was much subtler. At first, I experienced an aversion to seeing pregnant women. I wanted to warn them, but I also could barely look at them. It manifested in other ways, too – dreams about seizures, muscle spasms, intrusive thoughts. But it felt manageable and the antidepressants helped control the runaway anxiety that had hampered my first postpartum experience 4 years earlier.

Photo: J. Carney 

The mental health issues were helped by the antidepressants, but I wish that I had tried therapy much sooner. It’s doing wonders for me now – but I waited over 6 years to try it. Today, my preemie is in kindergarten and doing well. Aside from my son, getting involved with the March of Dimes and Preeclampsia Foundation has been by far the best part of the whole experience. I wouldn’t change that part, at all.

Walker: How is mental health neglected in the overall understanding of the topic, treatment, and recovery?

JC: This is a huge problem. I got great care while I was in the hospital. I saw social workers, chaplains, and a wide variety of people who inquired after my pain levels and my coping skills. The problem with this is that I was on massive pain killers the whole time. Percocet and morphine can mask emotional pain as well as physical pain. I’m sure I came off as reasonably well adjusted to the whole experience, despite the mental confusion left over from the seizures and the serious health issues that remained. And I was relatively okay. Even during the month-long NICU stay, I was doing all right. I was sleeping well, eating, taking care of myself – but I was also still on Percocet. It smoothed over the rough edges.

It wasn’t until the help dried up, the prescriptions ran out, and the reality of being at home by alone with an infant to care for that the walls started to come down again. Here I was at the scene of the initial trauma, cooking at the same stove that I had seized in front of for hours, responsible for a premature infant who needed drugs to remind him to breathe. This is when I needed the help. This is when I needed information on PTSD and postpartum depression (PPD). This is when I needed support. And as I began the long process of understanding what had happened and why, I found I needed even more support to help me wrap my head around it all.

As I noted while talking about myths, there is a pervasive culture of blame in the overall birth discussion regarding preeclampsia. It can be hard to find information that doesn’t make you feel that you somehow brought this condition on yourself. I looked at the risk factors and the arguments about lifestyle, obesity, and diet – and found a lot of things that sounded like they made sense. But they only made sense if I internalized them and blamed myself for the shortcomings. Maybe it was my fault. This, as you can imagine, does not help the feelings of depression and trauma. It took a LONG time for me to come to the conclusion that there was no way for me to have known that this would happen or to have prevented it. Statistically speaking, I had a very low chance of developing eclampsia even with the risks factored in. Statistically speaking, my son and I should not have survived, either. But we did – and now I want to make sure that I use that in a meaningful way. 

Walker: Did your childbirth education prepare you for your experience?

JC: Heck no. I only took classes with my husband before our first child. We weren’t planning to take the classes again with the second, but since he was born at 7 months, we probably would have missed most of them even if we had planned to. I distinctly remember the childbirth educator talking about her own response to sleeplessness, which was a sort of slap happy, giddy reaction. She mentioned PPD, but not in any real way that conveyed the depths or potential seriousness of the condition. We also received almost no information on pregnancy complications. To me, preeclampsia meant high blood pressure – and I had never had problems with that before. It was totally off my radar. Plus, Preeclampsia very rarely happens in a second pregnancy if it didn’t happen in the first. So, no one prepared me for it. Not my doctor, not my classes, not my books.

Walker: What recommendations do you have for childbirth educators and doulas regarding this issue?

JC: Really, I think it comes down to trusting that the moms you are helping can handle the information that they NEED to know. I was alone. If I had known that these symptoms could mean eclampsia or preeclampsia, I might have been able to save myself from the seizures – which would have also likely saved me from the ARDS and pneumonia. My ICU stay might have not happened. My son was going to be born early – but if I had gone to my doctor or called an ambulance myself, it might not have been so close a call. It’s not my fault that I didn’t know – but it could have been tragic.  

Know the signs and symptoms. Know that a woman with severe PE might be having cognitive issues – confusion, and vision problems. Don’t ask her to drive. Don’t downplay distress. And take complaints of headaches, upper quadrant pain, nausea, diarrhea, shoulder pain, visual disturbances, and a general feeling that something is “off” seriously. And if you have a client or patient that experiences something like this, please follow up and ask about mental health issues. Be careful not to ask questions that can be answered with the words: “I’m fine”. Dig deeper.

Closing Thoughts

How might we increase our understanding of this issue through Jennifer’s story? Is it possible to begin a dialogue here–one in which we agree to change paradigms of learning and knowing women’s experiences beyond an episode of a fictional television show?  Jennifer presents an exemplar synthesis of the fullest range of insight possible when empirical and phenomenological considerations are employed.. Her lived experience combined with and through her knowledge of the evidence creates an exemplar of how knowing and knowledge cannot be divided if the pursuit of knowledge is truly desired.

In the next installment, scheduled for February 7th,  Jennifer reflects on common myths about PE, and her work with the Unexpected Project and the Preeclampsia Foundation.   

Birth Trauma, Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, NICU, Postpartum Depression, Pre-eclampsia, Pre-term Birth, Pregnancy Complications, PTSD , , , , , , , , , , , , ,