I’ve come home from the dentist today feeling shattered. I’ve struggled with medical appointments since Poppy’s birth. I was not treated well during surgery and that left me furious and frozen in medical settings. I’m very overdue for dental care and have started the grueling process of attending appointments for 11 new fillings. It was miserable today, my saliva thickened and I gagged a lot with my neck extended to allow access to the inside of my top front teeth. It took nearly 2 hours and other teeth are still irritated and sensitive from the previous session.
I’ve never been able to write Poppy’s birth story. Now so many of the details are hazy. I’ve struggled to understand the impact on me and the contradictions in the experience. I’ve felt deeply unreasonably humiliated by my struggles. I know trauma, it’s one of my major areas. I had PTSD at 14. I’ve read the things and been to the therapy and run the workshops and supported others. Somehow instead of creating grace for myself, my experience drowned me in shame. I should be immune? I should be able to deal with this? I shouldn’t feel the way I do. I trekked through a number of birth trauma specialists I didn’t find helpful, froze and forced myself through dentists and pelvic exams hoping I would just adapt. Then turned away from the whole mess.
Lately going to prenatal appointments I’ve run into all these ghosts. Going for a scan and finding myself in the room where they confirmed Tam had died. There’s ghosts of me throughout the hospital, screaming soundlessly and running with dark hair matted and white gown flailing. A portrait of derangement and madness. I sit in appointments, incoherent with rage and painfully aware that I present as rude, distrustful, obnoxious. All my energy goes into not screaming, stuffing all the words back into my mouth, not shaking, not biting the hand that touches without permission, not raving at the language that is so devoid of the concept of consent. There’s nothing left for the smiling and eye contact and apologetic shrug and recruiting them to accommodate us in any tiny way. I’m so tired until I’m sitting there, then I’m so angry and so aware my anger instantly strips me of any credibility or power I might have had in this place. They think of trauma as the panic attack, the victim. I am on fire with fury, watching their every move and listening to every word and seeing ghosts of myself weeping and running through every corridor, abandoned and untended.
So we’ve put aside some money to spend on a good dentist, and today on catching an uber home again because I’m usually too ill to drive afterwards and couldn’t find a lift. She uses the anaesthetic that doesn’t work as well but I’m less allergic to. And she says things like “you’re in control, let me know anytime you need a break”. I lay very still and my tears roll down my temples into my hair.
I come home and Nightingale brings me mashed potato and pasta and sympathy. I’m going to hurt for weeks and it’s exhausting.
I’m talking to people about birth trauma and how stuck and silent and alone I’ve felt. I know better. I know shame isolates. I know hundreds and thousands of other people will have come through something similar. I know how to use art, writing, talking, and research to process things. I know that knowledge doesn’t protect you from experience. I know it’s not punishment. I know self compassion is crucial. And I know it’s difficult to do when no one in the medical environment sees the injury, or responds with compassion. It’s difficult when it makes you feel weak and vulnerable. It takes patience. And a dentist who’s had good trauma informed care training. I wanted to be doing that training by now. Frustration and roads untraveled.
I feel voiceless a great deal of the time about most of my life, in a way I can’t express well or articulate even to myself. There’s been so many changes and challenges to my ideas about my life, my relationships, who I am, what it means and what to expect. Trying to understand late in life diagnoses of autism and ADHD, what they are, what that means for me, my family, my children. The ending of an eight year relationship with the parent of my child. Beloved Star cut contact with all of us last year after joining a church. Getting married, a new baby. Work stabilising and becoming less overwhelming. The awareness in the back of my mind that I’ve been diagnosed with something that indicates I lack social awareness and the resulting severe loss of confidence to speak and own my own story. Lost about how to be authentic and work, navigate complex relationships, parent. I miss having a voice and a community. I put a call out yesterday for help to attend the dentist and got no reply. Covid has not been kind. There are empty gaps in my world and they hurt. There’s so many ghosts.
I have birth trauma. I’m trying to find my voice again. I’m trying to make sense of which stories I can share and how. Today I was brave. I’m hurting. I’m not alone. We’re all alone. It is what it is. I’d rather take the slower and more dignified route to knowledge, through study. But lived experience brings not just the silence and scars, when we wrestle with it, it comes with powerful inside knowledge. When we can speak we break the shame that binds us all. I didn’t think it would happen to me, but it did. I didn’t think I would get stuck, but I did. I couldn’t fix this one myself. But someone like me must have found a way to speak to a dentist and because of them I could get broken teeth fixed today. And tomorrow I’ll pay that forwards.