Family life

Why my daughter's birthday is a PTSD trigger

"The day I officially became a mother was also a day of intense physical and psychological trauma for me."

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Anna blows out the candles at her Wizard of Oz-themed birthday party last September.

Last week, my daughter, Anna, turned five. It was a more emotional birthday than previous years for a variety of reasons.

Five feels like a conclusion to the “little kid” years and, for me, it signals the end of the early days of parenthood. My daughter even seems different now: She’s more mature, learning to read, more rational and is capable of carrying on different types of conversations.

Adding to all of this is the fact that it’s impossible not to remember her birthday as the day I gave birth. To many, this might seem redundant. Maybe it even comes across as a bit selfish—her birthday should be hers, after all. But the day I officially became a mother was also a day of intense physical and psychological trauma for me. When I wrote about experiencing PTSD in the aftermath of my labour, I was taken aback by the number of women it resonated with. Surely then, others must also make the same associations when it comes to their kids’ birthdays.

I’m an extreme birthday person, you might say. I like to make them multi-day affairs, with treats, meals and other celebrations leading up to the party. I lack many skills, but I am good at picking out gifts and am adept at secret overnight banner-hanging and streamer-wrangling. Four of Anna’s five birthday parties have been themed. Because I like birthdays, and have passed this down, I want to be present in celebrating my daughter’s big day. But I can’t help but be thrown off.

I think about giving birth much less frequently than I used to, which I’m sure is normal. I think about it most when considering the possibility of getting pregnant again. People around me aren’t having babies at the rate that they were a few years ago, so I don’t talk about childbirth as much as I did in the past. And, as my kid gets older, people rarely ask me about her birth story, if ever. But it’s there, the memory, and it surfaces in a big way in the days leading up to her birthday.

I’m lucky to have a friend who shares these associations. Or, rather, it’s unlucky that her son’s birthday is a trauma trigger for her, but I’m fortunate that she was able to identify what was happening to me. An article published in Salon just months after my daughter was born said nine percent of women experience PTSD postpartum. In other PTSD-related situations, it’s advised to avoid triggers, but your own kid’s birthday isn’t really avoidable.

For the time being, I do my best at distracting myself through planning her party. I’m not sure I topped last year’s Wizard of Oz party (pro tip: Candy Blox make a great yellow brick road, see cake above), but I went all out for this year’s space theme—we pinned spacecrafts on the moon and attempted to launch a bottle rocket. But even that doesn’t make it go away entirely. Can anyone else relate to this? I need to know if it ever passes.

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a five-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.

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