As a parent, you play a significant role in shaping the mental well-being of your…
Triggers are Everyone’s Problem
July 14, 2023
Written by Autumn Gordon-Chow
The other day at school pickup I was standing with a group of moms while the kids played on the playground. We chatted about my three boys as they stood huddled near each other on the basketball court just in front of us. The three of them, staggered in height, but looking otherwise identical, became a topic of conversation. People are always curious about triplets – everyone has questions. Most often I get asked who’s the oldest. The answer always surprises people because my biggest boy is actually my youngest, by nine whole minutes. When I tell people that he was the last one born they say “Oh! But he’s the tallest!” I should start joking that those extra nine minutes of cooking time gave him his height advantage.
I described their birth order and explained that he came out last because he was breech and kind of stuck. The conversation evolved and before I knew it we were all reliving our birth stories, which were both beautiful and terrifying. It became obvious that our experiences, though vastly different, shared a common thread – we had all experienced trauma surrounding the births of our children.
Post-Traumatic Mental Health
Something about reliving the day that my triplets were born always brings me back to the trauma of the pregnancy. Maybe I can’t think back on that day without acknowledging the journey it took to get there. The most incredible moments of my life were the ones in which I heard three separate cries as they left my womb at 32 weeks gestation. In each of the moments that I heard their cries, a weight was lifted. By the third cry, nine minutes after I heard the first, most of the fear I had felt up to this point escaped my body and floated into the cold and sterile air of the delivery room. Never in my entire life had I felt such immense relief. The nurses swiftly introduced me to each of the babies, one at a time, then whisked them away. In the fraction of a second I was able to lay eyes on each of them for the first time, more of the weight was lifted. The previous seven months of worry and anxiety slipped away with each breath I took, and in each tear that rolled down the side of swollen cheeks. At the time, I didn’t realize that this release of fear wasn’t permanent. It hadn’t actually evaporated into the air of the delivery room – it kind of just loomed there for awhile, before seeping back in.
I hadn’t realized that every traumatic moment surrounding their entrance into this world and every one after it would continue to live within me – in the deepest parts of me. I hadn’t realized I could still be so afraid of the worst possible outcome, despite experiencing the only one we ever hoped for. Once they finally made their way into the world I thought I could breathe again and I did. But it didn’t take long before I realized that I would continue to relive the many moments when we were afraid we’d lose them.
Every one of those moments has stayed with me. The pressure to terminate during the pregnancy because of the risk. The misdiagnosis of a life-threatening complication. The hemorrhage that left me bleeding through the bed and onto the ED floor at just 11 weeks. The growth restriction. The preterm labor scares and the devastating loss of so many twins and triplets in our online community and among some of my dearest friends . All of that changed my psyche forever. It took me years to come to terms with it, but I finally acknowledged that the experience was traumatic and the aftermath, tumultuous. The panic attacks, the incessant fear and waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air.
The other moms listened intently to my story with empathetic expressions. You could see the pain in their faces as they listened, and it was obvious they were reliving their own traumatic experiences. We talked about how we all had emergency c-sections and how the events leading up to and during we would never forget. One mom thought she was going to die. The other’s baby almost did.
As I listened, and I saw the emotion in their faces, I heard the lump rising in their throats through the words that they spoke. I realized, though we stood several feet apart, unattached in any way physically, we were one. Her pain was my pain, and my pain was hers.
We all walked into motherhood with an expectation about how it was supposed to be. We were bound by the fact that none of us were prepared to have it shake us to our core. We had no idea how profoundly it would change us.
We all had worked through the trauma we experienced to be standing there, in that moment, talking about it out loud. But it was apparent that it wasn’t gone. It probably would never be.
I spent some time reflecting that night. I was surprised I shared as much as I did. I rarely talk about the experience publicly. Though it was immensely cathartic. But it got me thinking more deeply. About how we, as society, treat people and their trauma. How we respect (and sometimes don’t) the difficult experiences others have whether we relate to them or not. I thought about a post I had recently seen on Facebook. It was one of those posts that gave me pause. At first glance, I got it. But when I saw it from a different perspective, it left me feeling uneasy. It said. “Your triggers are your responsibility. It isn’t the world’s obligation to tiptoe around you.”
Triggers are often connected to trauma. I admit they aren’t always. But I don’t think we get to evaluate anyone’s triggers for validity. Why would we want that burden? Without it then, how do we respect the experiences of others? And, shouldn’t we?
I don’t disagree that it is our responsibility to heal our traumas. Yes, healing trauma is important work. Yes, it’s necessary for our well being, and in some cases, our survival. I’ve walked the path of healing and it was incredibly difficult and incredibly powerful. And it was my responsibility. But I did not do it alone. I only healed and (partially) overcame my triggers with the help of those who had the wherewithal and compassion to hold space for it.
I’m grateful for living a life where I have access to a therapist and supportive friends and family. I am fortunate to regularly experience human empathy and kindness. I can’t imagine healing my trauma in the absence of those things. I’m privileged to have those resources available to me. But I know not everyone is so fortunate. Not everyone has the stability or strength to access the resources necessary for healing. Some have very limited access.
What is my responsibility, as a human being, is to acknowledge other people’s experiences and how they encourage their interaction in the world. So, while I don’t plan to tiptoe around anyone, I will make an effort to understand the things I do not. I will hold space for people who need it. I think it would serve all of us if we accepted responsibility for each other. If we all moved through life with more kindness and willingness for understanding. I don’t think we need to assume responsibility for anyone’s triggers. But I do think we should want to do better. We should want people to live with peace. I think we should take responsibility for raising the standards. Afterall, we have a generation of children watching us, following in our footsteps.
This blog was originally published on Autumn’s blog about motherhood and mental health.