From Baby Brain to PTSD and ADHD: My Journey to Understanding and Overcoming Birth Trauma

adhd adhd symptoms birth experience birth partner support birth trauma coping strategies dual diagnosis healing journey healing post c-section mental health awareness mental health support obstetricviolence parenting challenges post natal anxiety post natal depression postpartum challenges postpartum mental health psychotherapy ptsd ptsd symptoms resilience trauma recovery Mar 28, 2024

It took me 32 years after my experience of birth trauma to understand my difficulty paying attention, impulsivity, and restlessness. All characteristics of both PTSD and ADHD, as we now know today. In the early days post my c-section and failed anaesthetic I was also plagued with anxiety, hyperarousal, insomnia, and hypervigilance.

One day my forgetfulness and inattention led me to leave my newborn baby under the bench in the bank one day to my horror! Luckily, he had four siblings in the car who noticed the empty baby capsule.

Thankfully, we know much more about the links between the two conditions and have more resources and support to help people overcome or manage the symptoms better. When I first experienced PTSD the condition was only attributed to war veterans, so my symptoms were dismissed as baby brain initially and later post-natal depression. At the time it was even hard for me to write a shopping list, as my mind was so fragmented.

I wasn’t sleeping at night as I had a dread that something bad was going to happen to the children, so much of the night was spent like Florence Nightingale creeping with my lamp checking their breathing. When I wasn’t worrying about the children, I was taking my husband’s pulse while he slept fearing he may have a heart condition like his father.

To add to my woes my 18-month-old son was a serial escapee and he knew just when to time his run, when I was breastfeeding his baby brother—more than once the doorbell rang returning him by a lovely neighbour.

I can laugh now but I’d never want to relive those years.

The relationship between PTSD & ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two distinct psychiatric conditions, but they can sometimes co-exist or share certain symptoms, leading to potential confusion or overlap in diagnosis.

Here are some points of connection and differences between ADHD and PTSD:

  1. Symptom Overlap: Both ADHD and PTSD can involve difficulties with attention, concentration, and impulse control. For example, individuals with PTSD may experience hypervigilance or difficulty concentrating due to intrusive thoughts or memories of traumatic events, which can resemble symptoms of ADHD.
  2. Trauma History: While ADHD is primarily considered a neurodevelopmental disorder that often presents in childhood, PTSD is typically associated with exposure to traumatic events such as physical or sexual assault, obstetric violence, birth trauma, combat experiences, accidents, or natural disasters.
  3. Underlying Mechanisms: The underlying mechanisms of ADHD and PTSD differ. ADHD is believed to involve dysregulation of certain neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine, in brain circuits responsible for attention, impulse control, and executive functioning. In contrast, PTSD is characterized by alterations in the brain's stress response system, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex, in response to traumatic experiences.
  4. Treatment Approach: While there may be some overlap in treatment strategies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and certain medications (e.g., selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), the specific interventions for ADHD and PTSD often differ. ADHD treatment may involve stimulant medications like methylphenidate or amphetamine-based drugs, along with behavioural therapies. PTSD treatment commonly includes trauma-focused therapies like exposure therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or Psychodynamic psychotherapy, sometimes along with medications targeting symptoms such as anxiety or insomnia.
  5. Comorbidity: It's not uncommon for individuals to have both ADHD and PTSD simultaneously. The presence of one disorder may complicate the assessment and management of the other, and treatment may need to address both conditions concurrently.

Now, armed with knowledge and hindsight, I'm on a mission to bridge the gap between birth trauma and mental health awareness. Join me as I explore the intersection of PTSD and ADHD, unravelling the stigma, and offering hope to those who may be silently struggling. Don't wait 32 years like me—let's start the journey to healing together. The Australasian Birth Trauma Association has beneficial resources on their website as do PANDA.


Book a call With Leonie if you'd like to understand more about Psychodynamic psychotherapy.



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