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Are Your Postpartum Nightmares Normal?

Photograph by Twenty20

People throw around the phrase, “It was a total nightmare,” all the time to describe things like the long lines at Wal-Mart or a bad pedicure. Sure, I’m as guilty of the hyperbole as the next person, but now that I’ve had a string of nightmares about my daughter’s safety, I’m not going to use those words without thinking twice.

Dreams are weird, and sometimes when you tell them to people in the waking world, they just sound so ridiculous. Believe me, I understand how dumb these sound in the daylight, but you have to understand how unbelievably terrifying they were at the time.

RELATED: A Mistake That's a Parent's Worst Nightmare

Ground Control to Major Baby

In my dream, NASA decided they had to shoot my baby girl into space in a capsule. If she was lucky, it would rendezvous correctly with the space station. But if any calculations were wrong, she would spin out of orbit and float out into space to eventually perish from lack of oxygen.

If you've see "The Martian" or "Interstellar," the stakes were that high. It was going to be a difficult maneuver. I woke up before NASA told me whether she’d made it or not.

Real life nightmare fuel: My husband and I went to DC and visited the Air and Space Museum. We bought Alyssa a little space suit as a souvenir.

(Some) nightmares are the mental scars of deep trauma, and moms who have them or any symptoms of PTSD should most definitely seek help.

Mama Jailbird

In nightmare No. 2, I was in trouble. I’d gotten arrested for something really bad, and I was going to jail for a long time. I remember sitting there in the jail waiting room holding my daughter and kissing her sweet little blonde head over and over again. I knew it would be a long, long time before I’d see her again. I woke up crying.

Real life nightmare fuel: Too much "Orange Is the New Black."

Striped Terror

I was substitute teaching at a different school that had a beach near the playground. The students and I were out there for recess when I saw a tiger swimming in the water. In dream logic, I knew it had escaped from the nearby zoo. It was swimming right for a cluster of children playing in the water and started pulling them down. In a moment of pure horror, I saw my daughter in the water with floaties on, and then the tiger pulled her under.

Real life nightmare fuel: Watching news reports detailing the death of “tiger whisperer” Stacey Konwiser.

Is This Normal?

Many mamas are dying to know if things about our pregnancies or child-rearing experiences are normal. So how normal are nightmares about the safety of our babies? Dreams are often manifestations of our deepest feelings, and I do spend a good chunk of my day worrying about my daughter getting hurt or stolen from me by bad guys. This maternal instinct is deep within all mothers, and it serves an evolutionary purpose. It turns out postpartum nightmares are pretty normal (along with daymares, which I didn’t even know were a thing!)

But there’s a difference between bad dreams and true nightmares. I’d say my dreams fall on the borderline between anxiety dreams and nightmares. They’re a far cry from some of the shattering dreams other mothers have, especially those who suffer from PTSD related to traumatic birth.

Yes, it turns out that many mothers who endure a traumatic birth experience, or whose children need serious care in the NICU, are prone to developing the same type of PTSD that plagues combat veterans. Symptoms can include paranoia, insomnia, flashbacks, and, yes, nightmares. PTSD nightmares tend to center around the trauma itself, forcing the sufferer to relive the experience in various ways.

RELATED: Does My Baby Really Have Nightmares?

These types of dreams are not the normal course for new mothers and go way beyond the postpartum nightmares brought on by hormones and a wacky sleep schedule (or my neurotic parent anxiety dreams about my 10-month-old). These nightmares are the mental scars of deep trauma, and moms who have them or any symptoms of PTSD should most definitely seek help.

Moms, when we got pregnant, we knew our sleep would be sacrificed in return for the joys of parenthood. And even after Baby starts sleeping through the night, many of us will suffer the occasional nightmare. They may not stop until our kids are well out of high school! However, PTSD-related dreams of relived trauma are nothing to shrug off, and if you think you’re struggling with a traumatic birth experience, please contact a professional. Sleep tight, mommies!

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