Sunday Reflections: The Long Term Effects of Trauma and the Kids We Traumatize
We are driving home and it is dark. Thing 2 is quiet in the backseat. I realize that she has probably fallen asleep, it’s late and the drive is a little over an hour, but there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if she has died back there. Maybe the seat belt has cut off her airway. Maybe she has fallen asleep in that weird floppy way that kids buckled into cars do. So I resist the urge for as long as I can and then I ask The Teen, “Can you please check on your sister in the backseat?” And she does. She is used to checking on her sister asleep in the car.
When Thing 2 was five weeks old she stopped breathing and turned blue. She was sitting in one of those electric swings and The Teen and I are were doing something when I looked up and saw that she was turning blue. We would later learn that she had severe GERD caused by multiple food allergies and GI issues, that she had aspirated on the reflux causing her to quit breathing. That night in the ER she would be placed on a sleep apnea monitor that we used for months to help make sure that she didn’t quit breathing again in her sleep. We lived in a constant state of stress and fear.
One of the effects of this incident is that I became afraid to drive at night in the car with my baby. You see, with her turned around rear facing so I couldn’t see her, I worried that she would aspirate again. I had zero confidence in the apnea monitor. This was my baby we were talking about. My baby that I had fought through pregnancy loss and hyperemesis gravidarum and a separating placenta and fibroid tumors to bring into this world. My baby that I had already seen turn blue. So I stopped driving anywhere at night. And sleeping. I stopped sleeping.
My road to motherhood has been paved with a lot of trauma. I nearly died. I lost an early pregnancy in complicated ways. And then I finally gave birth to my second child after a high risk pregnancy complicated by hyperemesis gravidarum. I then suffered PPD and my baby had “colic”. It was a couple of years of constant trauma and stress. And last night, driving home in the dark, I was reminded of the long term effects. I think a lot about the effects of trauma.
There have been a lot of recent studies about childhood trauma (see additional information below). Childhood trauma literally rewires the brain. It is associated with increased rates of addiction. There is nothing good that comes from childhood trauma. I can assure you that at the age of 44 I still carry the effects of the sexual abuse I suffered as a young teen with me.
Thing 2 is now eight years old. When she was two, our town flooded and we had to escape through knee high raging (and freezing waters). She doesn’t remember the house that we lived in when this happened. She doesn’t remember many of the people we knew during this time of our lives. But she does remember the night of the flood. She remembers being carried by a stranger through the water. She freaks out when she sees commercials for disaster movies with a tsunami or flooding. She should remember nothing, but yet she seems to remember the fear associated with the rising waters.
1 in 5 children in America goes to bed hungry. They live in a constant state of economic stress and financial insecurity. 1 in 4 struggles with a mental health issue. 1 in 5 will be the victim of sexual abuse. Many more will be the victims of or witness to violence. There’s a lot of childhood trauma happening all around us every day.
At the same time, we are witnessing what I believe to be our least compassionate moment in my history. We are willing to let sick children die if they are poor because apparently healthcare is not a right. We are willing to let children starve because they are poor because apparently food and water are not a right. We continue to let the children in Flint be subjected to lead tainted water. We want the right to harm children in the name of religious freedom. We want to strip away education and healthcare and food subsidies, the very thing that will get a lot of these children through their childhood so that they can become successful adults. We are causing trauma to our children in the name of political power and political parties and greed and prejudice. And yet I look at the results of childhood trauma and I can’t help but think, we’re not just hurting the children, we’re hurting ourselves, we’re hurting each other, we’re hurting our country, we’re hurting our future. Nobody really wins here when we hurt our children.
Our country is in the midst of one of the greatest opioid epidemics in our history they say. Addiction is highly associated with mental illness and childhood trauma they also say. What if the answer to our crisis is that we need to be more compassionate to our children?
We arrived home safely last night and I put Thing 2 to bed. She chose to come snuggle with me as she slept and I held her close and kissed her head as I prayed over her, thankful that we made another car ride home in the dark and she kept breathing. And I prayed for all the children in our world. May the adults in our world choose to create a world with less childhood trauma so that our children can thrive.
We need to do better.
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Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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