Special Needs Parents and Trauma: The Unseen Battle with PTSD

by Jun 19, 2015In Parents, PTSD2 comments

Special needs parents and trauma doesn't seem real to onlookers. Christina Nelson describes her unseen battle with PTSD in this guest post.
Welcome back to the Different Dream series about special needs parents and trauma. In today’s post, guest blogger Christina Nelson describes her invisible battle with PTSD and how she learned to win it.

Special Needs Parents and Trauma: The Unseen Battle with PTSD

When I think of PTSD I imagine a soldier who has lived through war. The hero, who’s mind is tortured with sounds and images too painful to be spoken of. Too tragic for others to understand. My trauma started in the delivery room, when I pushed my precious tiny baby into the world nine weeks before he was due. Or maybe it started when I was awakened by my water breaking unexpectedly on our camping trip 60 miles from the nearest hospital. I don’t know. All I know is that I haven’t been the same since. During the flurry of the NICU, surgeries, tubes, monitors, alarms, pumps, questions, answers, different answers, breathing, coding, breathing again, something changed in me. I didn’t know it at the time but I was fighting a battle. Not unlike the battle our war heroes fight. My uniform of sweatpants and milk stained t-shirts, my swollen body and baggy eyes gave away my lack of training. A troop of doctors, nurses, therapists, and family surrounded me. My artillery consisted of a breast-pump, g-tube, 20cc syringe, a binky, and an endless supply of my mother-in-law’s cookies. I was at war…with my own expectations about mothering as well as societal and cultural norms surrounding parenting and grief. The truth is I was held captive by a deep shame in my heart. Ashamed that even though my baby was starting to grow and thrive, that his surgeries were successful, I continued to weep in the darkest hour of night, wiping my tears for a smile in the morning. Ashamed that while others found joy in my child’s successes, I continued to feel anxiety and fear. I searched for affirmation of my battle. Someone to tell me that it was okay to jump out of my skin each time I heard my child’s sharp barking cough or the shrill sound of his cry. That it was okay to hide from my friends who were celebrating their healthy babies and lamenting the pains of a common cold. That my foggy brain, the constant numbness and fear was all normal…that it was okay. I didn’t begin to break free until I received affirmation that my feelings were a normal response for people who had suffered a traumatic event. Validation that I wasn’t weak, ungrateful, or undeserving. That what I was feeling was a result of PTSD. This affirmation began erasing my shame and bring me out of hiding. It gave me permission to lean into my faith, community, and others for support. Most of all, it gave me the freedom to be real. To embrace and experience all of the mixed up, messy feelings that come with caring for a child with special needs-the joy, fear, anxiety, hope, chaos, and success. Even the startling moments that send me into panic mode. Those are okay too. Families and friends…if you know someone who is raising a child with special needs, please be unconditional. Please seek them out and help guide them into a place of feeling known, validated and affirmed. None of us are strong enough to fight this battle on our own.

What Do You Know about Special Needs Parents and Trauma?

Are you a special needs parent who’s battling trauma? Feel free to share your story in the comment box below. Check out the rest of the series about special need parents and trauma by following the links below:  
Part 9: Why Special Needs Parents with PTSD Should Watch Inside Out
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By Christina Nelson

Christina is wife to Nate and mother to three boys Burke (9) and Judah and Levi (6 yr old identical twins). She’s a nurse by training and has worked to support patients and families at Seattle Children’s Hospital. She loves the outdoors, campfires, dancing, gardening and hours of deep soul searching conversations with good friends.


  1. Jolene

    Hi Vicki, You are right. There’s not enough help out there. May you find the resources and support you need to make it through each day. Jolene

  2. Vicki Oler

    Great article. I’m the adoptive mom of 5 special needs kids. The list of diagnosis are endless, but the facts are we are in a war everyday. It’s exhausting physically and emotionally and spiritually. Not enough help out there. Thanks for sharing.

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



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