Editor’s Note: this piece originally appeared on Grounded Parents and is written by Deek.
Trigger Warning: infant death, graphic description of fetal tissue
There is this man who stands a block from the entrance to my workplace. He props up two four-foot signs emblazoned with photographs of bloody, dead, micro-preemie babies, and another with the words “Stop Abortion Now!”
I say “babies” despite knowing that these are fetuses, despite knowing only 1.2% of abortions are late term and it is manipulative to imply that these images represent all abortions. But I still think “babies,” when I see those signs because they look so much like my children did when I first saw them in the NICU after being born at 24 weeks, only they are broken, and bloody, and dead.
When I see this man on my drive home, I have to pull over because it hits me at once. In an instant, I can smell the hospital, hear the alarms and feel the smooth wall of the isolette on my forehead as I lean against it to watch my tiny babies inside. And I can’t drive, talk, or breathe until the memory assault slowly fades.
It is exhausting, and I try my damndest to avoid it.
On the way to work, driving by him is less challenging because I’m not as tired. But, there are only two exits and it’s a crapshoot which one he will stand at on any given day, so I approach my car at the end of my shift with hard knot of worry in case I happen to choose the wrong exit.
I’m working on getting rid of these flashbacks and moments of incapacitation, so in the future a stranger’s choices don’t ruin my day. But for now, they do.
I held off asking for help with this for a long time. Part of this is because I’m busy. Part is because my doctor is at a military treatment facility where I sit in the waiting room side by side with service members who have been in combat and seen and done truly traumatic things.
I thought that my experience was a pale ghost of the awful they endured. How dare I think I needed or deserved the same help they got? But, eventually I made an appointment.
And there, in a facility that treated people who had PTSD acquired at war, no one acted as if I was weak for not being able to suck it up, or coddled for wanting to avoid images that triggered panicky moments. No one used infantile language such as “swaddled” to describe my inability to get through a routine daily activity when confronted by images that triggered memories that overwhelmed me.
The contrast is profound between the attitude shown by military treatment facility staff, and the callous indifference towards students dealing with similar struggles that drives several recent articles railing against trigger warnings.
Instead of seeing trigger warnings as a gracious way to allow students who have experienced trauma to participate in learning without re-invoking that trauma, these articles have inflated and demonized trigger warnings into harbingers of the end of rational thought and of education itself.