Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Unseen Scars: Emotional Recovery from Surgery

Nearly 4 years ago I had a gall bladder attack that resulted in having my gall bladder removed surgically.  The surgery was performed perfectly. Physically, I recovered completely.   Physically, I was fine.

Emotionally, I was not fine.  The circumstances surrounding my surgery have made emotional recovery difficult.  You see, my daughter was 10 months old at the time.  My body was so swollen from trying to pass the gall stone that started the attack that surgery wasn't possible until the 5th day that I was in the hospital.  A blizzard started the night that I was admitted into the hospital and lasted for 4 days. My husband is required to work during snowstorms to remove snow from essential roadways around the county.

I am blessed in many ways.  I am blessed with fantastic sisters that came to my home to care for my daughter.  I knew she was in excellent hands while I was unable to be with her.  I am blessed that I had excellent doctors that helped my body heal from the gall bladder attack and surgery.  I am blessed with a husband that takes his work seriously and worked tirelessly to help keep countless people safe on the roads during that blizzard.  Because of the blizzard, schools were closed and I did not have to use sick leave that I didn't have during my hospital stay.  I am so grateful for all of these things.

Each of those blessings has a flip side, and that is hard for me to admit.  I spent so much time trying to feel blessed instead of facing the reality of my emotions while still acknowledging the blessing.  Before I knew it I was drowning in the emotions that I was trying so hard not to feel.   I spent 6 days separated from my baby.  Days full of pain and boredom and medications and strangers and snow, which were spent missing her.  When the storm stopped and the roads were clear enough, my sisters brought Natalie to see me, and she didn't recognize me.  It took her a while to come willingly back into my arms.  That killed me.  After I was home and off of the pain medications I tried to breastfeed her again and she refused.  Over those 9 days, she weaned completely.  Our breastfeeding relationship was over, just like that.  And I died again.  I felt like a failure.  Yet again, my body had betrayed me.  I had already gone through the experience of not being able to pump enough milk for her while I was at work, and had to accept that she would be formula fed while at daycare, and breast fed at home with me.  My breastfeeding relationship with my daughter had been snatched from me, and we had been so close to making it to the one year mark.

While the doctors and nurses were great, the thought of surgery was quite scary for me.  My husband was supposed to drop my daughter at daycare and come to see me at the hospital before I went in to surgery.  I was counting on that support to get me through the scary part, but my surgery was moved up and my poor, tired husband overslept and I went into the OR feeling very afraid and very alone.  I was put under general anesthesia, a first for me, and I went from falling asleep in a relatively quiet OR to waking up in the hustle and bustle of the hospital hallway while they were taking me back to my room, which was very disconcerting and unexpected.  My husband was not in my room waiting for me like I expected.  Ever practical and hardworking, he came to the hospital after dropping off Natalie, they told him I would be in surgery for a couple more hours, and he decided that it made sense for him to go back home and shovel the feet of snow off of the driveway.  You know men, you can generally take their estimate of time to be spent on a job and double it for a more accurate estimate.  He finally came to the hospital to see me 2 hours after I was out of recovery.  Unfortunately, I had been through too much emotionally by that point. I had been alone in the hospital for 4 days, my daughter did not want me to hold her, I went into surgery alone and scared, and I came out of surgery alone and scared.   The rational part of me tried to understand his logic, but I felt very abandoned.  It made me retreat back into myself and put us through a very rocky part of our marriage because I emotionally distanced myself from him.  He didn't understand what I was going through, why I felt alone, why it made a difference whether he had been there or not, why it mattered so much that Natalie had stopped nursing…   It took a long time for us to move forward from that experience and begin communicating effectively and really connecting again.

It has been a long, hard road to emotional recovery, and until recently, I thought that I had recovered.  Right now I am faced with a very real possibility of having to give birth to my twins through a c-section.  The thought of delivering my twins through surgery terrifies me.  For me, surgery has meant separation from my family.  I cannot bear the thought of being separated from my twins through surgery.  Surgery also meant the end of my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter, and I am determined to breastfeed the twins, but worried that the surgery and recovery will prevent that relationship from forming properly like it did with my other children.   The mere thought of having a c-section puts me into tears and makes my heart race, it is a physical reaction to the stress that I cannot prevent from happening.   I watched a video of a very calm and peaceful “natural” c-section that did not separate the mother from her child and I was still on the verge of a panic attack.

I realized that in order to come to terms and have a peaceful birth, no matter whether it is a vaginal delivery or a c-section, I need to face my ghosts from surgery’s past and finish the healing process, since I have only scratched the surface.  Step One is recognizing the feelings that I still have regarding my past experience.  I have found writing this story of my past to share has been a good first step.  These feelings are not something to be ashamed of or hide from others.  Step Two for me will be work through these feelings one by one and come to peace with them, separating my gall bladder surgery from the possibility of a c-section.  Easier said than done, I’m sure.  Plus, I have a deadline.  These babies will come into this world when they are ready, whether I am healed emotionally or not.  Hopefully by that point I will be able to embrace the possibility of a c-section with peace.  Moreover, be able to enjoy the birth of my babies without fear and emotional scars.  

Update 12/12/13:  Let It Go is an update on my journey to recovery from these emotional scars and how they affect the impending birth of my twins. 


Anonymous said...

I got here really randomly and I know nothing about you other than seeing a couple posts, but I am so, so sorry for your traumatic experience. I hope that your delivery of your babies goes well, whether c-section or natural, and that you will find closure and healing for the emotional wounds inflicted on you by chance and circumstance. Peace be with you.