Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I Survived: A Story About Healing After Birth Trauma

If I sported this on a t-shirt when I was out and about, most people who see me would be like “Oh, you have four kids. And TWINS.  I don’t know how you survived the first year.” And I would wink and smile and say, “It has been wonderful being a mom to four kids. And twins especially.”  And it is true.  It is so, so wonderful to be a mom of four beautiful children, and it is truly amazing to see how twins grow together.  I didn’t have to “survive” parenthood.  I have survived birth trauma.

I wrote about my c-section here  just a couple weeks after it happened. I knew I had a long road ahead of me then, but I had no idea what I would go through in the next year.  I went to the hospital knowing that I would have a c-section because Baby A, Brandon, was breech and presenting first.  I knew that took away all of my choices once I arrived at the hospital.  I tried to tell myself that it was going to be fine. The babies would be fine. I would be fine.  Physically, we were all fine.  The surgery went exactly as planned- no NICU time for the twins, I have successfully exclusively breastfed my twins for a year.  Those fears came to nothing.  I did not anticipate the extreme levels of fear that I would go through leading up to and during surgery.  I have never experienced that level of fear during any other moment in my life.  The terror of signing the forms pushed in my face about what could happen to me on that table, the pressure to AGREE to let those things happen, the fear of what would happen to my babies if I did not sign them.  I signed away my power, it felt like I was sacrificing my own health and safety for the sake of the health and safety of my babies.  I would sacrifice anything for my babies, and so I let go of my power and control over the situation.  After that I felt like all of my choices were gone and I was no longer in control of what happened to me or my babies, which sent me into terror.   Tightly controlled terror, because I was also terrified that they would put me to sleep for the birth of my children after a horrible nurse threatened general anesthesia for crying in the triage room. They would not let my hubby in the room as they did the spinal and prepped me for surgery.  A room full of people getting ready to cut me open and I was alone and terrified.  They let him in just in time to hold my hand before they made the incision.  His presence helped a bit but I was already so afraid that it couldn't bring me back down completely. Then hearing the doctors talk in such sterile terms using such cold words as they cut me open and took out my babies was not affirming or gentle or even focused towards me.  I was laying on a table with my stomach sliced open and curtains in between me and my babies and they were talking like I wasn’t there.  I told my husband to go over with my babies once they were delivered because I couldn’t bear for them to be alone and I wanted so desperately to be with them.  I was trapped and afraid and alone on my side of the curtain.  Separated from my family for eight full minutes of terror. 

Then, I was meeting my babies.  After they were brought to me they hardly left my sight.  I pushed away all those things that I didn’t want to feel so that I could enjoy my first moments with my twins.  I am so very glad that I was able to do that, but at the same time, bottling all that fear up was not healthy for me.  I bottled it all up for the sake of motherhood, for all the things that I wanted out of motherhood.  Mom-Sarah and Wife-Sarah enjoyed having some of the best times in my life. I have truly enjoyed motherhood for the last year.  I am grateful for that.  Sarah-Sarah, the one that experienced all that fear, was down for the count. I didn’t do anything that Sarah-Sarah enjoyed, things just for me.  My sewing machine collected dust, I neglected to get new books to read at the library, I didn’t write for myself, and I was no longer the queen of lists.  I used to make lists of my lists, yet every single one that I had made post c-section was pitiful.  I ignored it, said that it was just because I was busy with four kids and newborn twins, but that wasn’t true.  I was busy with four kids and newborn twins, but that wasn’t what was stopping me.  I didn’t want to go anywhere near that nest of fear.  I went through life as Mom-Sarah and Wife-Sarah for 6 months before I shook up that bottle of fear cola I was working so hard to repress.

It really shouldn’t have been a big deal.  I was putting the big kids to bed and out of the blue Nate kissed my stomach and said “Hi, baby.”  I brushed it off then.  I have a wacko 2 ½ year old kid and there literally is no way I can be pregnant.  But over the next few days I found that moment was stuck on replay in my head.  When I wasn’t thinking about anything it just popped up, unbidden.  I started thinking about the “what ifs.”  What if I was pregnant?  What if I get pregnant again someday? What if I have to give birth again?  We had decided when we were pregnant with the twins that we were done for sure.  That pregnancy was no picnic.  I was banking on never being pregnant again.  So the what ifs got to me, they started shaking up that bottle of fear cola and a couple days after that moment I had my first anxiety attack.  I was in the kitchen making lunch and Alice crawled towards me.  All of the sudden I couldn’t breathe or move, and the only thought I had in my head was screaming “I can’t!”  I couldn’t have another baby, I couldn’t go through that fear again.  I thought that I just needed some firm proof so that I could move on. So I went to the store and bought a pregnancy test, confirmed that I wasn’t pregnant, and put it behind me.  I had a crazy moment, I rationalized myself through it, I would be fine.  I didn’t even tell my hubby about it. I didn’t know what to say.  I freaked out because Nate kissed my stomach and said, “Hi, baby.”  I sounded crazy even to myself.  But the anxiety attacks didn’t stop.  I got hit with two more a couple days after the first one, with less discernable triggers.  I would get hit with one, get myself back together, and continue on with my day as bet I could.  So confused.  I did tell my hubby after over a week of them happening, and while he was supportive and tried to comfort me, he didn’t understand.  I didn’t know anyone who did.  And when I did try to talk about it I was told that I had beautiful, healthy twins and “that’s what matters.”  Those words just say that my feelings about this life changing experience don’t matter.  Of course I am thrilled that I have beautiful, healthy twins, but I checked in a lot of baggage with that experience and it matters.


That first anxiety attack was just the beginning.  Over the next two months I had them with more frequency, often accompanied by flashbacks to the operating room. I become moody. I couldn’t bear for anything to touch the c-section scar and numb area around it. Wife-Sarah gave into the depression and I stopped finding as much joy in my time with my husband.  Mom-Sarah tried the hardest, but on my lowest days I got overwhelmed, had more anxiety attacks, and was generally about as friendly as a blast-ended skrewt come bedtime.  I could see that I was not ok.  I knew that there was a huge problem. I had no idea how to get back up.  So one day I sat down with a notebook and a piece of paper and I got it all out.  I went back to the beginning.  I looked for patterns.  I finally, purposefully, relived every detail of my birth experience from when my water broke until the moments before I finally saw my babies for the first time.  It was horrible. I mean it really, really sucked.  But then I saw what I had been doing.  Sarah-Sarah still felt helpless and powerless and afraid. I had been ignoring and hiding away the most essential part of myself and I was still letting that damn experience have power over me.  No more.  I started writing a list, which was just so me, that it was refreshing to see that I was still there.  I made a list of things I want, things that I need to work towards, things that matter more than my fear.  The first thing on the list was smile, so simple, but so hard on your worst day.  One by one I worked on my list, millimeter by millimeter, I pulled myself back up from that place.  It took a little while before I could do some of the things on the list, while others were easy and felt natural.  I want nothing for than for Mom-Sarah, Wife-Sarah, and Sarah-Sarah to be reunited.  I think when that happens I will be able to conquer the world.  I have relapses. I fell off the edge of a cliff and I climbed back up, but I am still teetering on the edge on a day to day basis.  Little things will push me closer and big things….  Well that is why I am writing again.  I wanted to tell my story to remind myself of how far I have come.  Balance is hard.  Balance has been my goal the last few weeks and I keep sinking the boat.  Perhaps I jumped the gun on this goal. Right now I feel like I am in too many pieces to juggle everything.  Maybe I have to pull myself back together before I can find balance.

 I wish so hard that I could go back to pre-birth trauma Sarah, pre-PPD Sarah, pre-anxiety Sarah, without losing post-twins Sarah.  How different would my life be if I’d had more choices in the hospital, if I hadn’t been terrified out of my mind, if I were able to have a birth that I could remember without fear.  My birth experience has taken so much more away from me than I ever could have imagined.  It took me away from myself, the most essential parts of me missed out on a whole lot of things in the last year.  I survived. And I am determined not to miss another year.  I am sure that next February 4th at 8:30 pm I will look back and think, “This is the moment that my water broke. This is the moment the fear began.  I survived two years after birth trauma.”  Hopefully one of those years in my future, I can use the word thrived.  Hopefully one of those years it won’t even matter enough to remember.


Sabrina Craig said...

One of the things about giving birth in a hospital is that you surrender yourself completely to the doctors and staff, on the premise that they are supposed to handle both the baby’s and your well-being. It’s too bad that that incident at the operating room caused a lot of trauma for you, some of which even lingering until your next pregnancy. That being said, I hope that the second one was not as bad as the first, and that you were able to finally set aside that traumatic experience for good. Take care!

Sabrina Craig @ Medical Attorney NY

Unknown said...

I felt some of the same things when I had my section with my twin B (twin A came after 2 hours of pushing during induction at 38 wks). I had really really wanted to avoid a section but it wasn't in the cards, twin B flipped from vertex to breech after twin A was out and scooted high, I was so spent that there was no way I could have pushed him. The transition in the room from labor to surgery was so fast and scary, and I was so exhausted and nauseous, that I couldn't follow what was happening at all. They added to the epidural but I could still feel being cut open and it was terrifying. I was out for twin B's birth and didn't wake up until after they had whisked him off to NICU (very short stay, less than 6 hours).
We had lots more issues for twin A medically due to a birth defect, which was MUCH harder to deal with in the following days - otherwise, I think I would have felt much the way you describe here. I'm still in some ways trying to come down from feeling like I'm just getting through the day-to-day (and two kids at 2 years is HARD!!!!) I feel like I'm still searching for a new normal. It does get better, but it's so hard to feel good about the new when the old seemed so much simpler. Thanks for writing this.