Here goes nothing…
Throughout my pregnancy I had several comments along the lines of “you’re having another baby,” and “is Ailbe’s condition genetic?” But there was one email I received that I believe may have triggered the underlying worries that were in my mind to escalate to significant worries that would effect my body chemistry.
Our baby girl was measuring big all along. Each person who measured me would say “and you passed your gestational diabetes test?” Or my favorite “if this baby doesn’t come out soon she’s just going to walk out!” So, needless to say we were expecting a larger baby. I’m 6’1 and hubby is 6’5 so there’s no shock that our girls are tall. It was planned that I would have a repeat cesarean because if our first baby didn’t fit this second baby certainly wasn’t going to. Baby girl was transverse and scheduled to be delivered on March 10th. Her actual due date was St. Patrick’s day. I lied and told papa it was the 16th (Scots will get the joke). But on the morning of March 5th things changed quickly.
My friends and I had a book club planned for that evening. I was excited to see them as I had been feeling pretty anxious. My doctor had me on partial bed rest due to my blood pressure. I had higher blood pressure and some swelling. The swelling wasn’t new to me since I had severe edema with my first born. I started the day having my dad drive me to the doctors for my weekly appointment. Ailbe was at school so dad and I were able to go to the appointment. I sat down and they checked my blood pressure. The nurse told me it was high and maybe we should have me lie down and we will check again in a few minutes. Like many others I have white coat anxiety. My blood pressure goes way up and the more people tell me to “just relax” the more it goes up. The nurse came back in, rechecked and said it’s still high, well higher than it was before I rested. In my head I was saying no shit. You just made me wait and worry more so it’s higher! She told me to go home and rest. On the way to the car my phone rang and the doctor told me that she wasn’t comfortable with my blood pressure and wanted me to head to the hospital because she wanted to deliver the baby tonight. I started to cry. I wasn’t ready. My dad told me to stay calm and drove me to the hospital. He dropped me off and I headed in myself. My dad left to pick up Ailbe from preschool. I called Johnathan and he naturally wasn’t answering his phone. I sent 10 text messages and finally got a “I’m on my way” return text. Side note- one of his students saw my message alert and said “um coach, you’re wife’s in labor I think…” So after I had gotten a hold of JJ, called my mum, called my sister (who I believe was in Anaheim or something and trying to rush home for me), text my friends about book club not happening tonight and papa was on his way back I headed to admitting. The lady at admitting was kind, she was swift and within 15 minutes I was headed upstairs. I waddled down the hallway for what seemed like forever until I landed upon the nurses station. I was greeted by a friendly nurse who I had with my first born and I was thrilled because I thought YES this nurse will make it all okay! To my dismay she was leaving for the day and a night nurse would be helping me. The night nurse was sweet, she was tiny, maybe 5 feet tall, an older lady, but very kind. She helped me and could sense my anxiousness. I answered many questions, changed into a gown and climbed into bed. I started to feel contractions and the nurse was monitoring both my contractions and my blood pressure. Within an hour my contractions were three minutes apart and the doctor started to call. She informed me that I was now in labor and since the baby was coming on her own we had to get the ball rolling before she tried to arrive. I remember sitting on the hospital bed and crying. I was scared. I was anxious. I was in pain. My mum and husband who both weren’t on good terms at the time, tried to console me as I took deep breaths and tried not to think about the tightness in my legs and belly. I labored for 5 hours without any meds and was then taken back to the operating room. It was 6pm.
As I walked in I saw the anesthesiologist. He was friendly, seemed quite hyper and scatter brained. Just what you want in the person who’s sticking the giant needle in you right? So it took him 45 minutes to administer the spinal block. He couldn’t find a spot. He poked my back maybe 14 times before he finally got it in. I sat curled over on the edge of a cold slab table with a tiny nurse that couldn’t hold my weight at all and a doctor behind me that had me “hold steady” for 45 minutes. He didn’t tell me to relax at all when he wandered around the room looking for what he needed. He was VERY unorganized. It was on that table I knew something was wrong with how I felt. I felt extremely weak and I was so scared that when they did numb me I would fall right to the floor, because there’s no way in hell this nurse could hold me, I was literally three times her body weight. Regardless, I made it down to the table and I was prepped. The doctors stood over to the side of the table against the cabinets while I was prepped. No one said hello. No one asked how I was. It was strange to say the least. Finally Johnathan was brought back. Thanks to my dear friend Leslie I remembered to say how nauseous I felt before I did because I didn’t want to throw up on top of all this. The doctors had apparently headed over to the table because the anesthesiologist put his head over mine and said “I guess it worked because you didn’t feel THAT.” I attempted a giggle but frightened, I squeezed Johnathan’s hand tighter. When Ailbe was born we had a system. If I had a thumbs up it meant I was okay and this time we hadn’t prepped a system. It was rushed. All of sudden there was blood splashing up on the curtain that was maybe an inch from my face. I was being hurled all over the table and the doctor was grunting. She kept saying how she couldn’t get the baby out. One of the doctors kept saying she has a giant head. “God look at the size of this girls head. A big Scottish head.” I didn’t get a hello, how are you from this doctor, but I did get lots of jokes about my kid. The assisting doctor with a knee on my chest and hand on my shoulder started tugging as with numb legs and torso I violently flailed around. They still couldn’t get the baby out. I later found out that they vacuumed her out. Yes, vacuumed, in a cesarean, almost unheard of right? I heard baby cry and they whisked her off to the side, cleaned her slightly and then handed her to me. I felt so much different than when I had Ailbe. I couldn’t hold her, I told Johnathan I felt too weak and I couldn’t get a good handle on baby so please take her. Johnathan cut her cord and followed the nurses to take her to get cleaned up. I was left alone with the nurses and doctor while baby and JJ went to the nursery. I was alone this time because my family and husband weren’t on good terms. I didn’t want any negative energy in the room when baby was born. I should’ve never been alone. It was too much for me after what I’ve been through.
As I lay on the table I heard whoever was stitching me up say “this is NOT my best work but it’ll do.” This comment was later confirmed in the doctors office and her response was “I don’t know why she said that, it looked fine.” Needless to say it must’ve not been because a week later I had 8 types of bacteria on my incision.
There was so much blood around me I started to feel sick. The anesthesiologist said he would “give me something to feel better.” Never told me what or asked my permission just did so. During the surgery I actually heard a lot of sloshing and a giant splat. The splat must’ve been to the right of me because all of a sudden I looked over and the anesthesiologist was flat on his back. He had slipped on my blood. He stood up and said “you didn’t see that.” Then as they switched me over to a transport bed the anesthesiologist proceeded to point to various areas in the room telling the nurses to make sure the cleaning crew knew “how much blood was in here.” He pointed to one wall and said even there under the socket, then another wall six feet away there and behind him again. It was at that moment I started to shake.
As I was being wheeled to my room I was greeted by my mum and my sister. I shook violently. I didn’t feel cold, I just shook. I could barely speak I was shaking so badly. The nurse said it was from the medicines in my spinal block. My mum tried her best to layer me with blankets to warm me but I wasn’t cold. It seemed like baby took so long to get back to me. Johnathan was with her but still I wanted to see her so badly.
My first born, Ailbe was a cesarean as well. They took me back with her at 730 and she was born at 7:59. By 8:30 I was holding her and nursing her. With Isla, I went back at 6. By 650 they had just gotten the spinal in and I believe she was born at 7:45. Cesareans do NOT take 1hr and 45 minutes. They botched the surgery. It was the last scheduled of the day, well last one that fit in the schedule, everyone was very nonchalant and casual. It’s a surgery! A baby is being born! Nothing should be nonchalant about it!
Finally, Isla was back and I held my sweet girl. I was so very exhausted but I couldn’t close my eyes. When I did, my heart raced and my thoughts went wild so I would open them and just stare at her. I naturally thought these feelingswere just adrenaline and excitement of having my baby here safe and sound. I thought so, until it didn’t stop.
The next morning I was told to get up and walk. I did. I was told to try and cut back on the meds. I did. I was encouraged to go home by my husband because I would be more comfortable. I did. So Saturday morning we were headed home.
You see, I knew from the start something was wrong as I said. I knew when I sat on that table. I knew when I began to shake. I knew as early as my body going into labor. I knew with the high blood pressure. I knew with my third trimester anxiety. I knew when I sat in the chair of my room and cried alone on day two postpartum.They tell women baby blues and hormones do this to you but I knew the difference. I’m here to say I knew IMMEDIATELY that something was wrong. Not with baby, but with ME.
A week passed and I began to feel worse not better. I kept googling postpartum depression. I read and read. In my mind I told myself that’s not what I have. I love my baby. I don’t feel that way about my baby. But I do feel some way. It turns out like everything else postpartum depression is not cookie cutter. After three weeks of near torture, high blood pressure, loss of vision, no sleep, excessive vivid worries, profuse shaking, extreme muscle tightness, burning panic attacks, heat rushes, burning skin, freezing skin, twitching, spasms, fear of being alone and a general fear that was so strong I can’t put it into words I was told I had post traumatic stress disorder. My first thought. Huh? I just had a baby. Sure, it was a pretty rough delivery but isn’t ptsd what happens to men in the military that have experienced trauma? Turns out I had been experiencing some pretty severe trauma the past three years. I have always had anxiety don’t get me wrong but everything we went through with Ailbe took my anxiety to a level that I didn’t even know existed. As my mum always says it’s an unmeasurable insane level and my dad always says “people don’t know or understand, they try, they mean well, but they have no idea.” I didn’t realize the state I was operating in. I wanted so badly to have a baby. I wanted Isla more than anything in the world. I needed her. I needed her to be safe and healthy. I needed her so badly I didn’t realize my body was melting down. I was so anxious I didn’t know I was. I kept thinking these people think I have postpartum depression. They keep telling me that’s it. But I knew in my head, sure that is quite possible but I love my baby. I don’t feel anything remotely negative about her so why is THIS the only answer to what’s wrong with me right now! I was almost relieved to hear I had ptsd but general anxiety doesn’t cut it for a diagnosis of what I went through these past ten months. Anyone who truly knows me and my character knows that I am strong. I can hold my own in any arena and I had done so many times before. What was making this so different? Why was I so weak? Why the heck was I shaking? I couldn’t even get explain to my closest friends and family how I truly felt. I didn’t know myself. I was beyond scared. My body had never failed me like this and it was going down hard.
In my lowest days after baby was born I sat and stared at her. I stared trying to convince myself that maybe what they said about me was true? Then I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t lie down. The shaking got worse. I paced when I everyone slept and I drank water to keep myself alert. I kept on going because things had to get better right? I lost 41lbs in two weeks. I was living a hell I didn’t know existed. Where was my happy enjoy my baby postpartum experience. I cried over images of friends who had just had babies as well and were out and about, making trips already and carrying on with life. How could I not be able to do these things? Why was I so incompetent? My self esteem was at an all time low and I thought things just couldn’t get any worse, could they? Oh but the could. Then I started to burn. Burn you say? Yes, burn. I finally fell asleep. Maybe 10 days postpartum and I woke up within two hours with this intense burning sensation. I was dripping sweat. I started to panic and I couldn’t breathe. I was having what is referred to as a “burning panic attack.” It lasted 7 hours. During those seven hours my dad held me. His hand on my head brought me back to my childhood and was my saving grace in those minutes that I thought I was dying. I kept telling myself “I could do anything through He who strengthens me.” My dad would bring the baby to me, I’d nurse her and then he’d rock her to sleep all while this was going on.
After the extended burning attack I decided I needed to see the doctor again. My GP had moved to Oregon but was back for a week so they squeezed me into see him. I had called my OBGYN several times to tell her how badly I felt and she hadn’t returned my calls. I missed Isla’s two week appointment and her pediatrician called me. He and I had a great relationship as we had been through so much and he knows who I am as a mother. My child’s doctor cared more about me than the doctor I had seen for ten months who delivered Isla. Ailbe’s doctor had just retired before I got pregnant so we couldn’t use her again. Anyway, the OB was done with me, she wasn’t there to help, just deliver the baby, and that was questionable so I had no doctor. Everyone, even my biggest supporters told me to stop nursing and get myself better. But nursing truly saved me. That comfort, that last ounce of control I had over my body providing my daughter why nourishment and warmth I was providing. Nursing provided me with the self-esteem boost that I couldn’t get anywhere else because this pain was unexplainable.
Rehashing this is hard. In the end who saved me? Who continues to save me on a daily basis? My girls, and my family. My family sacrificed their lives to help mine. They stopped what they had going on in their own life to help me and that’s a TRUER family. Family doesn’t leave you, family doesn’t love on condition, family is LOYAL. I have PTSD, and I probably have postpartum anxiety too. Although I’ve always had anxiety. I never saw anxiety as a weakness. I saw it as a trait of my character and how much I cared. There are HUGE misconceptions about postpartum conditions. Postpartum illness does not always mean wanting to harm yourself or your baby. There are many sides of it and it can hit mothers up to a year after birth sometimes 18 months and can last for several years and even permanently. It’s no joke, and nothing to laugh about. It’s important that we as a community SUPPORT these mothers and do not judge as by the grace of God you never know what the following day will hold.
I am strong in my belief that there is something more to be added to the list of postpartum conditions. There is anxiety, depression, trauma and psychosis currently labeled but I know there is another condition because I met and have become friends with moms from all over who have these diagnoses but yet don’t fit the description. I wish I had gone to medical school because I so would’ve loved to help out other women.
10 months later… I don’t shake. Well I shake when I hear the song baby was delivered to, or when I see a hospital, or when someone says “you had another baby?” I cry daily, but only because I’m so passionate and loving. I worry… Constantly. I told a friend the other day I was 75% better. I said you know why I’m 75% better? Well the short version is because Ailbe is 75% better and until she’s a 100% I can’t be. Sure, exercise, diet, therapy and support have helped me tremendously but I am so heavily connected and invested in my children that when they aren’t well, I can’t be. So many say they put themselves first because their kids need a healthy mom to take care of them. I understand that theory I do, it’s just not always applicable. When you have a child who needs you 24hrs of the day, yes someone else can do it but she needs YOU… You are there no matter what. When I looked at my baby girl Ailbe, and I couldn’t smile, I knew I was ill. Yes many go through trauma but there is something different about watching your child slip through your hands. There’s something about grieving a living child. Grieving the loss of normalcy. When you have visions that haunt and won’t leave you of the trauma you witnessed in the hospital, or prick, restraint or test after test. It takes trauma to a new level. I do not take anything away from those who fight and serve our country who suffer from PTSD by no means, I just saw when it’s your child it’s different as well.
I am a stronger woman having gone through these last ten months and probably longer with ptsd. Every day I am beyond thankful for my mum, my dad and my sister Elaine. I’m thankful for their undeniable love that they have for me. That even when things were so out of their grasp they tried so desperately to hold onto me and did so. I’m thankful for my dear husband who although suffers similarly to me right now, provides me with that love in my heart that we have always had and I know will always get us through the toughest of times. And lastly, I’m so thankful for Meg, Dana, Sara, Amanda, Lauren, Erin, Lacey and Karma who really reached out to me during the worst of times. Whether it be answering my anxious texts at all hours of the evening, showing up at my door because I wouldn’t return calls or commit to a time, or making me something to eat when I just couldn’t eat and listening to me. Your love, support and warmth helped me through the toughest time I’ve ever been through in my life. My body was finally grieving my losses (a miscarriage, a normal childhood, my parents divorce, my failures, epilepsy) and you each put yourselves aside for me. For this, I am forever grateful.
It’s a heavy blanket to wear on your shoulders. It’s a cold, damp place to be. It’s a sadness that’s deep in your soul. But through all this there was a little Isla Skye. She pulled me to the light and she pulled her sister. For that, Isla Bug I’m forever in your debt.
For my Bee and Bug. May you be strong women that never let a soul bring you down.
The isle of Isla
My baby girl and I right as she was born-