Reflections on trauma and birth

Yesterday we celebrated the boys’ 6th birthday. Today, Facebook has bombarded me with pictures that James and my mom took during their first day in the world. And today, six years later, I’ve started trying to put some of my memories into words.

This time 6 years ago, I was still in my room in Labor and Delivery, still in bed, hooked up to monitors and IVs and drifting in and out of consciousness. I remember I was wide awake and feeling no pain around 3 in the morning – the spinal block hadn’t worn off yet, and I was on a dilaudid drip, too. The convulsions, headache, nausea and hot flashes from the magnesium sulfate had, at least for the time, subsided, but I still wasn’t quite “with it”… I couldn’t see a remote control (and didn’t remember the way hospital TV remotes worked), so I couldn’t turn on the TV. I had my phone. So, quite logically (for my HELLP/trauma/drug-addled mind), I figured I would try to work on my dissertation…Needless to say, that wasn’t exactly productive. Later in the night, I sent an email to my committee apologizing for not having a chapter for them to read because I’d just had the babies 2 months early.

I hadn’t seen the boys since they were whisked away from the operating room. I hoped they were alive. I hadn’t seen James or Mom in what seemed like a hundred hours, as they were both with the boys. I was afraid to ask the nurses how the boys were doing, because I feared the answer being bad. I couldn’t remember hearing them cry when they were taken from me. Did they cry? Were they breathing when they took them? I drifted back into oblivion for a few minutes. Maybe it was hours. It felt like days.

Baby A, 10/5/2017, in the NICU, on respirator
Baby A, 10/5/2017, in the NICU, on respirator

Some time during their first 24 hours in the world, James Facetimed me from the NICU. I saw my sons, hooked up to machines monitoring their heart rates and breathing, strapped into little padded cuddlers and lying on heated pads. Tubes went into their mouths and noses. They were so tiny and red. The preemie diapers dwarfed them. James’ hand was bigger than they were. They weren’t supposed to be here yet. My body failed them. I failed them. What if they didn’t make it?

Baby B, 10/5/2017, in the NICU, on respirator
Baby B, 10/5/2017, in the NICU, on respirator

They say that it’s important to walk as soon as possible after your c-section in order to start the recovery process. I couldn’t try to stand or walk until they removed the catheter. They hadn’t done that. Apparently October 5th 2011 was a busy day for Buffalo babies, as the L&D staff was busy; I felt forgotten. As I lay in the uncomfortable bed — the one with the removable bottom bit designed for deliveries — I heard the sounds of other mothers coming into L&D, leaving L&D. The sounds of babies crying as they entered the world, at the right time, staying with their mothers and going to the maternity floor upstairs. They had babies to take care of; they were the mothers who needed to start their recoveries. My babies were three floors above me, hooked to all those machines; there was nothing I could do for them; my recovery could wait. Someone from lactation brought an industrial-strength pump. I tried to hook myself up to it, and nothing came out.

The anesthesia wore off; I felt more pain. My blood pressure spiked again; the seizures came back; another round of magnesium and my skin was on fire. My entire body felt irreparably broken.

It was after midnight, officially October 6th, before one sympathetic L&D nurse finally got tired of waiting and wheeled me to an elevator to go to the NICU. 26 hours after their birth, I finally got to touch them through their isolettes. I spent mere minutes with them before I was wheeled away. Back to the L&D floor, past mothers laboring, resting, soon to be holding their babies…

It was October 6th before I tried to stand; my legs buckled under the weight of my body. It was late that night before I was transferred to the maternity floor. James sprung for the fancy private suite…it seemed a foolish luxury, but that foolish luxury was the only comfort I had with my babies still two floors away from me. I would spend much of my time in that fancy room attached to the breast pump, desperately hoping for my milk to come in, for that part of my body not to let my babies down like everything else.

Much of the following two months remains a blur. We left the hospital without our babies, and would do so for the first 62 days of their lives. I spent those 62 days in haze…hooked up to a pump up to twelve times a day, doing everything possible to boost my production but still unable to meet their needs. I had alarms set throughout the night so that I could wake up and pump – every two hours, like clockwork. I got to the point where I could hook things up and go to sleep attached to the pump.

“Sleep while you can! HA HA HA!”
“You’re so lucky, you aren’ up all night with newborns!”

Things actual parents said to me. Friends and loved ones. People likely to be reading this post. Know that, if you were one of the people who said these things to me, in that dark period, I still can’t fully trust you.

I was so hesitant with them; asking their nurses for permission first to touch, then to hold my own children. We spent their first Halloween and Thanksgiving on the top floor of Sisters Hospital. I started fantasizing about just running away with them. Just picking up my own babies and running. What could they do? Is it kidnapping to steal your own babies from the hospital? I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and anxiety at my first follow-up appointment with the obstetrician. I would later be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The PTSD triggers aren’t as frequent as they used to be, but sometimes it still hits hard. Long hallways. The smells of certain strong disinfectants and soaps. The sounds of monitors beeping. Seeing those pictures from their first day on earth, when I was floors away and didn’t know if they were even alive.

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