I sat in the all too familiar waiting room at my OBGYN’s office with a tablet on my lap. I was instructed to fill out the questionnaire on the screen and bring the tablet back to the woman at the front desk when complete.
I stared at the sample statement, illustrating the instructions for the questionnaire:
In the last seven days, I have felt happy:
A. Yes, all the time
B. Yes, most of the time
C. No, not very often
D. No, not at all
If you were to select B, this would mean: ‘I have felt happy most of the time´ during the past week.
The statements requiring response that followed read things like, “I have been anxious or worried for no good reason” and “I have been able to laugh.”
My chest tightened and mind fogged, like they did everyday… then.
My memory wondered and I was in my living room.
It was four weeks after the birth of my son.
Three of my closest friends, all from different areas of the country, came in to welcome my baby.
I would see a picture of this weekend months later and wonder when it had happened. They would remind me when it was and that yes, even Megan-all the way from Texas- was there.
Thanks to the memory jog, bits and pieces of that weekend would come back to me. Including the moment when I looked at my three friends sitting on the floor passing my small baby around.
It was finally spring, not that I was aware. They wore sun dresses. I was still in maternity leggings and milk stained shirt from a plus sized collection at Target. They looked beautiful, drinking wine and laughing. And, far more natural than me with the baby.
They looked better-could do better- at this than I could.
And, I wondered, “Will I ever laugh again?”
And, then an even more strange thought with a strange word came to me: “Will I ever sparkle again?”
I felt dull and dark. Hallow, but heightened.
It’s all so obvious now.
Back in my OB’s office, I stared at the tablet.
This was my second time filling out this questionnaire, but the first time I really read it. And, the first time I realized just how bad it had been with my son.
Because, this time with my daughter, my second child- the surprise, oh shit, we never imagined having babies this close together child– it was so different.
I had been happy everyday. Not once did I cry. I wasn’t scared or panicky or worried. I laughed… often. And, while I was not a “glitter is my favorite color” kind of girl (I never had been), I sparkled with the zest for life, people and connection that I always had.
The appointment for Savannah came and went and everything checked out “perfect!” for six weeks postpartum. But still, the questions from that tablet ran through my mind even when I go home.
I tried to piece together elements of those dark, hazy, lost, disorienting weeks and I always came back to the start.
The birth of my son was far from beautiful. Slightly overdue, I was induced. Told that I had “done a good job” and to “just go over and get it over with.” After drinking the natural birth Kool-aid, I was crushed; but, never one to make a big fuss, I obeyed the doctor’s orders.
Intervention after intervention was utilized over the course of the next two days, only to find myself whisked into the operating room after my baby’s heart rate skyrocketed while- finally- pushing.
Swiftly upon arrival, my grey and not breathing son was taken to the NICU and I wouldn’t hold him until the following day.
Watching someone else hold him first, someone else softly shushing his first tears, and someone else tell him it would all be okay made me sob so hard that the anesthesiologist wiped at the tears on my cheeks with his gloved thumb as they stitched me back up.
My son would check out of the NICU in 24 hours and be fine, but soon I was not.
Within one day of being home, I called the on-call obstetrician.
Again, not wanting to make a fuss, but things didn’t seem right. I wondered that maybe I that I might have an epidural injury. They were, after all, the epitome of evil thanks to my natural birth training.
I was curious if it was something to worry about or if I should schedule an appointment. My body- back, chest and head especially- hurt, my skin was a yellow-grey and my vision seemed blurred as spots and flashes danced in my periphery.
She told me to come to the ER where they found that my kidney’s were showing signs of shutting down, fluid was encroaching on my lungs, and there was a fear that my brain was swelling.
I had postpartum preeclampsia. Something I had never even heard of.
My husband, watching my stats in triage, texted his mom- a nurse- when my blood pressure reading climbed to 204/110: “What do I need to prepare myself for?”
Four days later, and forty two pounds of fluid lighter, I was released on blood pressure medication that I would no longer need a week later as my body snapped back to normal.
An always healthy woman, with an extreme medical experience, with new baby with his own extreme medical experience, now both “fine.”
But, so far from it at the same time.
“What if’s” left me anxious and the desire for a “do over” clouded the early days. Fears of death- mine and his- followed us for months. Questions of “How did this become my story?” and “Why did my body fail me?” filled my heart with sadness.
And, always, a pinch of guilt accompanied every feeling because there is no need to make a fuss.
We were fine.
Not everyone gets to say that.
Fear, guilt. Sadness, guilt. Fear, guilt. Sadness, guilt. I lived on this carrousel for months.
Did I feel happy? No, not not very often.
Did I cry? All. The. Time.
Was I anxious? Yes, all of the time.
Was I able to laugh? No. Not at all.
Two weeks later after Savannah’s postpartum appointment, I was back at my OB’s office. This time to review birth control options, because two babies under two was 1. Not the plan. And, 2. A whole lot of work. We weren’t going there again.
But, when I made the call for the appointment, I asked for twenty extra minutes to talk.
Nervously, I explained that I wanted to know more about my son’s birth and all that happened after. I told her that in taking the the postpartum questionnaire for my daughter, it was clear to me that I had either postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety in some capacity with my son and that I thought it may stem from all that went down.
Quickly and with a soft laugh, I told her that I think I am okay now. We didn’t need to talk about it too much. I just wanted the medical-ness of it all explained. What really happened? What does it mean that his heart rate was nearly 200? Was my blood pressure really that bad? How high did it get? Did we almost… die? Or, were we okay all along? I wanted to know if there are things I need to worry about in terms of my physical heath and my son’s. Now and in the future.
She pulled up my file so we could walk through it together and then she gave me what I didn’t realize I wanted. What I needed. She said, “Oh. There is trauma here. Multiple traumas.”
Trauma? My inner monologue runs a tad dramatic, but even that seemed extreme to me.
Plus, I was already pretty convinced I was out of the thick of it. I just wanted physical details. Like, do I have to worry about learning delays because my son wasn’t breathing or could there be damage to my kidneys that I need to look out for as I get older? (Probably not for both.)
She saw my face, the one that doesn’t like to make a fuss, and said, “Claire. You need to start calling this what it is. It’s trauma.”
She explained that things like PTSD and postpartum depression or anxiety can easily be linked in situations like mine and, looking more closely, she was not surprised I had both.
The more we talked, she affirmed my feelings, validating my fears and sadness, but wouldn’t let me feel guilt. Just because we were “okay” doesn’t mean it wasn’t trauma.
She pointed me in the direction of groups, counseling and therapists, if I wanted them, and gave me the permission to finally call it what it was. Trauma.
I thought the haze of it all had lifted well before that appointment; but after just twenty minutes, I walked out feeling lighter than I had in nearly two years.
My best advice to new moms: When it comes to your health, physical or otherwise, don’t make what you are feeling smaller. Speak up. Don’t hide in embarrassment, guilt or shame. Make a fuss.