Post Traumatic Stress and Life After Loss
I am starting to try and formally gather my thoughts together, to create a whole picture of what the world of a mother is like before, during and after stillbirth. Below is part of my story as I have begun to write it out. It is still incomplete but I am posting the so far of it. Read if you like, but be forewarned, this is my mind, unfiltered of what I have been through, it might be hard for some to experience.
As the days move slowly but continually forward, I learn to live with the loss of my son. My heart is empty and often aches and throbs but by putting one foot in front of the other I have made it this far. Grief is a curious creature though, and as soon as you somehow convince yourself you have it in the bag, the bagged is swiped from your grip, tossed on the ground violently and all it’s contents spill out all around you. You look down at all that grief and all those tears on the ground around you and you start to once again pick up all the pieces and put them back in the bag.
This is the cycle of grief, a never ending loop that just circles around you. Stillbirth is not something you ever truly move past, you just move through. You learn to live with who you are now, this new person, traumatized and broken, but with the survival instinct intact. This is where the post traumatic stress comes in. Because somehow, that survival instinct remains intact, it takes over the reins for a while allowing the mind and body time to heal and gather strength.
There are a lot of thing around Evan’s delivery I somehow forgot. Repressed I suppose is a better word. I know where I was and what I was doing, but the emotions and what I was thinking during those times just went away. Away that is until now, 1 year and 3 months later. One by one random tidbits of memories return to kick me in the gut, taking away my breath and leaving laying on the floor in a fetal position, heaving and desperately trying to re-compose myself. It is desperately painful for me to go to these places, and I usually end up vomiting when I do from the horror of re-living it. However, I know myself and I know that if I force myself to relive these memories, they will eventually have less power over me and I seem to find a little more healing with each time I recount the story of Evan’s death and birth.
Eventually I expect my full experience will return to me, until then I put the pieces of the puzzle back one small morsel at a time. So here we go. Put yourself now in my shoes. *Disclosure*: It won’t be pretty and they are damn hard shoes to put yourself in. In fact most people would like to put their fingers in their ears, squeeze their eyes shut tight and pretend they never knew of my story at all, that things like this just don’t happen to young and healthy mothers. If you are not one of those people then
It is December 24th, 4:00am, you are awakened by sharp pains in your back, you know this is early labor, the contractions that will finally bring you the baby you have been waiting 42 weeks to meet. You get out of bed and run yourself a warm bath to try and relax. As the bath grows cold you empty it and refill it with warm water-rinse, lather repeat until 6am when the contractions have become overwhelming. At that point you awaken your sleeping husband and ask him to call the midwife and tell her labor has begun fast and furious. Your husband, who is just as excited to meet the baby as you are, stumbles all over himself, lighting candles and creating a calm environment for you to labor in and await the arrival of the midwife.
It’s 7:30am and the midwife arrives finally-Between contractions and vomiting into a juice pitcher, you tell her to check the baby, you have an inclination something is wrong, you don’t know why you feel this way, you just do. Midwife using her Doppler is unable to locate the baby’s heartbeat. Trying to keep you calm, being that you are in full blown labor, midwife grabs the closest pants and shirt and get’s you dressed to transport you to the hospital. You can feel her panic but it’s hard to react because the contractions hurt so much. The ride to the hospital is the longest 10 minutes of your life or so it would seem.
Once you arrive at the hospital, they throw you into a wheelchair and wheel you, yelling loudly and uncontrollably as each new excruciating contraction begins to build, into the elevator and up to the labor and delivery unit. They lay you on a table and a nurse uses the ultrasound machine to have a look at the baby. She leaves the room and grabs a doctor who does the same. You are in so much pain and having such intense contractions every 2-3 minutes that you don’t even care or notice what is going on, but you begin to see worry in your husband’s face. The doctor then delivers those stone cold words that no parent should ever have to hear “ I am so sorry, the baby has no heartbeat”. You feel like you are on a horrible alternative dimension where babies die and you can’t even think about it because you are in way to much pain from these nonstop powerful contractions. You see your husband fall over and cry, you see your midwife fall backward and clench her chest. You feel nothing but pain. You hear your husband ask the midwife “Why is she not reacting?” and you hear midwife respond “She is in a lot of pain right now, she’s off in labor land and her reaction will be delayed.” It is now around 8:30am.
There is a gap in my memory here-Don’t worry I am sure it will come back to me eventually, when I least expect it to.
I know it goes something like this…delivery room, epidural and lots of drugs. Rest. Tears. Hours upon hours of riding out contractions doped up to the max. You have thoughts running through your mind at the speed of light, you feel a powerful mixture of horror, terror, anger, resentment, disbelief and suffocation. You feel like this is all a horrible, terrible nightmare that you are trapped in, that someone has ripped away your free will and that you are stuck in this place forever. That you will never wake up from this nightmare again, that there is no longer any hope in sight. That everything you have spent the last year preparing for, dreaming of is gone, just like that. That you have a nursery at home that your baby will never see. You feel sick and like you want to scream at the top of your lungs and yell and just hate, so much hate.
The time comes when the doctors tell you to push, you do. You push til you puke. You know on some level that your baby is coming out dead silent, but you so wish they were wrong, that he might come out crying. You push and you push but that baby is not coming out. That baby is stuck. Doctors start talking about c-sections and you think to yourself, no way, no freaking way, my baby is dead, I am not getting a baby out of this deal, you will not cut me open. You refuse. They tell you they will give you more drugs to help you sleep and see if the relaxation helps the baby turn himself into a better birthing position. 3 hours later you find out it didn’t. So now you are in a hospital bed with a dead baby determined to stay in your uterus forever.
They tell you they are going to try a forceps delivery but make you a sign a waiver that if the forceps don’t work, they will have to deliver the baby via c-section. You sign, helpless to the matter at hand. They give you a spinal freezing, you are numb from your chin down and cold, so cold, you feel yourself shaking and freezing, they keep putting more and more warm blankets on you but nothing makes a difference. They wheel you into the operating room where they make you wear an oxygen mask and it makes you feel like you are suffocating. You are terrified, you feel like you are suffocating and when you look up all you see is a sea of blue masks and people you don’t know, you cry and cry. Helpless doesn’t begin to describe what you feel when you can’t move, you are freezing, in a strange environment, no one is talking to you and your baby is dead. You clearly remembering thinking to yourself and possibly saying out loud- I am done for, this is going to traumatize me for life, how can anyone survive this?
Once again the next bit is gone.
Time passes and the next thing you remember is the surgeon sewing you up with your husband at your side, it feels like it’s taking a lifetime and you are saying to your husband through tears, so many stitches, this is taking forever I must be a mess. You recall your last thought in the OR being that everything that ever mattered is now gone, no baby and with this destroyed vagina you will never be able to make love to your husband again. Then the blank missing parts resume.
You now know you are in the recovery room, and they are asking you if you want to see your baby and you are saying no. Your mind says no, no, no, and you mouth just abides. The nurses insist he is perfect and lovely and so eventually you agree. They bring the baby into you, laying there in the bassinette and he looks just like your husband. He is so perfect, and long and he looks so healthy and perfect and just like his dad and you look at him over one inch at a time, like a science experiment. You look at this head full of hair, you touch it, you look at his nose, his eyes, his mouth. He is fully dressed in some stranger’s clothes, certainly not clothes you picked out for him, so you begin to undress him. Off comes the knit cardigan, the sleeper, his skins is so soft, you open up the diaper and check to see that he is indeed a boy. He is. This is Evan, that baby boy you waited 42 weeks to meet. The baby who kicked you when you sang to him. The baby you couldn’t wait to hold. Why don’t you feel anything? What the hell is wrong with you, this is your baby and you don’t love him? Why don’t want to hold him? You waited 42 weeks to hold him and now you just don’t want to. You are afraid of feeling his lifeless body in your arms. You are glad he looks healthy but he is dead. You tell the nurses to take him away. This is the only moment in time you will ever lay eyes on your first born child. You will never see him, hold him or touch him again. You choose not to pick him up and cradle him, it seems like the right decision at the time, you felt nothing.
You are exhausted and starving and thirsty and so you eat a little, have a drink and drift off to sleep with your husband at your side. You secretly hope you will never wake up again. You do.
The next morning you wake up in a hospital bed in an unfamiliar environment. You remember where you are, your stomach is flat, empty, devoid of the child it held and nurtured for the past 42 weeks of your life. Surely if you delivered your baby he must be in the hospital nursery or sleeping nearby. He is not. The pain of the contractions is gone and your mind is beginning to clear from the fog of the previous day. You realize that truly, your baby is gone. He is dead. Yes you gave birth and yes it hurt, but no you do not get a baby in the end to cheer you up. Your baby died and you will never get to see him again. Never in your life have you felt more empty, alone, hopeless and suicidal. You look at your loving husband who is lying with you, crying with you and you say to him “It’s good thing I have you, your all I have left to live for”. Deep down, you know that dying right now would be so much easier then moving forward without your baby.
This story to be continued….