Trauma. I have had more than my fair share of traumatic experiences in my life. My father died when I was very young. My mother died when I was 25 after an 11-month battle with cancer and me acting as her primary caregiver—holding her hand as she took her last breath. My older sister died just a few years after when a congenital heart disease that we were told would strip her life much sooner finally took her from us. Again, I held her hand as she took her last breaths after becoming her primary caregiver following my mom’s death. So, 8 short weeks after my sister’s passing when we found out we were pregnant, I felt peace. I knew this was my little ray of sunshine. That my family was with me and we had a bright future ahead. I never knew what trauma was still to unfold in my life. Trauma accompanied by my beautiful blessing.
Pregnancy was not easy for me, but it was safe with no concerns for my little miracle’s health and that’s all I could ask for. I went to my 37-week appointment on a Thursday morning. I was tired—who isn’t? That night I felt what I thought was my water breaking but it was not very much. As I had battled chronic UTIs throughout pregnancy I chalked it up to that. I was having contractions about every 10-12 minutes. I cleaned my entire house, but it never got any worse, so I ignored it until it happened again on Sunday night. I went to L&D that day—permy doctor’s orders. The doctor on call performed a series of tests for membrane rupture where I had positive results. The doctor on call told me it was a “false positive” and sent me on my way telling me I could return if I felt unsure. I returned that night when it happened for the third time. This time I was admitted immediately. Due to covid I was completely alone until my test results came back negative and my husband could join me. By the time we got in a room it was close to 5 am. The nurse wheeled me to the room. I said I could walk but was told that due to concerns about cord prolapse I would not be allowed to walk or stand at all. This should have been my first sign, but I trusted my nurse and doctor—this is what they are trained for right?
Once my husband could join, our nurse came back in. She said that the doctor wanted to start Pitocin since my water had been broken so long. I was having contractions every 3-4 minutes, but they were not very strong. She asked about an epidural and I said I wanted to wait. She told me that they had four inductions coming in at 5:30 am and if I waited, I would be after all of those. She said the Pitocin would be more painful. She suggested I go ahead and get the epidural. This should have been my second sign. Again, I trusted the nurse over my own gut feeling. From her perspective, she was doing what she thought was best for me, no ill intentions. From my perspective, I was scared. I knew what research I had done but I am not a medical professional. I doubted my gut.
As the day progressed, the cascade of interventions continued. I had to have antibiotics for being GBS+. Then, I began to run a high temp–more antibiotics and fluid. The temp was not coming down–more antibiotics and fluid. My contractions were notstrong enough–more Pitocin. My contractions were not strong enough–internal fetal monitor. All while I was thinking to myself this is not right. Something is not right. I felt so much pressure. The tape from my epidural was causing excruciating pain in my back and burning sensations into my shoulder and neck. I could not relax. My body could not do what it was meant to do.
Around 9 pm we were told that the baby would be here by midnight one way or another. At midnight I was finally at a 9.5 and the nurse “pushed my cervix the other .5 out of the way.” The doctor felt confident in my pushing and said I looked great,but I still didn’t listen to my body. By this point I could find no relief even with an epidural. I had constant and strong pressure. I never had a break from the contractions. For 2.5 hours I pushed. The doctor decided I needed assistance. The interventions continued: episiotomy, 4 vacuum pulls, shoulder dystocia. I was left with a 4DT among other physical trauma and my daughter was left with a broken clavicle & Erb’s palsy. I do not fault the doctor; I truly believe he made the best decisions he could in the situation, but I fault myself for not being my own advocate.
That has truly been my biggest struggle with my mental health postpartum: self-blame. The PTSD set in almost immediately. I did not get to hold my daughter for almost two hours post repair. I struggled to bond with her. Every time I closed my eyes, I would feel all the pain and relive the moments of her birth. I could not sleep. I began to have panic attacks. For the first two weeks, I could not even keep her in the room with us at night. My wonderful family and friends stepped up and took care of my baby while my husband took care of me. I look back and think about her first two weeks and I cannot remember much. It breaks my heart to know how much I missed out on. The last 8 months since her birth have been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. I started physical therapy and that has helped my physical pain tremendously. I am still working through the emotional pain, anxiety, and PTSD. I do well some days and then others are harder. I have had many friends have babies since our birth and am so thankful they have had better experiences; however, I always cry when the jealousy sets in. The envy of those first few moments after birth or even the first few weeks. I never knew one of the best days of my life might also be the most traumatic. Even my history of traumatic events did not prepare me for this journey. I constantly question “why?” Why did this happen to me? But at the end of the day when I read my daughter her bedtime story, kiss her goodnight, and lay her in the crib I change that from “why me” to “why not me.” Was her birth traumatic? Absolutely. Could things have been done differently to prevent it? Probably. But regardless of our story, I try to remind myself everyday how blessed I am to lay my daughter down in her bed at night. That I was given another day with her. I try to remind myself that I can continue to ask myself “why me” or I can change that to “why not me” and “how can I use MY story to help others?”
Still, I struggle to share my story with people I know but I hope that my story will lead others to remember a few things about birth. First and foremost, be your own advocate; you know your own body better than anyone else. Second, seek help. Your feelings are valid and warranted no matter what your experience happens to be. Build a support system & do not be afraid to reach out to others. Third, know you are strong and rest in that strength. You got this mama. And I am rooting for you.
Courtney ~ Arkansas