“I’ve never found therapy to be a sign of weakness; I’ve found the opposite to be true. The willingness to have a mirror held up to you definitely requires strength.” Brooke Shields
The first time I sought therapy was shortly after my grandmother’s death–I was eighteen years old. It felt embarrassing and pathetic talking to a stranger about my feelings, but it was also relieving being able to unload on an objective outsider. I was a little amused by the fact that my experience in therapy was solely controlled by me. Think about it! You tell your therapist whatever you want her or him to know about you. You carve out your life story the way you want it to be. You create the villains and the heroes. You can be a damsel in distress or the root of all evil. It is your therapist’s job to make sense of it all and help you find the solutions to fix what is troubling you.
I wasn’t in the mood to play games, but I spent several weeks avoiding the obvious. In the beginning, I often chose to talk about guys, school and my social life–anything other than the devastating loss of my Granny. I liked my therapist just fine, she was one of those “cool mom” types. You know- the kind of mom who rides a fine line between being your friend and attempting to discipline you when necessary. She wants to be your friend, so she will often let you stay out past curfew, knows you might be drinking and doing God knows what else with your friends. But she keeps the door open for you to feel comfortable telling her about it all.
Whenever she would bring up my grandmother, I would quickly change the subject. She would recommend books and I would read them, but I never wanted to discuss the reality of what I was dealing with. It was easier to tread the surface of my life, rather than dive in the deep waters of how lonely, heartbroken and depressed I felt at the time. As time went on, I began to open up more and share how lost, scared and alone I felt in the world without my grandmother. My grandmother was my rock. She represented stability and unconditional love. She was my best friend and a mother figure to me all in one. After a few weeks, I looked forward to my weekly sessions with my therapist and the relief I felt afterwards. My therapist said that it would probably take years for me to fully process the loss. At the time, I thought it was weird that it would take so long. As I have learned, healing from trauma is an individual experience. Some people can recover very quickly, while others need several months, maybe years to process what they have been through. You may be familiar with the five stages of grief and they are not all that different from some of the symptoms of PTSD.
Denial and Isolation.
When my grandmother was first admitted to the hospital, I knew deep inside that she would not be coming back home. She didn’t want me to visit her. She didn’t want me to see her weak, incapacitated and with tubes in her arms. When she died, I often pretended that she was still in the hospital and that I just couldn’t visit her anymore. I knew my grandmother had died. I felt sadness. I spent many days and nights curled up in bed sobbing about it. I attended her opened casket funeral. I wrote a speech which I delivered to her church congregation like a robot, while her body lay on display beneath the podium I was standing on. I still remember how awful the bubble gum pink lipstick they put on her looked. It was terrible with her complexion. Her funeral was on June 29, 1996. She was buried in North Carolina in the graveyard of her family church, next to her mother. I remember standing outside on that hot June day with several members of my family but I felt completely alone. As I watched her coffin being lowered into the ground, I swore I could hear her voice calling out to me from beyond the grave with her southern accent.
Seriously? Are you going to let me be buried with this God-awful hot pink lipstick on? I look like a damn hooker!
To this day, I still regret not saying something about it. At the time I was frozen in disbelief that I would never see her again.
I was eighteen years old and the most important person in my life had just died of cancer. I was extremely angry. To some degree I am still angry about it. I feel robbed. I’m sometimes angry at those of you who take your older loved ones for granted. You are lucky. I’m jealous of you too. Many of you had or have parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents that have lived long enough to see all of your successes and how you overcame your failures. My grandmother was in her mid-fifties when she died. I always thought she would live forever.
My grandmother died of liver cancer. The cancer started somewhere else in her body, but by the time it was discovered there was a tumor the size of a grapefruit in her liver. There was no amount of begging, pleading or bargaining that I could do to attempt to save her life. I wanted to postpone the inevitable, but unfortunately, we don’t get to negotiate in these circumstances. I kept thinking maybe if I had pushed her to go to a doctor when she began complaining about stomach pains a year earlier, they would have caught the cancer sooner. What if I had paid more attention to her symptoms and not been so caught up in the excitement of my senior year in high school? Every time I brought up going to the doctor, she reassured me that she was ok.
I was depressed thinking about the life I had lost and thinking about the life my grandmother would miss out on. These feelings came back strongly after my surgery. Of course, I was happy I survived and would be blessed to see Miss J grow up, but I often felt sad thinking about how close my daughter came to having a life without me.
I had a hard time accepting the finality of my grandmother’s death. But just like my therapist said, about three years afterwards it sunk in. I hated saying it out loud. My grandmother died. As I write this, I am giggling to myself, recalling a brief period of time that I would actually tell people that she went on vacation. Just like my grandmother’s death, I had a hard time accepting that I had PTSD. When I accepted my diagnosis and made the commitment to do the work to recover from the trauma I suffered after giving birth, the healing process truly began.
Now, here I was thirteen years later and the thought of sitting on a therapists couch and discussing the surgery was not appealing to me. I was thirty-two years old. I knew I could benefit from talking about my feelings, but I was busy. I just didn’t know when I could find the time and truthfully, I was terrified to leave Miss J alone for one minute. I hadn’t had a good nights sleep in weeks, partly due to the demands of being a new mom and partly being terrified that I would wake up in a pool of my own blood, hemorrhaging again.
I spent several days looking at the list of therapists Dr. Chinn had given me. I Googled the name of the woman with the star next to her name, Dr. Jones*. She seemed to have all the right credentials: Ivy League education, several years of experience and she specialized in women’s mental health, particularly post-partum issues. Five weeks after Miss J was born, I made the phone call and scheduled a consultation. I couldn’t run away from it any longer. I was not sleeping. I replayed the hemorrhaging and Dr. B “massaging” my uterus over and over again. The fear of leaving Miss J a motherless child and Bobby a widower. Being conscious for the three hour surgery, not knowing what the outcome would be. The feeling of being robbed of the first moments of my daughter’s life-not being able to hold my own child after twenty-seven hours of labor.
As I spoke to Dr. Jones on the phone, describing to her the events that happened after Miss J’s birth, I was transported back to being the embarrassed, sad and angry eighteen year old that I had been all those years ago after my grandmother died. I cried heavily into the phone, barely able to catch my breath as I outlined the course of the week I spent in the hospital in graphic detail.
I scheduled an appointment and collapsed on my couch. I had been bottling up so many of my feelings inside. The brief release of it all during the phone call with Dr. Jones gave me a small ray of hope that I would benefit once again from sitting on the couch of stranger, telling her the most intimate and personal details of my life.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.
The five stages of grief was cited from here.
“And oh she had been broken. She hid it well, but Ross knew from personal experience that once you had put the pieces together, even though you might look intact, you were never quite the same as you’d been before the fall.” Jodi Picoult, Second Glance
Bobby and Miss J accompanied me to my first post partum doctors appointment–the last time I was there, I was thirty-six weeks pregnant. After thirty-six weeks, they tell you to be prepared because you can deliver at any time. Boy, was I ready!
Towards the end of my pregnancy I indulged in any type of food I wanted and as a result, I gained a whopping 42 pounds. Dr. B once asked me why I was gaining two pounds every week. I told him it was because after every appointment, I walked down the street to Five Guys to gorge myself on a cheeseburger and fries. Then, when I got home, I would eat Haagen-Daaz strawberry ice cream. I would try to have only one or two scoops, but I couldn’t resist. I usually ended up eating the entire pint. He looked a little disgusted at my confession. I was nine months pregnant and I was always hungry. Back off!
Now, it was two weeks after the birth of my child and a lot had changed. The last time I was there I was giddy and nervous with excitement at becoming a mom. Now, I was exhausted and broken down. I was on the edge, always afraid that I would hemorrhage again.
I checked in with the receptionist. I felt like everyone (the staff as well as the patients) in the waiting room knew all of my business.
Look, that’s her. That’s the lady who almost died after giving birth.
The three of us waited until they called my name. Miss J was in her car seat sleeping and we piled into the exam room. A nurse weighed me and took my blood pressure and then instructed me to take my clothes off from the waist down. When I asked why, she told me it was because Dr. Chinn needed to do a post partum check-up to see how I was healing. I was not prepared for that. I didn’t want anyone looking down there. The nurse handed me several of those rough paper sheets to cover myself with and left the room.
Dr. B briefly popped into the room to say hello and ask how I was doing. I did not want to see him. I wanted him to leave. Seeing him filled me with mixed emotions. He helped saved my life, but I felt so violated by him at the same time. He knelt down and said hello to Miss J and told her how gorgeous she was. Before leaving he gave Bobby a congratulatory handshake and me a hug.
After a few minutes Dr. Chinn came in with a nurse. Dr. Chinn has one of the most pleasant dispositions I have ever come across. Her voice is very soothing. You never feel like you are bothering her with too many questions and although her schedule is usually jammed packed, she makes you feel like you are her only patient for the entire day. Her hair and make-up are usually done beautifully too, which you all know I appreciate.
She looked through my chart (which was now the size of the Iliad) and began to go over everything I had been through and everything I could expect over the next few weeks. It was hard to hear it regurgitated all over again. Hemorrhage. Transfusions. Embolization. I could feel my eyes starting to water, but I held it in. Next she asked me to lie down and put my feet in the stirrups. I could feel a huge lump forming in my throat. I wish Bobby had left the room. It was embarrassing. I was wearing a huge maxi pad and still bleeding. I was afraid to spread my legs. I was worried that the stitches from the surgery might pop and I would hemorrhage again, right there in the examination room. I spread my legs very slowly. When Dr. Chinn was finished, she covered me up with a sheet and said that I was healing as expected, but that I would see some bleeding for several more weeks. She explained that I was to call her or Dr. B if more than two maxi pads filled with blood in less than an hour.
I pulled up my underwear and my pants and sat up on the table. I wanted to talk to her alone. I couldn’t speak freely in front of Bobby. I asked him to take Miss J out to the waiting room.
She handed me a sheet of paper with the names of several therapists typed on it and I started to sob. I noticed a star next to one of the names. That person must handle the really crazy people, like me, I thought to myself.
“Oh no, am I crazy now?” I asked sobbing and kind of laughing at the same time.
“You’ve been through a terrifying event and you’re holding up quite well considering what you’ve been through. But I do think it would be helpful to speak to a therapist when you’re ready.” Dr. Chinn replied.
She handed me some tissues and held both my hands. I sat on the edge of the examination table with my hands covering my eyes, and cried until no more tears came out.
“You’ve probably read in People that I’m a nice guy – but when the doctor first told me I had Parkinson’s, I wanted to kill him.” Michael J. Fox
Often, doctors have to give people extremely bad news.
“You’re in bad shape, kid. Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna try to stop the bleeding. I gotta do an embolization to stop the bleeding. If that doesn’t work, you have to get a hysterectomy. You have to realize that if you get a hysterectomy, you won’t be able to have any more children, okay? But, I have to tell you this: if the bleeding continues, you will die tonight. ”
Now it was more than a week later and Dr. B had given me more bad news.
“I think you might have PTSD.”
I spent the two days before my appointment with Dr. Chinn googling phrases like “PTSD”, “PTSD and childbirth”, and “PTSD and new mothers”. I didn’t find anything that was relevant to me, a new mom. Every search turned up the same few results: war veterans, victims of accidents and people who had been sexually abused. I was confused. I was embarrassed. I felt alone. I felt afraid and somewhat unworthy to acknowledge that I now fit into this category. To me, these people were real victims of trauma and those who survived were heroes.
Every website I read had the same definition:
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event.
I hadn’t been formally diagnosed yet. It was still just a possibility. I did not want to have a mental health condition. I reread the symptoms several times until I memorized them.
- Trouble sleeping
I hadn’t slept more than an hour each day since I gave birth.
I could still hear the machines beeping and see the reflection of the blood in the television.
- Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
When I was able to sleep for brief periods, I often awoke startled and sweaty.
- Reliving the traumatic event for several minutes, maybe even days at a time
My hair was shoulder length at the time. I started to wear it in a ponytail, not only to keep it out of my face but also because when it touched my shoulders, I could feel the wet vomit on my neck and face all over again.
- Being easily startled of frightened
This was a symptom that developed once I started to venture out of the house with Miss J.
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
During the surgery, I concentrated on trying to stay alive. Feelings of guilt came like waves over me from time to time several weeks and months after the surgery, just thinking about the possibility of Bobby and Miss J losing me.
- Irritability or anger
I was irritable and angry about all of the above.
- Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
Well, I was a new mom at the time. I was avoiding all activities I previously enjoyed.
- Feeling emotionally numb
The only thing I did not feel numb to was being a mother. Nursing. Pumping. Sterilizing. Sanitizing. Changing diapers. Swaddling. Cuddling. Being a mother was very real. Miss J kept me going.
I discovered other symptoms that are not listed above, but scared me deeply. I hadn’t experienced any of the following and I dreaded the possibility that I could be headed in this direction:
- Self destructive behavior, such as drinking too much alcohol
If you know me, you know I like my drinks- but at the time, the thought of drinking made me sick to my stomach. I didn’t want to do anything that would cause me,Miss J or Bobby to experience any more trauma than we had already been through. I became overly cautious about everything.
- Hearing or seeing things that are not there
During the chaos of the hemorrhage, feeling my body weaken and losing life, every time I closed my eyes all I saw was black. Maybe I watch too much television, but I never saw a white light or a loved one ready to welcome me to the other side. A part of me wished I had seen something or someone, it would have been somewhat of a comfort at the time, a sign that no matter what happened, I was going to be okay.
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
This was a symptom that would develop for me over time. It started with me not wanting to see or talk to Dr. B. From that point on, I made all of my post partum follow-up appointments with Dr.Chinn, a female ob/gyn at the practice. Eventually these feelings carried over into my relationship with Bobby. It was hard for me to let him hug me or kiss me. Forget about sex. I felt so violated by Dr. B., Dr. Richmond and everyone who was a witness to what happened to me that night. Every time Bobby touched me, I saw myself back on the hospital bed, bleeding and vomiting. I saw his face, deeply concerned, yet there was nothing he could do to help me. I was cold and naked with strangers hands inside of my private parts.
- Memory problems
Resource cited for definition of PTSD and Symptoms: Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Definition.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 08 Apr. 2011. Web. 09 Nov. 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/DS00246/DSECTION=symptoms>.
I wasted a lot of time that I should have spent sleeping staring at my naked body in our bathroom mirror. I stared at my stomach, which was still bloated and in an odd football shape. I stared at my legs and feet that were swollen with fluid. I stared at my breasts. They had grown from a 32A pre-pregnancy to a 36DD. I used to joke about getting breast implants and now I had a full rack for free. They were big, round and hard. I was actually proud of how fake they looked. Sometimes I fantasized that I was a Playboy centerfold airbrushed to perfection showing off my new breasts to the world. The reality was that even in their glory, my new breasts were sore, raw and swollen from Miss J’s constant need to be fed every hour. I needed a break. One morning while Miss J and Bobby were both asleep, I decided to try out my brand new Medela Freestyle Breast Pump.
For all of you breast pump novices out there, the Medela Freestyle is a lightweight electric pump that allows you to pump breast milk hands free. There was a picture in the pamphlet of a woman sitting at her office desk pumping while typing on the computer. Well if she could do that at work while typing away on her computer, I felt reassured that I could handle pumping at home sitting on my couch. I read through the entire instruction manual. My pump was fully charged and ready to go. In fact, I had brought it with me to the hospital but it never made it out of my suitcase.
I had all of the necessary accessories and a new vocabulary. Breast shields. Breast shield connectors. Breast milk bottles. Breast milk storage bags. Membranes. Tubing. I unclipped the flaps on my nursing bra and began to assemble this contraption. It was very awkward looking. How in the hell was this contraption dangling off my breasts going to stay up without me holding it? I needed a live visual so I sat at my desk and logged onto the Medela website. I watched several step-by-step videos on how to assemble the hands free pump. I turned it on. And I waited. There were two phases. The first phase simulates when a baby first goes to feed from the breast, they suck fast and light to stimulate milk production. The second phase is the expression phase. The pump simulates this phase, when after milk starts to flow, babies breastfeed with a slower, deeper suck, bringing out more milk faster. The motor made a series of strange sounds and suddenly I yelled out in pain. I had the speed up too high! I felt helpless as I watched my poor nipples being vacuumed up roughly into the breast shields. I shut the motor off. I decided to give it another try, but not before taking the time to go and look at myself in the mirror and have a good chuckle at the milk bottles dangling off my nursing bra.
After re-watching the videos I realized that I could easily adjust the speed of the vacuum on the pump. I turned it on again. It took a few tries before I found a speed that felt tolerable to me. Luckily the pump has a memory and saves the speed settings for future use. The vacuum started and after a couple of minutes I began to see white beads of liquid emerge from my breast ducts. There’s that liquid gold baby! Liquid gold is what our childbirth educator, Mary, called breast milk because it has so many nutrients. After a few minutes, milk began to squirt from my right breast, drops at first and then full streams. I watched it flow into the milk bottle. Somehow I hadn’t secured the shield properly on my left breast and so the vacuum effect wasn’t as strong. No milk came out at all. It pissed me off so I dismantled the shield and bottle on my left breast and watched the right one fill an entire eight ounce bottle of milk. I was proud of myself. I shut off the pump and held the bottle of milk in my hand for a few minutes. The milk was warm and had a slight yellow tint. I sniffed it and my curiosity got the best of me so I stuck my finger into the milk and tasted it. It was syrupy sweet. No wonder Miss J couldn’t enough of this stuff! The thought of using it as creamer in Bobby’s coffee to see if he could tell a difference between that and his beloved french vanilla Coffee Mate crossed my mind. (No, I didn’t do it). I put a lid on top of the bottle and put it in the fridge. I was going to attempt to bottle feed Miss J later that night.
Bobby and Miss J were still sleeping. I sat at my desk again and logged onto the internet. I clicked on a few of my favorite parenting websites. I sat there like a zombie staring at the screen, reading but not absorbing anything.
The phone rang. It was Dr. B. He called me every day.
“How are you?” He asked.
“I’m good. Um. Just finished breast milk pumping. Now I’m reading.” I replied nervously.
“You’re good?” He knew I was lying.
“Well, the baby is good. Bobby is good. I am, you know…ok.”
“Are you sleeping?”
“No. I can’t sleep. I’m afraid to sleep.” My throat was beginning to get a lump in it and tears were starting to fill my eyes.
“When is your next appointment to see me?”
“In a couple days. But I’m not seeing you, I’m seeing Dr. Chinn.”
“Why did you book with Dr. Chinn?” He seemed a bit disappointed.
“ I can’t see you right now. There are things that I want to talk to her about woman to woman. I don’t want you to look at or touch my body. I don’t want to talk to you about my body right now.” The feeling of his arm inside of my body up to his elbow, massaging my uterus and trying to get it to contract had not left me. I thought about it all the time.
“I understand. There is something that I wanted to talk to you about before we get off the phone.”
“Okay. What?” I love Dr. B but I wanted the conversation to be over.
“You’re a very strong person. I’m proud of how you handled everything that happened to you. I want you to know that what you went through is no different than a soldier who goes to war and comes back with the wounds to prove it. I mean it. I want you to take this very seriously. I think you might have PTSD.”
“I don’t hate my baby.”
No, you’re confusing this with PPD. PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m going to speak with Dr. Chinn. When you come in for your appointment we’ll have a plan in place to help you in any way you need. I’ll also give you a list of some good therapists to speak to about PTSD”.
Therapists? Oh shit, he thought I was crazy.
Dr. B went on to explain a few of the traits of having PTSD. I was hesitant to agree with him at that moment but I knew he might be right.
Now I realize how ignorant my comment about PPD above was. At the time I had no idea what PTSD was and I knew very little about PPD (post partum depression). All I knew was that I was a sleep deprived new mother, replaying the gruesome details of a terrible ordeal over and over again in my mind every day, all day long.
“I remember leaving the hospital – thinking, ‘Wait, are they going to let me just walk off with him? I don’t know beans about babies! I don’t have a license to do this.’ We’re just amateurs.” Anne Tyler
You have to have an absurd amount of schooling and experience to be considered for most jobs. You have to fill out an application, go for an interview (sometimes several), and then you wait to hear the outcome.
When you want to have a baby, there are no requirements at all. There is no age minimum (although there should be!) and neither formal education nor prior experience is necessary; although we did take a childbirth education class two months before Miss J was born. Yup! A two day class was all we needed to learn how to care for a helpless newborn.
The ten-minute drive from the hospital to our house took almost a half an hour. I sat in the backseat next to Miss J as I watched the speedometer like a hawk. Bobby drove very slowly (probably around ten miles per hour) and when I thought he was driving too fast (twenty miles per hour), I would scold him in a whisper from my perch (the backseat).
Slow down! The baby!
When we got home we put Miss J in her bassinet in the living room and stared down at her.
“What should we do now?” Bobby asked.
“I think we are supposed to change her diaper.” I replied, reflecting on the baby class.
Miss J looked at us as if to say “Oh, great. I must be the first kid for these two idiots.”
We desperately tried to recall everything we learned in childbirth education class. We had an awesome teacher, Mary, who was very thorough and patient. We spent several hours over two weekends with four other couples practicing essentials like changing, burping, feeding and CPR on human baby replicas. We watched videos on safety, hygiene and relationships. Now, the reality was here. We had a live person who was dependent on us. Our brains were fried and we were exhausted from several sleepness nights in the hospital.
“Yeah, lets change her diaper. If there’s poop in there it should be mustard yellow colored, right?” Bobby, the baby pro, had a print out of the baby poop color chart from our class on hand to refer to.
“Yeah, I think so.” I replied.
There was a tiny bit of bright yellow liquid poop in her diaper. We analyzed the color and texture of it like two scientists in a lab and compared it to the baby poop color chart.
“Okay, she is six days old so yup this looks about right, her poop matches the color on the chart. Bright mustard yellow.” Bobby replied proudly.
We continued to change her diaper every hour, even when it was dry because that was what we thought we were taught to do in childbirth education class. Miss J must have been so annoyed.
Next, we put her on our bed and took turns swaddling her in all the beautiful and newly gifted baby blankets we had received. Bobby was much better at swaddling than I was. I was afraid to make it too tight! The blankets always unraveled when I did it, but he had no problem securing our baby like a baby burrito.
Soon Miss J started to turn red and scrunch her face up–it was feeding time. I was so happy to be able to finally breastfeed her in the privacy of my own home. I sat on the bed, propped up by no less than eight pillows and began to feed her. Ha! Take that Bobby. He was the king of swaddling, but I had mastered the most important job, feeding.
After she was finished eating I took a long, hot shower. The water in the hospital never got above luke warm. I like my showers very hot–the temperature should be barely tolerable. It had been months since I had been able to take a very hot bath or shower because it is not good to do so while pregnant.
As soon as I stepped into the shower, tears begun to stream down my face and pooled together with the water from the showerhead. It felt good to finally have a release. I was tired, in pain and overwhelmed. I stared down at the floor of the tub. The water was swirling around in a dark pink tainted circle as blood still flowed from my body. Dr. B said this was normal and I would see this for a few weeks. I was so tired of seeing blood.
When I was finished, I put on some clean and comfortable pajamas and got into bed. My legs were swollen with fluid to at least two times their normal size. It felt good to prop them up on some pillows. It was getting late, around nine o’clock and Miss J was hungry again. I fed her and we put her in her mini-crib, the only crib that would fit into our walk-in closet turned nursery.
Bobby and I stared down at her for a few minutes, she was swaddled up and we thought she was just about drifting off to sleep. We turned off the light. We had barely made it back to our bedroom when she started wailing at the top of her lungs. Bobby picked her up and she immediately stopped crying. Her eyes closed after a few minutes and then he put her back in her crib. It wasn’t long before she started crying again. Bobby picked her up and she stopped crying. We were told that babies only cry when they are hungry, need to be changed or when they are sick. Miss J had been fed and her diaper had been changed. She wasn’t sick. Miss J was demanding to be held. We took turns holding her for several hours. Bobby caved in to the need to sleep. I hadn’t slept in days. I was used to staying up all night since the surgery and having to breastfeed every hour.
So there we were, the three of us, in bed together. I looked down at Bobby. He was already snoring. Must be nice, I thought to myself. I held Miss J in my arms. With a look, she dared me to put her back into the crib.
“Don’t worry I won’t even try”, I said out loud to her. I held her close in my arms all night. I felt her warm, soft cheeks next to mine, I smelled her. I did everything but attempt to put her in her crib.
It was fine by me. I couldn’t sleep anyway.
The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress and grows brave by reflection. -Thomas Paine
This past spring and summer were full of changes–similar to the spring and summer after Miss J was born. We have recently uprooted ourselves and made the big trek from the city to suburbia. This transition is mourned by some, welcomed by others and often necessary once you have children.
I got so caught up in all the change, I neglected my blog! I apologize again for my absence. You, the reader, deserve better. I was too busy meeting with painters, landscapers (although my parents really hooked us up on this), fence people, window repairmen, contractors, electricians and tree limb removers. Did I leave anything out? But, this is what happens when you buy a house built in the 1800’s that is loaded with “charm”. The charm wears off about 2 months after closing on the house.
First, a pipe will start leaking in your basement, only a drip at first and then, the next thing you know, it becomes a bucket-full. Pretty soon, your local water department has to dig up your sidewalk to find your water line, which turns out to be filled with tree limbs and mud. Charming, isn’t it? The next time (if there is a next time, as I have sworn to never move again!) we buy a home (especially one with no central air), remind me of all of this and tell me to buy turn-key only, please. If you hear me mutter the words, “charm,” “original details” or “character,” remind me of this story.
Anyway… How have you been?
I spent five days in the hospital after Miss J was born. Remember I told you how several of my friends thought Miss J was born via C-section because I was in the hospital for so long? Unlike in most hospitals, I felt no pressure from the staff to leave. The head nurse of the maternity unit would always emphasize that I could stay as long as I wanted. Maybe they were just afraid of a lawsuit or maybe they actually gave a damn about my health and well- being. I will never know the truth, but I was treated like a Queen.
It took about three days post surgery for me to be able to walk a few steps to the bathroom in my room without assistance. Getting out of the bed was so painful. I wore huge maxi pads in my underwear. I swear those things went from my belly button to my butt crack and still the bed would often be spotted with blood. With every step I took across the floor of my room, I would drip blood. I remember the sound of the blood hitting the linoleum. Drip. Drip. Drip. If I had gone missing, they could have found me easily by just following the trail of blood. I wanted to stay in the hospital forever. I wanted to hide from everyone. I just wanted to be alone. The only people I could stand to see were Bobby, Dr.B and the nurses, and of course-Miss J.
Miss J’s birth was eventually outed on my Facebook page. Only a few people knew that I had gone into labor and given birth that week. I felt pressured to post a picture. You know how it is. Nowadays if you don’t post a picture of your newborn on Facebook within an hour of his or her birth, people will assume went wrong. I did my duty and uploaded a picture of Miss J. No details about my life saving emergency surgery. Just a sweet picture of my newborn all swaddled up followed by a few pics of Bobby and I-the new parents smiling and holding our precious bundle of joy.
We had several visitors over the course of my hospital stay. One of Bobby’s sisters (he has three of them so keep up as you read) and her husband had come to the hospital while I was in surgery. I was happy that he had people there for him. I’m an only child. I am used to handling everything on my own. I’m not used to needing people and I don’t really have a lot of “people”. Since my grandmother’s death, the only person who has ever rushed to my side during times of crisis before I met Bobby was Erica. I often think about our marriage ceremony and the vows we took that day. Spiritually we were united as one person but Bobby would never truly understand the depth of what had just happened to me. I would never want him to. I don’t want him or Miss J or anyone that I know and love to know what it feels like to have their body losing life. I don’t want any of you to have to know what it feels like to have someone tell you that you might die tonight and you have to watch how it all unfolds.
Bobby was bombarded with calls and texts of people wondering when and if they could come visit us. I don’t know why I agreed to have visitors in the hospital. It must have been the medication clouding my judgement or maybe I thought that’s what we were supposed to do. There were some people who just wouldn’t take no for an answer. They have since apologized. Some of them weren’t moms back then but they are now and they get it. I should have been honest and said I wanted to be left alone. I did not want anyone to see me in such poor condition. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about anything. I didn’t want to explain the twenty-seven hours of labor, the vomit, the blood and the surgery. I appreciated that people cared enough to come and see us so I managed my pain as best I could, went with the flow and enjoyed my company.
I guess I needed people.
My Godson’s parents and another one of Bob’s sisters came to visit us on day three. We were happy to see them. As much as I was hesitant to allow visitors, they all helped brighten my spirits. I loved watching everyone ooh and ahhh over Miss J.
On day four I was starting to get around a little better. Around lunchtime Bobby went to a diner to get me some “real” food. You would think that being charged six thousand dollars per day in the hospital would get you Ritz Carlton quality cuisine, but as we all know nothing could be farther from the truth. I was dying for a cheeseburger and fries. Off Bobby went.
While Bobby was gone I breastfed Miss J and dozed off. Miss J had no problems latching on and I had no problems making milk. I was always so afraid in those early days of her life that I would accidentally drop her or roll over on her while I was asleep. I woke up startled with her still attached to my breast and I carefully placed her into the bassinet. I had to pee really badly but I was afraid too. I had been holding it in for hours, dreading it. I was spoiled by the catheter the first couple of days after my surgery. Why did they have to take it out? It felt good not to feel the pain of relieving myself. Every time I peed it was excruciating. I was given a special spray and a water bottle to squirt up into my private parts to relieve the burning sensation, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to stuff a giant bag of ice between my legs. I usually called a nurse to come and help me pee when Bobby wasn’t around, but I just wanted to do it on my own. I wanted to feel some life in my legs and I was getting tired of seeing people. Or rather, people seeing me and touching me. It felt like an eternity for me to walk from my bed to the bathroom. At one point I almost turned around and went back to the bed. I thought about peeing on myself. Yes, I really did. I’m sure I had already done it at some point anyway. Hell, they had seen my body do much worse! Peeing on myself would be nothing. I decided to continue my trek to the bathroom and eventually I made it. I braced myself and held my breath before I bent my knees. I did my routine. Pee. Ouch! Rinse. Spray.
Ahhhh a brief moment of relief!
While I was cleaning up I heard the door to my room open and then someone yelled, “Surprise!”
I was in the middle of pulling up my underwear when I heard the familiar voices. It was Bobby’s parents and another one of his sisters. I was certainly surprised.
I had left the bathroom door partially open and scurried to close it before they walked all the way in. Shit! Bobby wasn’t back yet! I yelled out to them that I was in the bathroom. I washed my hands and splashed some cool water on my face. I was happy to see them, but I was not happy about being surprised. It wasn’t their fault, I could not expect them to understand what I had just gone through. I practiced smiling in the mirror and emerged from the bathroom. I gave them all uncomfortable hugs and kisses, self-conscious of my sweat, milk and blood stained hospital gown.
I crawled back into the bed. They took turns cuddling with Miss J. It was the most adorable thing I had ever seen. Miss J seemed to know them all instantly. She understood that these smiling people were not strangers, they were her family.
Bobby came back, food in hand, about twenty minutes later. Miss J was starting to get hungry again. She scrunched her face up and started to turn red. That was the signal. If I didn’t get my boob in her mouth quick enough, soon she would start wailing at full force. Bobby handed her to me and I suddenly realized that I had to breastfeed her in front of everyone. I was tired of my private parts being on display. Breastfeeding in the beginning was exhausting, sometimes painful, and downright embarrassing. It was weird at first having Bobby and anyone else for that matter, watch me breastfeed. A woman’s life is spent following certain rules, one of them being not to expose your private parts in public, although I’m sure many of us are guilty of violating this rule at some point in our life whether we mean to, or not. Only when you are a mother does is become it acceptable to whip out your breasts when need be, wherever you are. I was still adjusting.
Soon there was another knock on the door. “Surprise!”
Again? You have got to be fucking kidding me. What the hell was going on today?
It was one of my best friends, Lisa. She had driven all the way to New Jersey from Philadelphia. She had a cheese steak sub and a co-worker in tow. “Hi Girrrrrlll, I brought you a Philly Cheese steak sub! Oh and this is my co-worker, Jessica! Don’t be mad girl, I had to come see you and the baby!”, she exclaimed at the top of her lungs. I couldn’t help but start laughing. My stomach and my crotch hurt as a giggled. I was still nervous about busting the stitches holding my vagina together. Now there were seven adults, a newborn, an exposed breast, a cheeseburger and a cheese steak sub in my hospital room.
What was next? A partridge in a pear tree?
Day five was much less eventful than day four. Bobby and I spent the morning filling out paperwork, dressing Miss J in her “going home” outfit and taking pictures. I said goodbye to the nurses and their aides who had been by my side all week-long. I said goodbye to the lady who brought me my nasty hospital cafeteria breakfast every morning. I said goodbye to the janitor who came to clean my room and take out my garbage every day since the day I was admitted after my water broke. We had gotten to know each other quite well over that week and we would often speak to each other in his native language, spanish. When he came to clean my room the day after my surgery he looked at me in the bed and said, “Dios Mio, you alive?” He seemed to be expecting to find the room empty or perhaps stumble upon a few mourning family members packing up their deceased loved one’s belongings. It was my first realization of how serious the events of the previous evening had been. It was the first time that someone expressed out loud their own shock at me beating the odds and surviving.
Now, I was no longer a patient. I would no longer have an entire staff of nurses and aides at my disposal twenty-four hours a day. Bobby strapped Miss J into her car seat and a nurse helped me into a wheelchair. Several nurses and other hospital staff members rode with us down the elevator. I waited in the lobby with Miss J and a few nurses while Bobby pulled the car to the front entrance. We exchanged several hugs with the staff ,thanked them for everything they had done for us that week and got into our car.
It was time to go home.
The world we’re in right now, it’s like showing emotion has become a bad thing. Like there’s something wrong with you if you’re really in love or really angry and you show it. Like, if you feel those powerful emotions and you express them, instead of keeping them inside then you must be someone who needs therapy, or Prozac.’ -James Gandolfini
I’m Sorry. I’ve been busy.
Before Miss J was born, it was annoying when my friends with children would complain about how busy they were. Busy doing what? I would ask myself. Well, now I know. When I am not working, writing and still trying to sell “The Heart of Beauty,” I am shuffling Miss J back and forth to school, extracurriculars and parties. I am cooking breakfast and dinner. Packing lunch for school. I am attempting to clean the house–unsuccessfully, usually. I am giving baths. I am chasing Miss J around the house, while trying to comb her hair. I also manage to find time to tell Bobby that his tie doesn’t match, change his shoes and put more gel in his hair and to please throw away the socks that have holes! I am doing music time, reading time, story time. I am wiping up poo. I am bribing Miss J with M and M’s. I am standing on a corner a few blocks away from home using the new meditation techniques I learned in Yoga while Miss J has a public meltdown. I am nursing boo-boos from the playground. My day ends with Miss J finally in bed, making demands for one more hug and kiss and a cup of milk and water. Then she asks for her Ipad or her phone to make a call. Eventually she doses off to sleep holding whichever stuffed animal or doll is the flavor of the month while rattling off a new song she learned in school.
At the end of each day, I try to savor a few moments of silence, catch up on some shows I’ve DVR’d, and perhaps, enjoy a glass of wine. Lately, I have been busy doing something else: avoiding you, my readers.
April and May are complicated and busy months. There’s Miss J’s birthday, my birthday and Mother’s Day and they are all within the same three-week period. My grandmother’s birthday is in June. I still miss her so much. This June, I admit, I was just being lazy. I ran out of excuses when July came. I feel stronger and happier than ever, yet the memories still linger. I’m basking in the happy times now and I don’t want to go back to that dark place, but it’s hard.
I don’t think of myself as someone who can’t let things go. I can and I have. But, it took a lot of work to get to this place. I had to learn how to redefine happiness for myself. My life completely changed after the trauma I went through and no one can tell you when and how you should heal. People might tell you to “get over it” and “stop dwelling on the past,” “life is too short,” etc., but if you have ever lived through something you shouldn’t have, you obviously know this. Only you have the ability to know what you are feeling in your heart and mind. Part of recovering from a trauma is allowing yourself to explore the full range of your emotions. There is no perfect timeline and there is no perfect treatment. Having a support system is crucial. Bobby was mine and eventually my therapist (the second one) was too.
I have learned how to separate the incident from my everyday life. PTSD is a diagnosis I was given after surviving a traumatic event. It will always be a small part of me but does not define who I am. PTSD is what I recovered from. It was hard to let go of the label. I got used to justifying certain behaviors because I was a trauma survivor with PTSD. I went from normal life to being thrusted into a group of war veterans, individuals who had been abused and those who had lost limbs. Where did I, a new mom who almost hemorrhaged to death post delivery fit in? After connecting with several other people with PTSD, I realized that the one thing we all had in common was that we felt betrayed by other people, our bodies, the circumstances, or all of the above. There were very few resources available for us. There was no group for me to join. So, as you know, I took a leap and started this blog in hopes of helping other women who have survived a traumatic event. After starting this blog, I began to receive emails from women all over the world, sharing the most intimate details of their lives with me. I found that all of us had one thing in common, we believed that our bodies had deceived us.
How would we learn to trust our bodies again?
A few months ago, I began winding down my therapy appointments from every week to just once a month. I felt guilty for taking a therapy hiatus, but my counselor understood. I hope she was proud that I was ready to move on–it was a true sign of how gifted she is at her job. I was tired of talking about everything. I needed to do something. Yes, I get the irony here. I was tired of talking to my therapist about it all, but here I am, telling you everything.
My mind was beginning to feel free and clear from the PTSD symptoms but my body constantly felt fatigued and sore. My back and legs were constantly in pain. I decided that it was time to bridge the connection between healing both my mind and my body. I began by reading “Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body”. This book helped me understand the importance of including my body into the healing process. I signed up for a beginners Yoga class in April. Really, I did!
If you are one of my friends reading this and know how anti-Yoga I used to be, you can stop laughing now.
I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity in the Yoga studio. There were women and men of all ages, races and sizes. Our beginners class was small, just six of us. Our teacher, Maja, was a sweet-natured (but stern) blond. She started the first class by asking us why we chose to start yoga. I shared my PTSD story with the class. It amazes me now how open I am about it. I have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. Neither do you. Maja explained the fundamentals and principles. We then began “our practice”. The word practice sounded strange to me. I thought yoga was just exercise. Maja explained that practice refers to your individual experience with yoga over time. Anyone can do, I mean practice yoga.
I wanted to bust out laughing when we started the practice by chanting “Om.”
You know it is hard for me to be quiet.
While our eyes were supposed to be closed, I looked around the room to see what my peers were up to. Everyone looked so peaceful with their eyes closed and their hands in prayer over their hearts. Sometimes, Maja would catch me and remind me to focus on my own practice. Gee whiz, guess I better really try to concentrate, I thought. I focused and tried to shut out the outside world. Before I knew it, I had disappeared into a calm realm. Although I was in a room full of people, I felt alone. I could feel my breath traveling through my body. Our class intensified and we moved from breathing exercises to learning poses that I had only seen in magazines and on television. Within minutes, I was doing poses I never thought possible! Downward Dog. Mountain. Cat. Plank. Warrior. I was doing it all!
No, not perfectly, but I was giving it my best.
What surprised me most about that first yoga class was how much I could feel my emotions running through me. I could feel every ounce of pain trying to escape. I was terrified. I realized what the problem was. I had betrayed myself. I have always been an open and upfront person when it comes to expressing myself. But somehow over the last three or four years I had put my emotions into a container that I managed to keep tightly sealed.
When the class was over I went to go change in the bathroom. I was tired. I stared in the mirror. Perfectly coiffed hair and flawless make-up.It was all a part of the cover-up.
I finally saw through it all.
I wanted to cry.
I needed a release, but I held it inside.
Today is Miss J’s 3rd birthday.
People often say that time flies when you have kids. For me, there have been many moments that dragged on and on with no end in sight. Sleepless nights. Cleaning and sterilizing bottles. Teething. Sleep training. There were other moments that seemed to happen overnight like when Miss J sat up on her own, crawled and walked for the first time.
Miss J has transformed from my cute little sweet baby into a beautiful little girl with a bold and bright spirit. She now has opinions and preferences on everything from the color suit that Bobby is wearing to work to what we should eat for dinner. She zips around our town on her scooter like a seasoned pro, giving me several heart attacks along the way. She insists on getting her own mini cart at the grocery store to carry her groceries. She throws her groceries onto the conveyor belt at the market and then instructs me to reach into my purse to give her money or my debit card so that she can pay the bill. Somehow, she has even managed to memorize my pin number! She no longer wants help putting on her shoes and socks. No matter how long it takes or how late we are running to start our day, she insists on doing everything herself. “I do it! Don’t touch!” is a common phrase around our house these days. She has declared herself the Queen of our kingdom, and we are her doting and loyal subjects.
Every birthday is a trip down memory lane. I often think about those first few days back at home after she was born, which I will tell you about in more detail soon. I had a very rough time in the beginning. Everything was difficult. I could barely walk and my entire body was in pain for several weeks. The days and nights were long, and even longer when Bobby had to return to work. I couldn’t wait until he would come home from work so that I could take a long, hot shower. I always turn on the water super hot, barely tolerable. I’ve always liked it that way. I would undress and stare at my post baby body in the mirror until the bathroom would get so steamy that I couldn’t see my reflection anymore. I would perch myself on our toilet seat like I was at a luxury spa enjoying the sauna. After a few minutes I would get into the shower and bawl my eyes out. Everything was overwhelming back then. Surviving the surgery. Being diagnosed with PTSD. Becoming a mother. I would stand there as the water rushed against my body and think, “What the hell have I done? This is crazy. Am I ever going to sleep again?” I would stare at my stomach, which looked like it had a football stuck in it and become disgusted. I would stare at the floor of the tub as blood still flowed from my body and watch the pinkish red water go down the drain. Eventually, my shower would have to come to an end and I had to return to the reality of my new life. Sleepless nights, breastfeeding, pumping and changing diapers. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I wondered when and if I was ever going to really enjoy motherhood, not jut feel like I was on autopilot and in survival mode all the time.
As time went on, I developed a routine and the days got easier to manage. I got out of the house more. I made lots of mommy friends, all of us on different courses yet navigating the sea of new motherhood together.
I enrolled Miss J and myself in several music classes per week starting when she was eight weeks old. I needed to get out of the house and it was an easy way to socialize with other people. It seemed so silly at first because Miss J didn’t do very much except roll from side to side or wave a small instrument in her hand lightly. Sometimes her eyes would be very alert and I could tell she was stimulated by all the sounds and colors in the room as the music played and the teachers sang because she would coo and hum along. Other times she would just fall asleep in my lap, leaving me alone to sit through forty-five minutes of singing baby music. As the weeks and months went on I was constantly amazed at her development and love for the music classes. She went from a slow-moving blob that I would place on a blanket during class, to sitting up and waving bells, shaking eggs and trying to catch bubbles. In what seemed like lightening speed, she turned into one of the rambunctious toddlers I used to be afraid would trample her during music class when she was a baby. Now I have a pre-schooler who has her favorite songs memorized, runs around in circles, jumps all over the place and dances wildly whenever and wherever she hears music playing.
What was more amazing was my own transformation from pretending to enjoy endless rounds of singing classics like “Old MacDonald” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, to fully engaging in all of those silly moments and having fun with Miss J. I let all my walls down. Miss wouldn’t have it any other way. I rolled around on the floor. I made silly sounds and faces. I stopped caring if my hair and makeup got messy. Sort of. Things like having crusty imprints of dried breast milk on my shirts and being vomited and pooped eventually stopped annoying me. I accepted them as rites of passage and badges of honor.
Miss J’s birthday week has been tainted by some very horrific and heart wrenching events. The Boston Marathon bombing, during which three people were killed and 180 were seriously injured, some requiring amputations. An explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas, which left several fatalities and people injured, homes and businesses destroyed. And just a few months ago there were the Newtown shootings, followed by several other shootings of innocent children in various parts of the country.
For many people, especially those of us with PTSD these traumatic events can heighten our feelings of anxiety, fear and depression. If you don’t have PTSD, you still may find yourself disturbed, frightened, angered and depressed by these recent events. You might wonder if it is possible to enjoy anything anymore without fearing for your life or the lives of those you love.
I refuse to live paralyzed with fear and so I put on a brave face but the truth for me is that everyday, in the back of my mind, I fear the worst. I don’t talk about it often but it is the truth. I am nervous when I drop Miss J off at school. I am afraid to fly. I am afraid to drive. You would never think as I am bopping my head away to music on my earphones that I am sometimes suffering a full-blown panic attack as I ride the bus or subway, thankful to have the music as a distraction.
In order to combat the anxiety and fear I often feel, I decided long ago to celebrate each day as a birthday. I consider myself reborn every day and thankful for the chance to be a better person than I was the day before. Every day is chance to give and receive one more hug and kiss. Every day we get one more chance to live, laugh and love.
Of course not every day is all hearts and flowers but every day is a gift. For every day that my family returns home safe to me, I am grateful and relieved. The demands of parenting, working and married life can sometimes clutter our thoughts and we get too busy to take time and just be thankful for the simplest of things.
I. Lived. Another. Day.
I’m taking Miss J to get her first manicure today. She’s been asking me for a while if she can get her nails painted. I told her that she could get a manicure when she turned three years old, and so the day is finally here. This weekend, she is going to have a Cowgirl themed birthday party (per her request) with lots and lots of her friends. Sometimes I feel silly planning parties for her because she is so young, but tomorrow is never a guarantee. I want to make the most of everyday I am blessed to spend with her.
The pictures that we take, and the memories that we make, are what we are left with.
Happy 3rd birthday Miss J. I love you.
And Happy Birthday to you too.
I managed to doze off some time during the wee hours of the morning. Someone had opened the blinds and I woke up from the sun beaming down and warming my skin. The last thing I remembered was talking to Dr. B around 1am. He called me from his home to make sure that I was ok. He gave Bobby all of his phone numbers–home, cell and emergency just in case I needed him. When I opened my eyes, several people were hovered around my bed. It should have been comforting, but instead I felt violated. I didn’t want to be seen. I wanted to hide. I wanted to be alone and to pull the covers up over my head. I needed to sleep but that was impossible. Did all of this really happen? I looked to my left and there was Miss J in her bassinet, confirmation that I had indeed given birth just the day before. Bobby and Erica were on the right side of the bed.
“Good morning, Timoria. How are you?” It was a loaded question.
Nurse JoAnna was back. The angel that had held my hand through the birth of Miss J and for most of the surgery. I was so happy to see her.
I was almost afraid to speak.
“I’m good. Tired, but good. Can I hold my baby?” I asked.
“Of course you can. I just need to ask you a few questions first.”
“Do you have to go to the bathroom?”
It had been a while since I had felt the sensation to pee or poop. Little did I realize I had been hooked up to a catheter, which was filled to the brim. We all had a good laugh when she showed it to me.
“Can you wiggle your toes for me?”
“Yes.” I wiggled my toes. “I’m doing it right now.”
There was heaviness in the air as everyone in the room could see that my toes were not moving. I started to panic. Not only were my toes not moving but also I could not feel my legs or my thighs. I silently ordered my limbs to move, but they didn’t budge. Move now! God dammit! Nothing.
I had survived twenty-seven hours of labor, contractions, bleeding, the surgery and now this?
I tried to lift my legs. Again, nothing happened.
I must have look as worried on the outside as I was on the inside.
“Don’t worry. It is just a side effect of all the medications. You will be okay. You will feel your legs and toes move again soon.” Nurse JoAnna said reassuringly.
She explained that the combination of Epidural and Demerol, combined with giving birth, having surgery and fatigue was the cause for my body’s non-response to my commands.I hoped she was right.
I couldn’t trust my body to do what it was supposed to anymore.
I continued to try to will my legs and toes to move but they were still and heavy, like fallen tree trunks.I gave up trying. It was frustrating.
I asked again if I could hold Miss J.
Bobby said Miss J. had thrown up the baby formula they had given her all night and early that morning. It made me sad that she had thrown up her first meal. Now, I am not one of those people who will pass judgment on you for not breastfeeding ( I originally was not a fan of the idea), but after months and months of reading and researching, I had been fully prepared to breastfeed Miss J. We had purchased the fancy schmancy hands-free Medela breast pump, which will be the subject of a much more upbeat blog post one day. Let me just say that hands-free pumping is not as easy as it sounds. I had two nursing pillows, the popular Boppy and also “My Brest Friend”. My boobs had grown from a 32A to a 36DD. I was ready to get down to business.
Bobby handed Miss J to me. I held her in my arms and she cooed softly and stared into my eyes. She looked just like my newborn picture. Pretty soon, her cute little sounds turned into full-fledged wails. Miss J was hungry. A lactation consultant came in to speak with me. She asked me if I felt strong enough to breastfeed. Strong enough? After what I had been through, breastfeeding Miss J was sure to be a breeze.
My emotions were all over the place. Miss J latched on with no hesitation and no problems. Whew! Everything about the previous two days had been chaotic, unpredictable and traumatic. I layed in bed breastfeeding Miss J. Voyeurs staring at my exposed breasts surrounded me. They all tried to look away, stare at the floor or the ceiling but for some strange reason there is nothing more fascinating to people than boobies no matter how big or how small. I too, was fascinated at watching my child feed from my breasts. It was an odd, awkward and proud moment all at once. We were making up for lost time. I had missed out on the first few hours of Miss J’s life and I’m still uncomfortable with that. The milk flowed easily and steadily from both of my breasts. Miss J drank until she was full and dozed off on my chest.
I soon dozed off to sleep too, wondering if when I woke up I would be able to feel my legs and toes move again.
“Although she was giddy with exhaustion, sleep was a lover who refused to be touched….” ― Janet Fitch, Paint it Black
I wanted Miss J to lay next to me all night but the night nurse/army sergeant made Bobby put her back in the bassinet. That’s the thing about being a patient–you don’t get to make decisions, especially after a traumatic accident. Everyone not only tells you what to do, but also when and how to do it. You don’t have a choice. Your mind plays tricks on you. Your body tells you the truth. Nothing is the same after trauma. All you can do is be thankful you survived and follow the instructions given to you as best you can.
Bobby rolled the bassinet as close to me as possible. Somehow, Miss J turned her swaddled body towards me and looked directly at me through the clear glass. Her eyes were big, bold and piercing. From that moment, every time she looks at me it is like she is seeing through me. I constantly feel exposed–she knows everything. We stared at each other until she dozed off to sleep.
I don’t know how anyone can sleep in a hospital. If you have ever been able to sleep in a hospital, congratulations. Tell me your secret. A soon as I felt like I might rest, someone interrupted me by changing my catheter, drawing my blood or giving me more medication. The sounds of the night kept me awake. The fear of the pitch black I saw every time I closed my eyes made sleep impossible.
Bobby managed to eventually fall asleep on a cot in my room and Erica sat beside me. I don’t remember if she slept or not, but I know that every time I opened my eyes and looked at her, she was awake. We were still giddy over the Coca-Cola incident.
The night nurse would grunt or sigh at any hint that we might communicate with each other. She loathed Erica’s presence. Erica, having worked in the health care industry for several years, felt comfortable asking questions about my treatment. She demanded to know what exactly happened, the course of treatment and what type and how much medication I was taking. In my Demerol and epidural haze, I found it amusing. Erica’s mom, Saralynn, has a nickname for her: ‘pit bull.’ It is so hilarious and fitting. Erica stands at 5’ 2” but has never backed down from a conflict. She is protective and fights for her friends, but the nurse wasn’t having it. Eventually the two of them came to a truce and started talking about other random things.
During the course of their conversation, Erica mentioned to the nurse that I was a make-up artist. Oh no, I remember thinking. I love my job but one of the curses that comes along with it is that once anyone finds out, they want to ask me a lot of beauty questions. That night was no different. For someone who had insisted on complete quiet, the nurse had a lot of questions. Do you like my highlights? What’s your favorite concealer? What’s the best eye cream?
Every now and then, her inner guilt would persuade the nurse to back off a little, but she couldn’t resist the temptation and it would start all over again. Who is the most famous person you have ever done make-up for? Who is the bitchiest? Who is a diva? Disclaimer: I never answer those last two. At one point she excused herself to go get a pen and paper to write down my product recommendations. Bobby and Erica were both irritated and asked me if I wanted them to tell the nurse to shut up. I did, but I told them no, anyway. I let her talk. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to. My brain was working! I was thinking and feeling. It felt good.
The night nurse returned with a huge note pad and a pen.
“I’m so excited!” she said in a loud whisper. “I have never met a real celebrity make-up artist!”
She asked question after question and I answered them all. Within a half hour I had solved all of her issues including flaky scalp, rosacea and how to properly apply foundation. As much as my throat hurt and my voice was barely audible, I was having fun. I answered as many of her questions as I could until my voice was too hoarse to go on. Talking about make-up made me feel somewhat normal. I am a beauty expert.
It was nice to be reminded that something had stayed the same.