“True rebels hate their own rebellion. They know by experience that it is not a cool and glamorous lifestyle; it takes a courageous fool to say things that have not been said and to do things that have not been done.” Criss Jami, Venus in Arms

Within an hour of hitting the “publish” button I had over eight hundred page views on my website.

No turning back.

I logged onto my Twitter account to see if there was any activity there. There was a tweet to me from a South African woman. She explained over a series of tweets and private messages that she had also suffered a postpartum hemorrhage. After reading my story, she thought she might have been misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder. She felt that she had all the traits of someone living with PTSD. Because she lived in a rural area, her access to mental and physical healthcare was extremely limited. She said she felt alone until she came across my website. I was greatly touched that she reached out to me but I was at a loss for how to help her. Then I remembered a website I had come across with several message boards for people with PTSD stemming from various types  of trauma, “My PTSD”. I sent her a link to it. She emailed me back a few moments later thanking me for linking her to the site. We tweeted back and forth for a day or two. I never heard from her again. I think about her often. I felt bad for her. She didn’t have a Dr. B,  a Dr. Chinn or a therapist like Rachael to turn to. Even if she did, her access was  limited based on geography and economics. I was reminded of how lucky I was to have survived. About eight hundred women die from pregnancy or childbirth related complications around the world every day. In 2010  alone-287, 000 women worldwide died during or following pregnancy and childbirth. Almost all of these deaths occurred in low-resource settings, and most could have been prevented. My survival was due to many factors but mostly because I have excellent health care and access to some of the best surgeons in the country.

Within a few days, I started receiving messages of deep concern (usually masked as support) from friends and old work colleagues I hadn’t heard from in years. Reactions ranged from “Wow, you hid that well, I would have never known” to “You’re so brave”. The truth is that I was never hiding anything at all. I made a choice from the beginning to be as happy and positive for Miss J and manage my emotions as best as I could. If the topic of Miss J’s birth ever came up in conversation, I was always honest about what happened. I focused on the good things in my life. I had a lot to be thankful for. I had a healthy, beautiful daughter, a loving husband and an active social life. When my PTSD became too overwhelming for me to handle on my own and began to affect my home life, I made a choice to seek help.

Week after week during my sessions with my therapist, Rachael, I purged the hardships of not only the year after Miss J’s birth, but many things that happened over the course of my entire life that had a lasting effect on me. I had compartmentalized many things. The hemorrhage was a trigger and opened the door on feelings and emotions I had hidden deep within myself. Although initially I only wanted to talk about the surgery, it was clear that I needed to talk about so much more. I couldn’t just pick one thing to fix. I had to start at the beginning and fix it all to truly move forward with my life. Rachael was very upfront from the start of my treatment that the work I needed to do was not going to be easy. She was right. It took several months and there were times during the course of my treatment that I wanted to take a break for awhile, but Rachael never let me slack off. If I missed an in office appointment (by accident , of course) she would call me and we would have a phone session. A phone session was never the same as seeing her face to face. I was not as revealing as I was in person with her. I think a home has too many distractions to concentrate.  Sometimes I had the tv on mute, but with the closed captions on. Sometimes I would check emails, my Facebook and my Twitter accounts while we were on the phone.

In addition to seeing Rachael every week, writing about my experience was essential to my recovery.

My confidence and passion for sharing my story grew stronger with each post. Every time I hit the “publish” button, I breathed a little easier, slept a little longer and lived with less anxiety. Back in 2012, I thought I would tell my entire story within a few months. It has taken almost two years. At some point I decided it was important for me to tell you about more than just the hemorrhage and the surgery. It was important for me tell you about Christine and Mikey, as they were my inspiration for really committing to this blog and being as candid with you as I have been. I have told you stories about my childhood, my relationships and about my work. I became consumed (obsessed really) and in love with writing. I often write three or four posts simultaneously. There were times where it became so intense, I would tell Rachael that I wished I could stop. But I never could. There was always a voice in the background.

Keep going. Keep going.

In October of 2012 I tweeted my story to supermodel Christy Turlington Burns.  She also experienced a postpartum hemorrhage during the birth of her first child. This inspired her to start an organization called “Every Mother Counts.” Every Mother Counts seeks to bring awareness on a global scale to maternal health issues, particularly maternal deaths and complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Within a few minutes of sending my tweet, Christy responded back to me publicly and she also sent me a private message. I was shocked! I stared at my computer screen for several minutes and thought it had better not be someone playing a joke on me! I responded and over a series of messages Christy asked me to write about my birth experience for publication on Every Mother Count’s website.  Once my story was published , the traffic to my personal website jumped from a few hundred views per week to several thousand. I started to receive messages of support from all over the world. Soon, I had become the” face” of PTSD and birth trauma.  It was overwhelming at first. Women were writing to me and telling me their most intimate and painful thoughts and birth experiences. Some were distraught and needed immediate help. Many were just thankful to have found a kindred spirit to finally tell their secrets to.

Rachael told me she was pregnant about three months into our time together. She let me know that she would still be available to me via email or phone if I needed her. I also had the option of continuing with another therapist in her office until she came back from maternity leave.

I don’t like change, so that wasn’t an option for me.

I assured Rachael that I would be okay during her maternity leave. I promised her that I would continue our hard work and that she wouldn’t find me in the “ loony bin” upon her return. I knew that some part of her had waited as long as she could before her stomach started showing to tell me her exciting news. As a therapist, I’m sure  the possibility occurred to her that I might not be as open with my feelings surrounding birth trauma knowing that she had a life growing inside of her. Truthfully, it wasn’t easy for me to be as candid with her as I was used to. For the first few weeks after she told me her news I analyzed and dissected her every reaction and facial expression to what I was saying. She remained the same, so I felt secure that I could continue to be myself and not censor what I needed to say.

Rachael returned from maternity leave in January 2013.  A lot had changed. I was in a great place mentally. I was less anxious and moody. I was not replaying the hemorrhage or the surgery as often. I had read several helpful books and articles about PTSD.  The Heart of Beauty video had been released publicly and tweeted by a few celebrities. Every day letters of support rolled in.  I was in the midst of doing the  hardest work of my healing process-leaving the PTSD behind. I was at a turning point. I was no longer a person suffering from PTSD. I had become a person who was healing from PTSD. I had this label for three years and everything emotionally associated with it finally began to evaporate. It was a little scary. I wondered what my life would be like on the other side.

Every now and then there were still triggers that reminded me of my past traumas, but Rachael had equipped me with the necessary skills to handle them. She taught me everything from breathing techniques when I became overwhelmed and upset to simply just saying “no” when I didn’t want to go somewhere or do something.

Getting  more sleep remained the last hurdle to overcome.

In the Spring of 2013, my work with Rachael was nearly complete.  “Breaking up “ with her was harder than I ever thought it would be.  It had been nearly a year since our first meeting. I expressed to Rachael that my mind felt healthy and I had gained clarity about myself and my purpose on this earth that I had never felt before. My body on the other hand, was in constant pain. It felt as if all the pain that had left me mentally seeped  into the crevices of every muscle and joint in my body.  I have written at length why I felt betrayed by my body due to the hemorrhage and the miscarriage. I no longer trusted my body. It was important for me to gain the trust back. The constant pain in my body was a physical reminder that I was still not completely healed, no matter how great I felt mentally. I needed a physical release for the pain. Rachael was extremely supportive of my decision to end our sessions so that I could focus on healing my body. I looked into several types of exercise programs. I am not the kind of gal that will go for a run, cycle for several miles or lift weights. After reading  “Overcoming Trauma: Reclaiming Your Body Through Yoga” by David Emerson, I felt that yoga would be a great option for me. I signed up for a beginners yoga program.

I emailed Rachael after my first few classes.

April 7, 2013

 Hi Rachael,

I started Yoga this weekend. I took one class on Sat and two today. My body feels amazing. I feel like an old vault that was dirty and hidden and someone found it and discovered millions of dollars of gold coins inside but to get to the coins, they had to go through a complicated maze.

One of the types of Yoga I am doing is called restorative. The whole class is about letting go and allowing the body to rest, tune out the outside world and drift off. I was surprised that the point of the class was to rest. It was absolutely amazing. I had the best sleep last night. If you haven’t already, I think you should read about it and recommend to your patients.

 Here is a link to a good book I am reading about it.

http://www.amazon.com/Overcoming-Trauma-through-Yoga-Reclaiming/dp/1556439695/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365385810&sr=1-1&keywords=overcoming+trauma+through+yoga

 I hope all is well with you and the Baby:-)

Timoria

I continued to attend several yoga classes every week. Soon, I was sleeping six to eight hours every night.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, I just know that several weeks later all of the pain in my body had disappeared.

Healing both my mind and my body was almost complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“There was something in her eyes that made me trust her. Maybe it was because they held the same cynicism, the same world-weariness I saw in my own every morning when I looked at myself in the mirror.” Melika Dannese Lux, Corcitura

During our first meeting, Rachael told me that she was going to be my partner on this journey. She would reiterate that statement often during our sessions.  I used to think it was such an odd and corny thing to say. How can you be partners with someone you hardly know?  Plus, in order to allow her to be my partner, I had to make myself vulnerable and be willing to commit to the experience. I had to tell her things that I had only been able to tell Bobby and all the things I hadn’t . All the walls I had built up had to come down.  I knew that I had to be willing to start walking down the path to healing and never look back.

It was a gradual process. I don’t know exactly when I started to feel better, I just know that I owe a lot of it to Rachael. She is humble and probably won’t take any of the credit. Well, maybe a little. She would tell you that my success in overcoming PTSD and all the other obstacles in my life came solely from my willingness to do some extremely hard work. But she was able to give me what I had been searching for.  I needed guidance and a confidante. I needed someone to validate my feelings and help me work through them.

She gave me her all.

We probably would have ended up great friends if Rachael hadn’t come into my life as my therapist. I told her everything. Some weeks our entire sessions were teary-eyed cry fests. Other times, we laughed and cackled like two old friends sipping cocktails at Sunday brunch. I loved how she never held back her reactions to what I was saying and she challenged me too. She was non-judgemental and delicately blunt when necessary. I have a strong personality, yet she did not let me bulldoze over her.  She had the incredible gift of letting me think I was steering my own ship, but in reality she was the Captain. I realize now that Rachael saw the destination I was heading towards long before I did. Her job was to help me get there. She encouraged me to confront my fears, write more and rest when I needed to. In addition to that, she provided me with great coping skills for all the different emotions I was feeling at the time.

In July of 2012 I decided to take a break from promoting “The Heart of Beauty.” My email inbox was filled with encouraging messages from several network executives.  Many of them called me personally to say they liked me and the show concept. The problem was that I was trying to sell a self-help show in a new era of reality television that only wanted to invest in shows filled with family dysfunction, friends fighting and a showcase of materialism. The constant rejections were starting to wear me down. I needed to put all of my energy into healing myself. The show had become a distraction. I decided to focus on finding resources for postpartum PTSD, writing a memoir and developing my website. When I told Rachael of my decision to go public with my story, she was extremely supportive. We both knew that birth trauma, although extremely common, is a taboo subject and anyone admitting to having a mental health issue will have a lot of stigma attached to them.  I was never really afraid of the stigma. I really felt as though I didn’t have a choice. If “The Heart of Beauty” ever got sold, my birth story would become public knowledge anyway. I was mostly concerned at what effect it might have on Bobby and Miss J’s lives.

I was unsure of how to proceed and there were so many questions I needed to answer.

Did I still want to be a celebrity make-up artist?

Did I want the website to be about beauty?  Or was I going to be dedicated to helping women who had overcome life-altering circumstances?

I was confused.

What would my first post be about?

Was I going to tell the world what my favorite lip gloss is or was I going to tell the world that I had survived a postpartum hemorrhage, life-saving surgery and a PTSD diagnosis?

My life had changed so much. I still loved my job as a make-up artist, but my passion for it was waning. I was on a mission. I often wondered how many other women had suffered a birth or pregnancy trauma and had no resources to help them cope with the aftermath. How many women lived everyday with PTSD and didn’t know it? How many women had been misdiagnosed as having PPD or some other disorder?

I thought a lot about Miss J.  If she had an experience like I did, I would never want her to feel the type of loneliness and isolation I felt back then. I would never want her to replay the memories. I would want Miss J to know that she was not alone, that giving birth is beautiful but complications do happen. More than anything, I  would want to validate her feelings about her experience. I would want Miss J to know that talking about her feelings and having the courage to seek help is admirable, and the right thing to do for herself and her family.

I remember when I put the finishing touches on my website. I re-read my first blog post a million times. I knew there was no turning back. I would have to tell my story in its entirety if I truly wanted to help other women, as well as myself.

I paced back and forth across our kitchen floor. My heart was racing. I was sweaty and nervous. Finally, I sat down and poured myself a glass of wine.

Then, I hit the “publish” button.

 

“Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” Alan Cohen

I spent several months promoting my television show, “The Heart of Beauty”. It was a hectic and emotional time. The show received high praise yet continued to be rejected by networks. I persevered for Christine and her family to have a chance to tell their story to the world. I kept going for every person who had been through a life-altering event and managed to keep their families as well as their sanity in tact, including myself.

Christine’s son Mikey turned five years old a month after we filmed the sizzle reel. Bobby, Miss J and I attended Mikey’s fifth birthday party. Several parents at his party had children with Autism. None of them had seen the tape, but they had all heard about it. I was overwhelmed by how many people expressed their gratitude to me for wanting to bring the true story of what the life of a family living with an Autistic child was like, especially since my child and my family had not been personally affected by this issue. Autism is a silent epidemic in this country, affecting 1 in 50 children. Christine’s friends shared with me with how much their lives changed after hearing their child’s diagnosis. By the time most of their kids reached two or three years old, birthday party invites decreased, as did invitations to summer bbq’s and play dates with friends who were not on the spectrum.  One couple lost touch with friends they had for decades. I could relate to them. Having a postpartum hemorrhage and PTSD was very isolating for me in the beginning. I would be lying to you if I said that all of my friendships have remained the same during the last four years. Some friends have cheered me on publicly since the beginning  of this journey, some privately and some I haven’t heard from since Miss J was born.Very few people who I would have described as my close friends before Miss J was born have stood by my side as I have told my birth trauma and PTSD story to the world. Not only did becoming a mom change the dynamic of many of my friendships- but being a mom who is willing to expose the not so perfect aspects of parenthood has had some negative impact on my life.

Many people have called me a brave survivor and a pioneer in educating the public about PTSD and mothers. There are others who question and ridicule my decision to have made my story public. Some family members seemed reluctant to acknowledge and validate what I went through until my story was published in the Huffington post a few months ago.

The more I told Christine’s story, the more I realized I had to work on healing myself. I began writing about the day I gave birth.  My journal was a safe place to vent privately, yet there was always a voice in the back of my head telling me that it was just beginning.

 I had so much more to do.  

Sometimes it was exhausting and frustrating. There were many times I wanted to stop promoting the show and stop writing my story, but it was impossible. The words ran through my head all day and all night. I used any free moment I had to write. It was a release and provided me with some relief. Since sleeping had been an issue for two years at that point, I often found myself typing away on my laptop into the wee hours of the morning.

I met my new therapist, Rachael, in May of 2012. We had an instant connection but I was cautiously optimistic. I hoped that I had made a good choice this time. I would have given up on therapy altogether if I had chosen another terrible therapist.

Because everything had been so out of my control after Miss J’s birth, I told Rachael that it was important for me to feel in control of how the treatment was going to go. I didn’t want to talk about anything but the surgery and the television show. I didn’t want to be asked a lot of questions. If she allowed me to, I was willing to tell her everything. Rachael was very supportive and respected my position. I think she could also tell that I like to talk a lot and knew that she wouldn’t have a problem getting me to open up and reveal myself to her.

I remember looking around her office at one point and noticing that there were no degrees on display. While I was talking, she never picked up a pad of paper or a pen.  She barely looked at her clock. She was engrossed in my story, fully absorbing every word. Within a few minutes I noticed that her eyes began to water. Her show of emotion was refreshing and it also took me by surprise. It was the first time one of my personal healthcare professionals had allowed themselves to express real emotion around me and not hide behind the stoic face they have been taught to put on every day for the sake of their patients.

It didn’t matter to me where she went to school or how many degrees she had earned.

She was human, and not afraid to show it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If you are going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill

It would have been easier to understand and accept what happened to my body if the doctors had been able to diagnose me with something.  Besides the PTSD diagnosis I needed something concrete about the blood that I could research, obsess over and google- but there was no explanation. The miscarriage was easier to understand than the embolization. Miscarriages are common and often due to chromosomal abnormalities in a fetus. The causes of postpartum hemorrhages vary and remain a mystery in most cases. Postpartum hemorrhages occur often but those that have lived through them tend to remain silent.

By the Fall of 2011, I was working more frequently. I was also given the opportunity to try and bring my idea of creating a television show called “The Heart of Beauty” to life. I wanted to create a show that helped women who had survived life-altering circumstances. I wanted to tell their stories and encourage them to stay positive on their road to recovery. If you have been reading my blog since the beginning, you know the story of the MacPherson family. Christine, Michael and Mikey. Christine was our wedding planner. Shortly after our wedding we found out that her son, Mikey, had been diagnosed with Autism. I knew that Christine and her family would be perfect to film the show sizzle reel because she was always very candid about what her life was like after learning about Mikey’s diagnosis.

During the two-day shoot, the reality of what Christine’s life being a mom to an autistic child hit me like a ton of bricks. The love and dedication she had for Mikey touched me deeply but what I connected to the most was how stressful, chaotic and constantly unpredictable her life could be at times. During the interview, she and her husband Michael were so open and honest that I wanted to take a break so that I could go into the bathroom and cry. I don’t know how I held myself together, but I did. I remember thinking that although our circumstances were vastly different, we had both experienced a traumatic situation that required us both to remain focused on the well being of our children. The difference was that Christine was living her truth. She was willing to tell her story to anyone and everyone who would listen, holding fundraisers and researching therapy treatments. At the time I was more comfortable keeping my story semi-private, only sharing it when necessary, secretly hoping that I would be healed from helping others.

After interviewing the Macpherson family and viewing the tape several times, I knew that the time had come to tell my story. How could I encourage others to be brave and share their stories of surviving trauma or life-altering circumstances, if I was not ready to do so myself?

I requested all of my medical records and began to write about every detail of what life had been like since Miss J’s birth. Bobby and I had been through more in that year than most people in a lifetime.

As I wrote down the series of events, it read like the outline for the development of a Lifetime Original Movie.

  • The postpartum hemorrhage after Miss J’s birth.
  • Miss J having jaundice and possibly needing phototherapy.
  • Miss J was born with a hernia that required her to have surgery at fifteen months old.
  •  When she was less than two weeks old, Miss J choked  on Vitamin D drops, turned blue and had to be taken to the emergency room.  
  • The miscarriage in public.
  • When I was around six weeks postpartum, some family members decided to let Bobby and I know how unhappy they were with a personal decision we had made. I was on the receiving end of most of their wrath and was called several names (feel free to use your imagination-almost any bad word will fit) that I will not repeat here. I was still recovering from surgery, not sleeping and doing the best I could to get through every day as a new mom. The anger and  expression of disappointment that was unleashed upon us added immensely to the stress we were under at the time. In addition to replaying the trauma of my hemorrhage, I began replaying the awful words that were said to us over and over again. We spent months in shock and disbelief at what had happened. I apologize for being so vague with the details, but this is a delicate situation.  Just remember this: Words, both spoken and written are very powerful. Think about your relationships and what you want them to be. Don’t get caught up in a moment and lose control. Several months passed and eventually we received an apology, but for me it was too late. There are certain lines that once you cross, you can never go back to the way things were before. It has been four years and sometimes I still ask myself why we didn’t just hang up the phone as it was happening. I’m telling you about this because trauma comes in so many forms. We’ve all heard the phrase “Sticks and stones may brake my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Well, in my experience words can hurt so much more than anything physical. In most circumstances, your body will heal from a physical wound. My body has healed from the embolization and the D&C. Miss J didn’t have jaundice, never needed phototherapy and she made it through the hernia surgery with no complications.  But the words of these family members haunted me.What made it worse  were all the times we had to be in a room with them and pretend like it never happened. Every time I saw them I relived that phone call over and over again. It was hard for me to separate the people from their words, sometimes it still is.

As I began to promote “The Heart of Beauty”, I was forced to share my personal story with network executives several times. I could see that as I told my story, people genuinely connected with me. While they viewed the tape of the MacPherson family, many of the stone cold poker-faced television executives would reach for tissues.  We received a lot of positive feedback about the show, but unfortunately we weren’t able to sell it.  The landscape of televison had changed and a show like mine just had no place to fit in with what networks were showing interest in buying at the time. I vowed to keep trying. I often thought about the words I had seen embroidered on a pillow at Christine’s house. “Never Give Up”. It was Christine’s mantra and soon it became mine for not only continuing to pitch the show to networks, but also for myself.

I decided to  give therapy one more try. I searched for a therapist who specialized in treating people with PTSD. My search turned up few results. I kept coming across the same website, Tribeca Therapy. I bookmarked it. Every couple of weeks I would click on the website and read every page. Just reading the website was comforting. It was the first time I had come across a therapy website where PTSD was a main category of treatment.

Several more months passed and in May of 2012,  I finally sent an email inquiry to the director of Tribeca Therapy, Matt Lundquist. He emailed me back promptly and we scheduled a phone conversation. I never considered having a male therapist, but he was so comforting over the phone I could see myself opening up to him very easily.I told him everything. He sent me an email later letting me know that he was going to pair me up with Rachael Benjamin, an LCSW( licensed clinical social worker) with his practice.

I scheduled an appointment with Rachael for the following week.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew the time had come to let it all out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Doctors have told me I have a high pain threshold, but I can only know what I feel. I think I’m good at minimizing the pain and being indifferent to it.” Johnny Knoxville

Within thirteen months, I had  two hemorrhages. I was also living life as a happy mom shuffling Miss J back and forth to classes and play dates.  At the same time, my anxiety was at an all time high. I wasn’t depressed, I was afraid of dying. I was afraid that enjoying normal activities like hanging out with Miss J at the playground and shopping would end with me bleeding, being carted away in an ambulance and needing another emergency surgery-or worse. My body had deceived me twice and I could no longer trust it. My agent began booking me more gigs and it felt good to get back to work. It was hard leaving the house and leaving Miss J with her babysitter  for any significant length of time.  I would sit on a bus or a train going into New York City and anticipate a catastrophe. My heart would beat fast and hard like it was going to pop out of my chest thinking about all of the possibilities. Hijacking. Bombing. Bleeding. Shooting. Sometimes my anxiety would build up to the point where I could barely breathe and I would get off the train a stop or two early and catch a cab to my destination. Even on a near-empty train or bus, I would often feel claustrophobic.

Nights were the worst time for me. I was lucky to get three or four hours of sleep. In addition to hemorrhaging, I had new fears to think about that kept me up all night.

Will I be able to have more children? Do I want to take the risk?

I often thought about when Dr. Richmond (the surgeon that performed my embolization after Miss J’s birth) asked me if I wanted to have more children while I was being prepped for surgery. I had to answer so many questions that day. After twenty-seven hours of labor and then hemorrhaging , I laid in a bed covered in my vomit and my blood having to make several final decisions. I signed my life away on a stack of paperwork and hoped for the best. I answered “yes” at the time so that he would do his best to avoid giving me a hysterectomy. I was lucky. The surgery went well. My ovaries,uterus and obviously my life, were saved.

Dr. B cautioned me about trying to get pregnant for a while and I took his advice. It was best for me to wait at least eighteen months to two years after the embolization so that my body would have time to heal from the surgery. About a month after the miscarriage I went to see a high-risk pregnancy specialist, Dr. Principe. Although I had no pre-existing conditions that would be of concern, Dr. Principe suggested that I be tested for several various blood disorders. All tests came back negative. On paper I was perfectly healthy, which made my condition all the more puzzling. What happened to me, can happen to anyone.

Part of the guilt I felt after my miscarriage was that Bobby and I didn’t use any form of contraception. We weren’t very sexually active after all that we had been through but it was no excuse. I felt like an irresponsible teenager. I had no idea I was pregnant and I knew that getting pregnant so soon after the embolization was very risky. We only had sex once (Sorry Bobby!) that I could remember, several weeks before the miscarriage. When I reflect on that time, there were clues indicating I was pregnant that I just didn’t pay attention to. I had a weird, metallic taste in my mouth (which I had in my first trimester with Miss J), but I blamed that on new vitamins I was taking. I was very tired, but I thought that was due to chasing Miss J around all day. In the days before the miscarriage I had a light flow of dark blood every day, but I thought my period was trying to regulate itself. I stopped breastfeeding Miss J when she around eight months old and my periods had been irregular since. I had also grown accustomed to wearing panty liners or a thin maxi pad every day because my cycle was so unpredictable.

Waiting two years or more in between having children was not in our “plan”.  Before we were married, Bobby and I had already decided we were going to have at least two children, maybe three. We even had all their names picked out! We wanted them to be no more than two years apart. After the surgery we didn’t discuss having more children for over a year. We found it very insulting and insensitive when family members who knew what we had been through would ask us when we were going to have another baby or imply how sad it was that Miss J might be an only child. I felt like they couldn’t give a damn about my health. I was focused on healing from the traumas I had lived through, being a good mother and wife.

My home life was starting to be affected by all of this. There was an invisible wall slowly being erected between Bobby and I. Because I was the one who kept experiencing traumas, I no longer looked at him in the same way. Over the course of the year that I suffered the two hemorrhages our relationship went from being like two giggly teenagers in love to living like roommates. My life had become about survival and I felt that he could not relate to me at all. Aside from anything involving Miss J, we were just going through the motions.

I called Dr. Jones (my ex-therapist) a few days after I had the miscarriage. I left her a voicemail. Although I didn’t like her at all, she was familiar. At the time I could not imagine having to recount my story from the beginning to a new therapist. At the very least, Dr. Jones knew my history so I was willing to give her another chance. She didn’t call me back until the next day. I explained to her in great detail how I felt about everything that had happened to me. She was just as cold as I had remembered. She offered no sympathy or words of reassurance during our conversation.

Dr. Jones checked her calendar and said that she was unable to fit me into her schedule. Every time slot she had every day was booked. She said that she might have a colleague she could refer me to, if I was okay with seeing someone further away from where I lived. I was fine with that, but stressed to her how urgently I needed to see someone. She didn’t call me back with some referrals until almost three weeks later. Did she realize how much time had gone by? It was obvious that helping me was not a priority to her.

She rattled off a few names and numbers of psychiatrists who specialized in postpartum mental health.

I didn’t bother to get a pen and paper and write them down.

 

 

 

“I am not functioning very well. Living with the knowledge that the baby is dead is painful. I feel so far away from you, God. I can only try to believe that you are sustaining me and guiding me through this. Please continue to stand by my side.” Christine O’Keeffe Lafser

The miscarriage happened just a little over a year after my postpartum hemorrhage. I was back in the hospital again needing an emergency surgery.

Dr. Mig explained to me that I had to have a D & C (dilation and curettage). D &C ‘s treat uterine conditions — such as heavy bleeding — or clear the uterine lining after a miscarriage or abortion.

The surgery lasted two hours. When I woke up, Bobby was next to me. We barely spoke. Our hearts were heavy and we were exhausted.

Throughout the night and into the next morning, nurses were in and out of my room every hour to check on me. I hated the look of pity  on each of their faces. They all wanted to chat about my miscarriage. It was awful. The asked me repeatedly how far along I was and if I was sad that I lost my baby. One even asked me if it was a boy or a girl! Had any of them bothered to read my chart? It felt like my miscarriage was the talk of the maternity ward. Everyone wanted to gossip about it. I couldn’t wait to go home.

I was discharged in the early afternoon. I spent the next couple of days in bed, only emerging to use the bathroom and play with Miss J. I wanted to stay in the bed and never get out. I wanted to pull the covers over my head and lie in darkness and silence.  But I couldn’t. Miss J, who at the time was only thirteen months old didn’t deserve to feel the emotional impact of what was happening to me.  For her sake I always found the energy to sing nursery rhymes, paint and play “giddy up horsey” and “hide and go seek”. It helped me too. Her spirit, her smile and her laugh kept me from descending too far into sadness.

I didn’t tell many people what happened. I know I would have felt comforted by the support of others, but I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t like I could post it as my status on Facebook. *Natalie only knew about my miscarriage because she was with me when it happened. I told one other friend because we had previously made plans that I had to cancel.

If not for this blog if I wonder if would have ever told anyone else.

I did tell my mother and she came to see me a couple of days later. I’ve told you before that we have a complicated history and she is not the warm and fuzzy type- but it was comforting to have her there.

*Natalie and her husband stopped by one day to check on me. They brought us a key lime pie and a bottle of wine.

Another friend brought me a card and a beautiful orchid.

The orchid died two weeks later.

 

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Definition of D & C is cited from here.

Quote for this post is by:  Christine O’Keefe Lafser, from the book “An Empty Cradle, a Full Heart: Refections for Mothers and Fathers after Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A miscarriage is a natural and common event. All told, probably more women have lost a child from this world than haven’t.” Barbara Kingsolver

“A miscarriage is a natural and common event. All told, probably more women have lost a child from this world than haven’t. Most don’t mention it, and they go on from day to day as if it hadn’t happened, so people imagine a woman in this situation never really knew or loved what she had. But ask her sometime: how old would your child be now? And she’ll know.
” -Barbara Kingsolver

A nurse laid me down on an examination bed at the doctor’s office. The bed was soon soaked in my blood and the floor soon started to turn red from it as well. Dr. Moon entered the examination room and assured me that I was going to be fine. He had to stand by the door in order to avoid stepping in my blood. I hadn’t seen him since the night Miss J was born. He was new to the practice back then and Miss J was one of the first babies he delivered alongside Dr. B.

“You’re going to be ok. We called 911 and you’re going to the emergency room immediately.”  I’m going to be ok? Had he noticed the blood soaked floor? 

“Am I? The last time this happened I had to have three blood transfusions and surgery. Oh and I almost died too.”

He asked me a few more questions. I could barely answer him because my mind was elsewhere.

To me, it was April 19th, 2010 all over again. The best and worst day of my life. I was in the labor and delivery room. I had just given birth. I held my daughter for a couple of minutes. There was an emergency. I was bleeding. It wouldn’t stop. I was hemorrhaging to death.

Soon paramedics came rushing into the room. They took my vital signs and then I was politely interrogated by a nice young man.

“Are you pregnant?”

“No.”

“Are you sure? Is it possible?”

“Anything is possible! Yes, I’m sure. One would have to have sex to get pregnant and I haven’t had sex lately.” I was annoyed at the question. Asked and answered. Move on.

What no one knew at the time was that  I was still traumatized by Dr. B massaging my uterus and how painful the experience was. I hadn’t even worn tampons since the surgery. The thought of putting anything in my vagina frightened me. I was still afraid that putting anything up in there would dismantle whatever was holding me together. Whenever Bobby and I made an attempt to be intimate, all I could see was Dr. B’s arm inside of me, massaging my uterus over and over again trying to get it to contract. I didn’t want Bobby to touch me or kiss me, let alone anything else. The only person I had shown any affection toward since my surgery was Miss J.

“Do you have HIV or AIDS?”

“No. Please stop asking me questions.”

“We have to ask. Sorry, its our job.”

Dr. Moon tells me that they are going to take me to the nearest hospital, Hoboken Medical Center.

“Who’ s on call?” I ask.

“Dr.Mig.” Dr. Mig  is another doctor at Dr. B’s practice, but I had never seen him.

“Please call Dr. B or Dr. Chinn. I don’t want to see anyone else.”

“Everything is going to be ok.” Dr. Moon repeated reassuringly.

I called Bobby and told him that I was bleeding and that I was going to the emergency room. He left work immediately but it was almost rush hour so it would take him about an hour to get to the hospital.

The paramedics helped me into a wheelchair.  They wheeled me out of the room.  They placed a white sheet on my legs in an attempt to conceal the blood, but soon the blood came soaking through. The other patients in the waiting room tried to look away but they couldn’t. Some looked horrified. I looked down at the carpet and noticed drops of my blood dotted it all over.

*Natalie was sitting in the waiting area with her daughter and Miss J. I said goodbye to Miss J and told her that I would be okay and I would see her soon. Natalie assured me that she would stay there until Bobby arrived to pick up Miss J. It was a horrible feeling to have to leave Miss J  in the doctor’s office.

“Goodbye honey. Mommy will see you soon. Everything is ok. I love you.”

I tried to sound brave and upbeat. I smiled through the lump in my throat and held back my tears. I was terrified and truthfully, I feared I might never see Miss J again.

The paramedics wheeled me onto the elevator. When we got down to the street level I braced myself again for onlookers staring at my blood covered body.  I was loaded onto a stiff bed in the back of the ambulance. They connected me to an IV and continued to ask me questions. I stared at the IV and the needle in my arm, it reminded me of the transfusions. The sirens were put on full blast and we peeled off into rush hour traffic. Hoboken Medical Center, where I had spent the first few months of Miss J’s life bonding with other new moms, was just a few blocks away.

I knew what it is like to feel my body losing life. I waited for it. Again.

When we arrived to the ER I was rushed behind a curtain immediately. The paramedics said goodbye and I thanked them for taking such good care of me. I had two nurses tend to me while I waited for an ER doctor to evaluate me. I had lost so much blood that my pants and the bed were soaking wet. The exposed parts of my legs and feet were encrusted with a thick, bloody coating. I touched my knees and the dried blood fell off in huge, thick flakes. Between my legs I felt a warm surge followed by a huge blood clot that oozed its way out into my underwear. Next, I felt pressure building in my vagina and another clot start to push its way out. I held my legs together, afraid that if I pushed this one out, the blood would gush out at an even faster rate. My stomach pulsated in constant waves of pain. Finally the ER doctor arrived. He couldn’t have been any more impersonal. There was barely a greeting, let alone any sense of compassion or sensitivity to my situation. He asked the nurses to remove my pants and underwear.  He then asked me to spread my legs so he could examine me. I knew that as soon as I opened my legs the blood clot would come bursting out. He used some sort of stick like instrument to examine me and sure enough the blood clot came rushing out along with a huge amount of blood. He looked disgusted, wrote some notes down on my chart and told me that I would get my lab results in a couple of hours.

“So am I just supposed to lay down here and bleed to death?” I asked.

“You’re fine. We’re running tests. You’re getting plenty of fluids through the IV and your vitals are good.” He bolted out of the room and left me there. Scared, bloody and exposed.

I’m fine?

The nurses changed my sheets, but they quickly soaked through with blood again.

I kept asking for Dr. B but I was told he was at another hospital doing deliveries. As much as I had been avoiding Dr. B, he was the only person that I trusted could get me through this again.

Bobby arrived at the hospital about two hours after I had been admitted. He had gotten Miss J settled at Natalie’s house and assured me that she was okay. Bobby leaned down and gave me a hug and kiss. I lifted the sheets so he could see my body and all of the blood. We didn’t speak much. Bobby sat next to me and held my hand while I cried.

It seemed like an eternity before we received any information on my condition. Finally, Dr. Mig came into our room, greeted us and sat down in a chair next to my bed.

“I’m sorry to tell you both that you lost the baby.”

 

 

 

 

“It felt as if she were bleeding – but it wasn’t blood that leaked out of her, not something that could be easily transfused. Instead she was losing her dreams.” Kristin Hannah, Firefly Lane

May 2011

I thought I was doing well without therapy.

The baby classes, hospital support group and outings with new friends kept me very busy that first year after Miss J was born. They were all Band-Aids on my wound, but I was still having trouble sleeping. I was still replaying the surgery and hemorrhaging, but I thought I was coping. I was a mom! I was resilient, strong-willed and determined to make the best out of every day.

There were plenty of distractions.

One day in May, I met up with a group of girlfriends and their babies for lunch at Grimaldi’s for pizza. The weather was perfect. It was warm enough to sit outside at a table on the patio. We were all so proud of ourselves for going out to lunch at a restaurant with a bunch of one year olds. We were seasoned pros and had grown accustomed to handling public meltdowns and restroom diaper changes. By now, the infants could eat “real” food. We watched our little ones devour their little cut up pieces of cheese pizza.

I had been having stomach cramps all morning and had some spotting in my underwear. The bleeding was not alarming to me because I had grown used to spotting since giving birth the previous year. I often wore panty liners or thin maxi pads every day because I never knew what to expect. I assumed my body was adjusting to not breastfeeding anymore and my menstrual cycle was having a hard time returning to normal.

When lunch ended, my friend *Natalie and I decided to take our two little girls to get frozen yogurt. They were thirteen months old and loved to hold and lick their own cones. It was hilarious watching the frozen yogurt drip down their faces while they scarfed it down.

We had only been sitting for a few minutes when I felt the cramps in my abdomen intensify and the blood that had been trickling into my panty liner was now becoming a full stream.

 “Natalie, can you watch Miss J while I go to the bathroom?”

“Sure.” She replied.

I took my purse into the bathroom and took out a super long maxi pad.

I pulled my pants down slowly. The blood was leaking from my vagina in a steady stream. I quickly took off the panty liner and put the huge maxi pad into my underwear. I pulled my pants up and washed my hands. Suddenly I could feel the blood spilling out from the sides of my underwear and start to trickle down my legs.

I paced around the bathroom in a frenzy. My heart was racing.

Am I dying? What is happening?

The maxi pad was full of blood in under a minute. I could hear both Dr. Chinn and Dr. B’s voices in my head “If you are wearing a pad and it fills with blood in under a minute, call us immediately.”

I changed the pad again. That one filled up faster than the first.

There was a huge roll of paper towels on the counter.  I ripped off about half the roll and stuffed my panties with it, and ran out of the bathroom.

“*Natalie, I’m bleeding. I have to go to Dr. B’s office right now.” I said.

I tried to remain calm for Miss J’s sake but I was unraveling inside. Thank goodness *Natalie was there. She is always calm under the most stressful situations. We strapped the girls into their strollers and ran out of the yogurt shop.

Dr. B’s office was just two blocks up the street from the frozen yogurt shop. I raced up the street as fast as I could, while pushing Miss J’s stroller. *Natalie and her daughter were right behind us. I felt the wetness seep through my panties and onto my butt.

Oh my God! Everyone can see the blood!

The blood had seeped through all of the paper towels and began to form an outline around my crotch area and was creating long stains down the front of my pants and down my legs into my shoes.

The short two block walk to Dr. B’s office felt like an eternity. Strangers look repulsed seeing me bleeding and running up the street.

I was embarrassed and humiliated.

Please God!  Not again.

 

*Name has been changed for privacy.

“The great motherhood friendships are the ones in which two women can admit [how difficult mothering is] quietly to each other, over cups of tea, at a table sticky with spilled apple juice and littered with markers without tops.” Anna Quindlen

Making mom friends is similar to making friends when you’re the new kid in school. There were some moms I bonded with immediately and have remained friends with over the past four years. There are some who, although we didn’t become best friends, I enjoy seeing around town or catching up with at the playground. Then, there are others who are an obnoxious bunch and I could care less if I saw again.

I found most of my mom friends through a new mother’s support group that met every Tuesday at Hoboken Medical Center. The first time I attended, Miss J was eight weeks old.  I wheeled my stroller around a long maze-like corridor until I found the room. I was the first one to arrive. I walked around the empty room. There was a table with light refreshments and another table with several different types of pamphlets. I read a few. Lactation support, PPD therapy, nanny referrals. Nothing for PTSD.

It wasn’t long before several moms came strolling in with babies just a few days old to four months old.  The chairs in the room were set up in giant circle, leaving ample room for strollers. The group was led by a nurse, who is also a certified lactation consultant.  Once all the seats were filled, she introduced herself and explained that every class would begin with us stating what was the best moment of the week and what was our worst. The women began to share their stories.  One woman cried about not getting enough sleep. We all could relate to that. Others debated hiring nannies, skin problems and lack of breast milk production. I decided that my story might be too much for the group to handle, so I kept it to myself.

Postpartum hemorrhaging and re-occurring nightmares, anyone? Anyone? No? Okay.

In addition to becoming a regular attendee of the weekly new mothers group, I enrolled Miss J and I in a music class called “Musicology” for babies and their caregivers. At first, I felt ridiculous sitting in a circle on the floor, clapping my hands, shaking bells and singing classics such as “Wheels on the Bus” and “Row Row, Row Your Boat”. The teacher, Miss Dana, was fun, energetic and very entertaining. And although Miss J was only eight weeks old, she seemed to really enjoy herself. She smiled and would stretch out her skinny fingers to grasp instruments. Seeing Miss J’s reaction to everything happening around her filled me with joy. We had both needed to get out of the house. I decided that no matter how I was feeling, it was important to stay active. I was still replaying the hemorrhaging every day and not getting very much sleep, in these brief moments of time I found myself forgetting about the trauma.

It wasn’t very long before I made a few good friends and we scheduled weekly meet-ups.  The weather was perfect for gathering at a local park on the waterfront. We would all spread out picnic blankets and bond over our experience as first time moms. Week after week we grew closer and formed an unexpected sisterhood. Eventually I shared my birth story and others did too. A couple of the women had been through several rounds of IVF before they were able to conceive. One had been hit by a car when she was four months pregnant. Some had C-sections. One had been diagnosed with PPD (postpartum depression). But here we were, we had all made it.

I had weekly appointments with Dr. Chinn to monitor my post surgery recovery. Anxiety filled me as I removed my clothes and prepared to have my vagina examined. I was usually already in tears by the time she walked into the examination room and every appointment ended with her holding me in her arms while I cried. I avoided Dr. B. The very sight of him was just a constant reminder of the hemorrhaging. I was trying to dig myself out of a hole and I had to rid myself of everything that reminded me of the trauma. Sadly, Dr. B was a part of it. It wasn’t long before I ended my sessions with my psychiatrist, Dr. Jones. She just seemed to aggravate my PTSD symptoms.  I didn’t need her and I didn’t need her Xanax.

I needed to be a mom and bond with Miss J. I needed to feel connected to people and to the world around me.  Connecting to my new friends became a lifeline for me, a reminder that although I often felt it, I was not alone.

“Fortunately, when you’re a mom, the responsibility of caring for your child can keep you going.” Shania Twain

May 2010

Dr. B called me often to see how I was doing–at least once per week in the months that followed Miss J’s birth.  One day, I explained to him that the pediatrician had scared me by telling me that Miss J had jaundice. The pediatrician suggested that Miss J would need vitamin D supplements and possibly phototherapy to treat the jaundice. I was a wreck. I could not imagine her teeny body under a UV lamp. With everything else I had going on post surgery, I was full of anxiety. Dr. B encouraged us to get out of the house so she could get some sunlight, a natural source of vitamin D.  When I told him that I was afraid to leave because I felt too weak and too scared of hemorrhaging again, he told me to start by walking one block at a time and coming right back home. Then he said the next day walk two blocks and come back home. And, so on and so on until I was more comfortable going for longer walks with the baby. Dr. B insisted that it was good for both Miss J and I to get some fresh air and some sun. I didn’t want Miss J to have to get phototherapy, so I decided to leave the house. I started by walking one block up the street to a Dunkin Donuts. It felt like a huge accomplishment to buy a donut and return home safely. As time wore on, my walks lengthened and Miss J’s jaundice disappeared.

One day, I ended up walking two miles along the Hudson River front, taking in the beautiful views of New York City. I stopped at a nearby school playground to rest my legs and feed Miss J.  The playground was empty. I sat on a bench and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my skin. A bell sounded and several pre-school aged children came running towards the playground from every direction. I watched the children as they climbed the monkey bars, played tag and zipped down a winding slide. Staring down at Miss J, who was just four weeks old at the time, it was hard to believe that one day she would be one of these “big kids.” One girl came running up to Miss J’s stroller and looked inside.

“I like your baby!” She said with a huge grin.

“Thanks! I like her too!” I replied.

I have a baby sister at home. I’m a big girl. My sister isn’t a big girl. She’s a baby.”

“Do you like being a big sister?”

“Yes. I feed her a bottle and hold her.”

“That’s awesome! I bet you are a really great big sister. I bet your mommy is very proud of you!”

The little girl ran back to her group of friends. She pointed in my direction and giggled.

The walk back home was long, but I was proud of myself for finally venturing more than a couple of blocks. I opened the cover to the bassinet and let the sun shine down on Miss J. She looked up at me and then up to the sky, trying to figure out the world around her. A tiny smile came across her face. I took that as her way of thanking me for treating her to a nice afternoon.  We made it home safely.

Then, she dozed off to sleep. We needed to get outside more often.

I am a professional make-up artist with the Sally Harlor Agency in New York. I suffered a post partum hemorrhage and underwent a life-saving surgery shortly after the birth of my daughter, whom I refer to as "Miss J" on this blog. I was diagnosed with PTSD and realized that there were very few resources for women who had similar birth experiences. Along with providing resources for other women, I share a candid look at what my life has been like since giving birth three years ago on my blog www.timoriamcqueen.com For more information contact Timoria at mcqueenmakeup@gmail.com Thank you for reading. Xo