Birth Trauma Survivor and Maternal Health Advocate

"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.

 

 

 

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