Birth Trauma Survivor and Maternal Health Advocate

“Talking to a therapist, I thought, was like taking your clothes off and then taking your skin off, and then having the other person say, "Would you mind opening up your rib cage so that we can start?” Julie Schumacher, Black Box

I arrived about ten minutes early for my first session with Dr. Jones, the postpartum psychiatrist. I sat on a couch in the waiting room of her office, along with two other patients. I sized them up, wondering what their problems were.  One woman looked visibly upset about something, she was on the verge of tears. The other, a man, looked depressed and kept his head down.

Oh well, I thought. These two are definitely crazier than I am! I ‘m holding myself together-at least in the waiting room.

Bobby was working from home two days per week, so he was able to watch Miss J while I met with Dr. Jones. To this day, we still don’t know why we didn’t hire a baby nurse or perhaps a part-time mother’s helper during the first few weeks after Miss J’s birth. We were in over our heads and we didn’t have any family nearby to help us on a day-to day basis. In fact this issue turned out to be the root of several arguments between us over the first two years after Miss J’s birth. I  was the survivor of a terrible trauma and I was expecting Bobby to find a solution to make it all go away, but in hindsight I don’t remember ever bringing up needing more help at the time. I figured there are millions of moms who don’t have the option of hiring help or don’t have a supportive partner like I do in Bobby.  They manage to survive motherhood and so could I. What he couldn’t understand and what I wasn’t ready to admit to him or anyone, was how wrought with fear I was at being home alone with Miss J. I was afraid to sleep because I was afraid I would not wake up. Once you feel your body losing life, you will never forget it and I replayed it every day. Bobby went back to work just two weeks (very generous paternity leave for a man) after Miss J was born.  As much as I love him, I began to resent and envy him. His job seemed easier than mine. He woke up, shaved, brushed his teeth, took a shower, got dressed, drank coffee, cuddled with Miss J for a bit and he was out the door. Don’t get me wrong-he was busting his ass at work for ten to fifteen hours per day and then coming home to a new baby that kept him awake all night and a wife that was at best, a zombie. I was stuck at home, in pain, barely able to walk. I had lost about twenty-five of the forty-two pounds I had gained during the pregnancy, but I was still having a hard time walking due to the surgery. My legs were swollen with fluid and double their normal size. I was still bleeding. Miss J ate every hour so I figured why bother to try to sleep anyway? As soon as I dozed off it would be time to get up again or I would awake in a cold sweat from a nightmare, usually a vision of the hemorrhaging. The consistent pain in my crotch was a daily reminder of Dr. B’s arm in my vagina up to his elbows, massaging my uterus and trying to make it contract. I spent my days feeding, sterilizing, cooking, cleaning, changing, rocking, singing, reading, swaddling. I was lucky if I found the time to brush my teeth and take a shower. Sometimes I had to choose one or the other.

Every day was “Groundhog Day”.

Dr. Jones emerged from one of the office suites. She reached out her hand to greet me and escorted me into her room. She was petite, with dark shoulder length hair.  I sat on a couch across from her desk. I looked around the room. On the walls were degrees from two Ivy League colleges and numerous other accolades, including her being featured in a several magazines. She sat in an armchair directly across from me holding a yellow legal pad and a pen.

She explained to me that in order to determine if I had PTSD, she would evaluate me over three sessions. At the end of the third session she would let me know if I did indeed have PTSD and if she could treat me. You read that right. I had to spend four hundred and fifty dollars just for her determine if I had PTSD and if she could provide me with treatment herself.  Reflecting back on it, it sounds ridiculous. Why would someone have to meet with me several times before deciding if they could treat me, especially if they are a specialist in postpartum mental health? What if, at the end of the third session, she decided that she could not treat me? I would have to start all over. I was too desperate and exhausted to process it at the time.

Dr. Jones asked me several questions. How old was I? How long had I been married? Was I a drinker?  Did I ever want to hurt myself or Miss J?  I was offended by some of the questions, but I assumed that it was part of the process. The questions were endless. It felt like an interview. I was very uncomfortable. I should have listened to my gut and walked out of her office. First impressions are everything and truthfully, I didn’t like Dr. Jones at all from the moment we met. She was cold. As I re-told the story of my birth trauma, she stared at me, emotionless, just nodding her head up and down slowly as she jotted down notes quickly on the yellow pad. How can you listen to someone tell a story like mine and stare at them with a blank look on your face?  How can you watch someone sob uncontrollably and fall apart in front of your eyes and not offer them a hug or at the very least-a sympathetic comment?

I was annoyed at the sound of her pen scratching against the paper, wondering what she was writing about me.

“Tell me what your life was like when you were six years old.” Dr. Jones said, dryly.

“Why?” I asked.  This is so fucking dumb, I thought to myself.

Starting at six years old would have me detailing every grievance of my life from not getting the Barbie I wanted to wondering if I would be asked to Prom. Then I would have to eventually talk about my grandmother, my mother, and so on and so on. I didn’t have time for that. I only wanted to talk about the surgery, the blood and why I couldn’t sleep.

I knew that this was not going to work. She wanted too much control over the process. I felt forced into taking an unnecessary trip down memory lane.

I was not about to bare my soul to a stranger I had just met.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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