Birth Trauma Survivor and Maternal Health Advocate

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.

 

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