Someone recently said to me, “I have no idea what would be like to face the anniversary of the day I almost died.”
“It’s more than just that,” I replied.
One year ago today, I went to urgent care thinking I had a bad stomach virus following the birth of my son 4 days earlier. As soon as they took my vitals, they ordered an ambulance and rushed me to the hospital where I would have emergency abdominal surgery and blood transfusion to clean out my insides. My body went septic due to a virus that had been lingering in my body from before I gave birth and, in a rare circumstance, started attacking the weakest parts of my body.
I woke up at some point (time didn’t exist to me for about a week) to tubes coming out of my mouth and nose and my arms strapped down to the bed. People came in and out. My husband was there, my parents who had already gone back home after my son was born were back, my in-laws came and went, and my son was laid on my chest here and there. Most of this I don’t really remember clearly, except for pictures.
I remember waking up at some point and I was finally free of the straps but I panicked because I couldn’t talk, so I tried pulling the tubes out of my mouth. My husband laid on top of me to hold my arms down and summoned a nurse. Suddenly I drifted back into unconsciousness. Three weeks in and out of the ICU and another major surgery later, I finally was able to go home and start being a mom to my son. In constant pain. A host of emotions to sort through from having given birth, separated from my son, and experiencing this sudden trauma.
Yes, my life was in balance, and that’s hard enough to process through – hard enough that I’ve struggled with PTSD over the past year. But the anniversary of this day is also the loss of those precious moments in the first few weeks of my son’s life. It’s a reminder of my inability to breastfeed, the delayed mother-son bonding, missing several “firsts.” It’s a reminder of coming home damaged, in pain, and struggling to heal while getting to know my son and caring for his needs. It marks the start of a hard year of trying to pick up the pieces of my broken body and adjust to being a new mom while still being a wife to my husband who also faced my traumatic experience and kept our small family business running throughout.
Reverting back to PTSD flashbacks and bouts of depression onset by coming across breast pump supplies that went unused and baby items that were stowed away, forgotten, have returned to haunt my days. It would be so easy to hide out in my home and get lost in binge-watching Netflix, but the same motivation that got me home from the hospital keeps me from giving up – a God who loves me and a son who needs me.
The thing is, I want to do more than just “not give up,” I want to prosper. I’ve followed a few tenets over the past year that have helped me to not just survive, but thrive. I think these axioms are true for any difficult circumstance in life.
Ask for Help and Accept It
People have been offering me help since I became pregnant. In fact, I often say that labor and delivery was the easiest part of having a baby because, though it was a healthy pregnancy, it was difficult on me. Then, my postpartumexperience nearly killed me. Nestled neatly between was that relatively brief 7 1/2 hours of labor leading up to the moment my slippery grayish pink son was laid on my bare skin was beautiful and without complications.
People have been coming alongside me throughout. It’s easy to brush off people’s offers for help as obligated kindness, but you’d be surprised at how genuine a lot of the offers are.
Once it seemed like I was getting back on my feet, the helpers stopped coming by, but I still needed help. It’s a lot easier to accept help when it’s offered, but there is no shame in asking if it’s still needed.
Facing a trial can be very isolating. I found a group of new moms at my church who got together weekly to talk and let the babies play. They don’t relate to my unique situation, but it’s nice to relate to them about the “normal” parts of childbirth and motherhood we do have in common. A group of us formed a Bible study, which has allowed me to engage even deeper in relationship. They provide a place to grow spiritually and share my story when appropriate.
When I do hear about a mom who had a traumatic experience, I seek her out and swap stories with her.
Give Yourself Grace
Being a new mom is hard enough. Being a new mom while recovering from major physical and emotional trauma is even more difficult. Some days are just too hard and I just can’t handle the normal daily tasks. There are days when I just take a personal day. I rid myself of responsibility, leave my house messy, the dishes in the sink, and I order in food. I make sure my son has what he needs – food, a clean diaper, and comfort when he’s upset – and just try to enjoy him. I hope that tomorrow will be a better day.
Do The Hard Work
Sometimes it feels like it would be a lot easier if I could ignore everything that happened and just go on living my life. How good of a mother and wife would I be if I just ignored the baggage I’m carrying around and tried to live with all that extra weight? Working through your challenges is really hard work. It’s messy and ugly and just hard. But being able to put those weights down and live life freely is worth finding a good counselor and taking the proper medication. Engaging in the pain of the process of moving toward a healthier place allows you to see God’s grace and blessings in the suffering.
On this anniversary of trauma, which happens to come just a few days after my beautiful son’s first birthday, I’m giving myself grace, I’m reaching out to my Mom’s group, and I’m asking for help. I’m very tempted to avoid the reality of the day, but have instead decided to engage in emotions that it brings.