It finally came, I was discharged.
My nearly month-old son was there. My in-laws were there. My sister-in-law and my brother-in-law-in-law (what I call her husband) had just gotten to town. My youngest sister-in-law was there, too.
I dressed painfully in the outfit I was wearing when I arrived at the hospital. They had washed it.
I was wheeled out to the car. I “happily” took a selfie – “I am free!” my Facebook post announced.
The family decided that I would stay at my in-laws house for a while.
“But I want to go home!” I wept, “I want to be with Arthur in my own house…” and the excuses continued. I had this plan in my head of him sleeping in the pack n’ play next to my bed and I would wake in the middle of the night to nurse him. He would nap in his nursery that I so lovingly put together for my son. I wanted to pick up where I left off the day I went to the hospital.
I wanted to move back time.
“You are not strong enough to care for him on your own, to be home with him alone while Andrew works,” they explained, “You need to continue to rest. You need help for a while.”
I understood, but at the same time, I felt like I had no choice. This whole ordeal wasn’t a choice.
I had no control. No choice. No choices.
They were right. That first night, I fell apart at dinner. I didn’t know why, I just started bawling into my take-out chinese food. My three siblings-in-law were all staring at me helplessly. The next day, I had been taking a nap and was trying to get out of bed. I got stuck with my feet on the floor and my torso on the bed. I was only half-awake and feeling helpless. I cried and cried out, “Help me! Help me!” My brother-in-law-in-law walked in with my sister-in-law close behind.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I can’t get up!” I sobbed.
He caringly helped me up like it wasn’t a big deal and he was glad to be there to help.
My son slept in his grandparents’ room. I just didn’t have it in me to be up with him at night. Guilt raged in me. I still couldn’t be his mom. I wasn’t his mom.
Two days later the whole family came down with a stomach bug. I was among the first and it was bad. After some conversation and deliberation, I asked my father-in-law to take me back to the hospital. I walked in and gave my name.
“You’re the septicemia patient!” the receiving nurse exclaimed. Another nurse walked by, “Kelly – this is the septicemia patient!” (I don’t know why I remember no other names of my doctors and nurses, but I remember Kelly’s from that specific moment).
“Wow! You look so good!” Kelly beamed as my stomach gurgled and I had the urge to use the restroom again. Feeling like this? With my hair all wild and unkempt and yet they fussed over how good I looked. Wow. I must have been a sight!
They brought me back to a triage room. They took samples. I continued to get sick and be sick. They gave me some medicine to ease the nausea which caused me to vomit.
I was given the all-clear. Just a stomach bug.
After everything I’ve been through, three days after being discharged from the hospital to which I went because of what I thought was “a stomach bug,” I now have “just a stomach bug.” Real funny. Really funny.
Andrew had been called in from work to take care of our baby. The whole house was sick and he was our responsibility, after all. Andrew needed to be there. And he showed up.
I know he showed up as much as he possibly could. I had a hard time with it. I wanted to depend on him. I wasn’t ready to be independent. I missed the security of the doctors and nurses. I missed him. He had a business to run – our sole income and only one employee. I don’t give my husband credit enough, but when he needs to show up, he shows up.
As I got better, I announced that I wanted to take Arthur for the night. He slept and cried and was fed and changed and slept. Just like a perfect healthy little boy. I got up to soothe and feed and inject myself with a blood thinner every single night at 3am.
The injection schedule was very important. I eventually, one hour, one day at a time, moved the injections up to a waking hour.
I walked to the neighbors driveway and back. My muscles had dystrophied so much while I was bedridden. Three houses down and back. To the end of the street and back. Around the short block. I was determined. I needed to be a mom to my son. I needed my independence back.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a patient so willing to do what I’ve asked,” remarked a nurse to my mom one day during my hospital stay. My mom told me about it later. I was determined to get home to my baby. We were torn apart and I was desperate to be reunited with him. God’s grace covered me and gave me the focus toward that goal. It wasn’t strength. It was my weakness and God’s strength. I needed that drive to continue with my healing. To learn how to be a mother to my son.
I tried to rejuvenate my milk supply that had dried up when I got sick. I had pumped a teaspoon at a time at the hospital. I refused to feed him a bottle myself. Let someone else do it.
“Why?” my mom asked as she sat by my hospital bed holding up the bottle of man-made formula while I snuggled my tiny infant.
“I want him to know me for only breastmilk,” I urged. I had done all the reading.
I tried and tried to produce but gave in to the bottle because he just wasn’t getting enough. One day, I just gave in.
I wanted to breastfeed. I needed to breastfeed!
My family had to teach me how to make formula for my baby. It was humiliating. I got on the phone with the lactation consultant from the birth center where he was born. Herbs and oils and supplements. Before he was born I had paid to have the umbilical cord dried into a powder to make capsules for milk production and protection against postpartum depression. There was a question, giving my health trauma, whether it was safe, now. I threw it out.
I tearfully gave up.
There were some that didn’t understand why I gave up, but I was completely defeated. I felt both guilty and jealous whenever I watched other women nurse their babies. I searched for breast milk donations and received some to last for a few feedings for a few months. I wasn’t going to give up on mother’s milk.
Eventually, after about two weeks at my in-law’s – about six weeks after he was born – I had it. I wanted to go home. I needed to go home.
As kind and sweet and incredibly helpful my in-laws were as I adjusted to non-hospital life, I needed my independence. My space. Room to be a mom. I needed to do this. I needed to regain my title as “mommy.”
The smell of the cinnamon scented candles was getting to me. The smell, sights, and sounds unique to that house. That family’s home. It wasn’t my home. I wanted the smells, lighting, sounds of my own home. For once, I didn’t want people around me, telling me what to do and how to do it. I needed to learn to do it for myself.
My husband and family finally relented.
I choked back tears as I finally walked into the door, greeted my cats, watch my family carry in load after load of my stuff, my husband’s stuff, and all the baby stuff that was meant to be used here, in my home.
I sat on the couch, tired from the 20 minute move home. I soon hurried to get a bottle ready for my baby. Settled in for a feeding. Instructions of “If you do, need, want…” were laid before me.
Another month of struggle
Of still managing pain and injections
Husband working late nights
Always late nights.
Follow-up appointments juggling pain and baby. Car Seats and strollers. Weight limits and exhaustion. Not to mention that the muscles in my my right shoulder were completely frozen, the use of my arm non-existent and very painful.
Two months old. I finally bonded with my baby. I finally felt like a mom. I finally knew who this person (Little Dude, Honey Bunches, Sweetness) was in my heart.
I went on to years of physical therapy. Follow-up surgery. Psychological counseling for postpartum depression, post traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, and chronic anxiety. My mental health, much like my physical health was a mess. It continues to haunt me. Challenge after challenge, crisis after crisis, finally led to a diagnosis as manic-depression just before my son turned 3 years old.
As of writing this, I’m facing my fourth surgery – a pesky abdominal hernia which popped up above my incision from the last surgery at 15 months postpartum, which repaired an umbilical hernia and my traumatized abdominal muscles.
As of writing this I think we’ve finally caught onto the right cocktail of medications for my psychological malfunctions.
As of writing this, I am 3 ½ years postpartum and I still seem to be in recovery.
Why did I write this? Because my story is unique. It’s rare. But it’s not unheard of. I very occasionally come across someone who has a story remotely similar to mine. It’s a very lonely place, having a postpartum trauma like mine.
I look at other people and their sweet little babies. Their transition to home. They experience the first of firsts and take a million pictures to commemorate the sweet little moments that emerge amidst the challenge of learning how to care for this tiny fragile life. I don’t know what that is like. Not until he was six months old and I was present for him crawling the first time (I was terrified he would do it while I was out at one of my many doctor’s appointments) did I feel like I was living the “normal” mommy life.
It’s lonely. There is someone out there feeling alone and isolated because they, too, were denied that beautiful homecoming and subsequent days of celebration of their baby’s new life. They need company. They need to know that they are indeed not alone.
If you are out there reading this, know that you are not alone.
You are not alone.