Originally published in 2016
I do not normally use “trigger warnings”, being of the belief that we should face our traumas and move past them. However, if you are squeamish about birth details or not wanting to hear about medical trauma, do not continue reading.
“Doesn’t matter how tough we are, trauma always leaves a scar. It follows us home, it changes our lives, trauma messes everybody up, but maybe that’s the point. All the pain and the fear and the crap. Maybe going through all of that is what keeps us moving forward. It’s what pushes us. Maybe we have to get a little messed up, before we can step up.”
This quote from Grey’s Anatomy actually sums up some of my feelings on trauma pretty well. Nearly seven years ago an emergency surgery changed my life. It did mess me up, and resulted in my living with PTSD. It also led to me getting out of a bad relationship, realizing some of the more important things in my life, and pushed me to move forward with some plans I’d had for years.
When my son was born, I had an easy enough pregnancy but a rather traumatic birth day for him. The focus of this story not being on my son’s birth, I will simply say that I had an inept doctor who obviously had better places to be than to be delivering my first-born child right then. She made a vital mistake, causing me to deal with a rare condition called “placental accreta” where part of the placenta remained and grew through the uterine wall and into muscle beyond. In case you’re wondering, it’s not a good thing to have happen. It causes internal bleeding and a lot of complications.
What followed was a series of events that I couldn’t believe was happening at the time. Nor could the doctors or nurses who worked to save my life. After hemorrhaging at home, I was rushed to the hospital and went through an emergency surgery for a partial hysterectomy, removing my uterus, and leaving my ovaries. Before I went in, I said goodbye to my newborn son and begged my mother not to call my husband whom I was separated from at the time. I had panicked thoughts of him taking our son from me, and wasn’t able to think very clearly in the panic of the emergency room.
When all was said and done, I’d endured two surgeries, the loss of any future children, dealing with a deteriorating marriage, and nearly a month in the hospital with blown veins and many complications. I also walked away alive, but with PTSD that I’m still dealing with six years later.
When I see people post articles about simply being happy you had a healthy baby instead of worrying about *HOW* your birth went, I get physically shaken and angry. “Fuck your positivity,” I want to say. In the end, I know the general principle is correct, but that doesn’t help me.
What has helped me is telling my story, talking about it and trying to help others. So often people are quiet about tragedy. They feel that their story is too private or that no one really wants to hear about it. Recently I was able to have any of those doubts in my own mind washed away by a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I won’t share medical details about her since that is not my story to share, but suffice to say she had some very similar events happen to her that led her to believe she may be going toward a hysterectomy. At the time of writing this article, that thankfully has not happened. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while and weren’t very close in the past. We are mostly Facebook friends, liking each other’s posts and checking in here and there since we have kids who are the same age.
Despite this, I went up to the hospital to sit with her and to support her as best I could. And one of the reasons I was asked by her to do that? It was because I had been one of the only people she had ever seen share my story so openly and talk about it publicly on places like Facebook or in articles like these. I knew what she was going through and I was asked to offer advice and help.
This wasn’t something that was easy for me. I told her I’d be able to arrive at the hospital within a half hour or so. I grabbed my coat, keys, and purse, and ran down the stairs to tell my boyfriends that I would be leaving for the hospital. I was in a bit of a heart-racing moment, thinking about entering the same hospital that I had spent nearly a month in previously. Yes, she was at the medical facility where I had given birth to my son. I arrived about forty minutes later, pulse still a little thready, a bit of a cold sweat on my forehead and hands. I called my live-in partner on the way there and asked him to remind me of all the reasons that I knew I could do this. He had responded in kind and was very helpful. I went into “mom-mode” and decided I was just going to get through it.
When I walked in and finally found my friend, the sight of her took my breath away. She looked so lost and scared, while cradling her newborn son. I saw myself there and remembered how comforting it had been to hold my child before and after surgery, how he, at only a week old, had made me feel safe and secure and reminded me why I needed to fight to live and not give up. I held back tears as I entered her hospital room.
For the next few hours I sat with her and talked to the doctors and nurses… I held her son for her as she had IVs placed and some minor procedures done… I shared my experience with her husband and tried to be open and honest about one of the most difficult times in my life… and most importantly, I feel I helped her. While I was doing that, a little piece of my trauma healed. Not all of it. I’m not cured. The statistics on PTSD say I will likely never be “cured” of it. However, in helping her, I helped myself. The worthier part for me is knowing I was able to set myself aside to help someone else.
I arrived home that night exhausted and emotionally spent. My partners greeted me with hugs and kisses and let me talk about my experience. I may have been spent, but I gained more in those few hours sitting with her in the hospital than I had in the past six years of therapy.
Reach out to others. Share your story. Be a lighthouse for someone else in the darkness. We are not alone in this great big world. If you get messed up, step up.