One of the most traumatic experiences of my life took 12 minutes.
12 minutes for them to rush me to the OR and prep me for surgery.
12 minutes for them to numb me, cut me open, and take our little girl out.
12 minutes for us to wait to hear her cry and to hear the sharp intake of breath from the doctor.
12 minutes that felt like 12 hours.
12 minutes for our lives to change.
They say that a song can bring back “a thousand memories.”
I’m like that with the sound of the monitors in the hospital.
Because in a matter of minutes, I went from dreaming about baby names and the perfect outfit for leaving the hospital to learning medical acronyms that I never knew existed.
Prior to those 12 minutes, you would have never convinced me that giving birth to our daughter would break my heart.
I would have never believed how traumatic and isolated we felt.
I would have never believed I wouldn’t get to hold her on the day she was born. Or that it would be almost five days later before I would get to hold her for the first time.
I would have never believed that I would learn how to navigate all the wires, tubes, and ports that were connected to her. Never believed we would have to learn how to properly hold her for fear we would pull her ribcage apart. Absolutely none of that was in the baby books.
I would have never believed that I would leave the hospital without her. Or how much my heart would break each and every day that I had to leave her. Never in my wildest dreams would I have understood the sheer pain of spending the day with her in the NICU and then having to kiss her goodbye to go home.
Some days the memories still knock the wind out of me.
I would have never believed that I would look at life in 5 minute intervals in the NICU. I would tell myself “If she makes it through the next five minutes, we’re going to be ok. We got this.” I would have never believed that we would make it through days that turned into weeks and weeks that turned into months with those little “5 minutes.”
I would have never believed how much I clung to the word “stable.” How each and every time I would talk to the nurses, specialists, and doctors, I would hold my breath to hear that word. I would never believe how much we leaned on hope, faith, and the sound of the word “stable.”
I would have never imagined being strong enough to withstand that storm. Strong enough to know that we could lose the best thing that ever happened to us. Strong enough to discharge myself from the hospital less than 24 hours after having a C-section. Strong enough to see her code. Strong enough to make it through all the fear. Strong enough to hold myself together every day without collapsing. Strong enough to remain in one piece while my heart shattered.
I would have never believed that the outside world would would just keep spinning. Our life as we know it had just stopped. But the world? It just kept going completely unaware that we’d been shaken to our core.
I would have never believed that birth trauma would still effect me so much. That each time I saw a pregnancy announcement, newborn photos or heard someone share their happy delivery story that I would be gutted. Baby showers would kill me after having Callie. I wasn’t even brave enough to go visit my best friends in the hospital after they had their babies. I just simply didn’t think I could be back in the labor and delivery wing. I wasn’t strong enough for that yet. The pain, shock, grief, and devastation are still something that tears me apart. I absolutely hate that I sometimes feel like I’m forcing myself to act happy for new mamas while I’m trying to navigate through the grief that’s raging through me. That I have to excuse myself when they start talking about how hard newborn life is because I know that our experiences are not even on the same planet.
People kept telling me I should be grateful. And I am without a doubt 10000% grateful that our experience ended the way that it did.
But the birth trauma is real. Mourning the birth experience you hoped for coupled with surviving a traumatic 3 months in the NICU and being grateful for your child are two entirely separate things. Trauma is something that permanently changes you. That major disruption in our life left a new normal in it’s wake. There was no “back to the old me.” I was unequivocally different now.
Our life was now split into two parts–before and after.
It’s taken me a very long time (and continued work) to heal. I know that I need to be patient with myself and give myself permission to feel the things that I feel. I can manage through getting a birth announcement in the mail and it’s gotten easier to go to baby showers. I know that we just didn’t leave those feelings about her birth and our stay in the NICU at the hospital–they came home with us too. I’ve learned that the goal of healing is not to simply plaster over the hurt, loss, and grief in an effort to present things as ‘normal.’
It’s to acknowledge and wear your new life–scars, wisdom, heartache, experiences and all–with courage.
Because honestly, no one ever said witnessing a miracle would be easy.