I talk so often about Kingston’s birth story, my preemie miracle. He is truly an amazing baby, and a gift. But 10 months later, I still struggle to acknowledge my own near death experience. As moms, we’ve all experienced “hiding behind our kids.” Posting their pictures, talking endlessly about them, saying we’re tired and stressed but quickly following it up with “but I’m so grateful to have them.” Just before that other person can remind us “you’ll miss this one day.” Although we will miss it, it does not negate the overwhelming stress of the moment, of the day, of the motherhood experience.
Similarly, when Kingston and I survived a traumatic birth and spent a month in the hospital together, it was difficult to deal with both sides of the event. As a mother, of course I focused on Kingston and ensured he was okay. Many conversations were similar to the one below.
Me: “Yeah, this is really difficult. I can’t really wrap my brain around the fact that we were both in danger. We almost died.”
Them: “But thank goodness he is healthy. What a miracle!”
Me out loud: “Yep. He is.” Me inside: “…But I’m really not over the whole ordeal…”
This is what we do to ourselves as mothers, and how others usually interact with mothers. We can deal with anything, right? Well after we returned home from the hospital, the worry didn’t end. I was consumed with his weight gain, keeping up with nursing, and praying he had no setbacks. Deep down, I felt shattered. I didn’t know how to begin to address the pain of that moment I thought I lost him, at home in the garage. I didn’t know how to embrace myself, the foreign thoughts of despair, and my changed body.
So I told his story over and over, to anyone who would ask, or anyone who would listen. While it was therapeutic to talk about it, I would realize something new every time I recounted it. I was still processing and accepting the reality and proximity of death, yet I couldn’t dwell there. I had to be strong for Kingston. No one wanted to hear those depressing thoughts, and I didn’t want to address them.
But I was left feeling like a shell of myself, dry and empty. I was simply Kingston’s storyteller. I dealt with anger, sadness, regret. The biggest reminder of my trauma was in the mirror everyday. The sleepless nights had been much harsher this time around. My skin was pale, my body was weak, swollen from extra weight, iv fluids, medications, and who knew what else. I had awoken from my emergency C section with a long, tender, painful (and itchy!) scar from the tiniest baby I had ever birthed. Yes, a life saving scar. But a scar that represented an unforgettable, horrible experience that no one will ever truly understand except me.
At the end of May, I decided I was tired of being frustrated and sad. I needed to move and sweat and feel like myself again. Part of my healing involved treating my body better, making a point to be more active, taking walks, getting out of the house and away from it all for 20 minutes a day. I am certainly not a diet expert, but I began to cut certain foods out and increased my water intake. Before anything changed on the outside, I started to feel better. I didn’t feel like my old self at all; but for once, that was okay. I felt a new sense of commitment and confidence swelling within. I found gentle, postpartum targeted, 10 minute workouts on youtube and just started where I was. I felt defeated and weak, but I did a little each week. I made a promise to myself to just try, stick with it, and give myself a chance to feel better. By the end of July, I had begun to see a transformation in my body. But the real transformation had already happened in my mind, when I decided I wanted to do better for my mental, physical, and emotional health.
I survived quite the ordeal, and then we slid into a pandemic. The emotional rollercoaster took an unforeseen drop and I couldn’t let myself go any further. I had to allow myself to mourn the “me” before 11/6/19, and to embrace the me that was also born that day. Although it feels like a never ending journey, I choose to celebrate life, my progress, and my perseverance without shame or disclaimers. I am thankful for my son’s life, and I am also thankful for mine. We wouldn’t be here without each other, and I now see that it is important for me put myself at the forefront of it all. I don’t have to fade into the background of my own experience. I will talk to my mom all day about Kingston and how strong he is, but she will remind me: “He gets it from you.” I need to show myself the same awe and respect. I made it through, too! I am still healing, still growing, and still learning the new me. And I am proud of her.
Mommas, don’t be afraid to tell your story. Own it all, the good bad and the ugly. The rage and sadness, the highs and lows, the joy and pain. Keep sharing, and celebrate who you are and how much you have overcome. We are the center of our families- our voices, feelings, and changes affect it all. Own it, voice it, celebrate it.