Swimming To The Surface: My Journey Through Postpartum Birth Trauma and Depression

December 4, 2015

My daughter Evelyn is the biggest blessing of my life. She is the light and joy in everything. I haven’t always felt this way though since her birth... Let’s back up seven months.


Evelyn was born six weeks premature. The morning of her birth I realized that something felt “off”. She wasn’t moving around as much as she always had. I thought at first she must be sleeping, but this carried on through the afternoon .Worrying about this throughout the day, I decided to call my care provider to come in for an appointment. After close monitoring, my midwife told me that it would be best if I went to the hospital for further testing just to be on the safe side.


During the drive to Toledo Hospital my husband Alex and I joked about the possibility of bringing our baby home that day. Nervous laughter filled the car. We both knew that this was a possibility.


We arrived to the hospital at about 5:30pm. I was sent to triage for respiratory and heart rate monitoring. While we sat in our little cubby, I turned my head to watch the monitor print-outs. Something wasn’t right. The heart rate kept spiking up and down drastically, as did the respiratory rate. What did I know though? I’m not a nurse. Perhaps it was just something glitching on the monitor. Thirty minutes went by, nurses came and went. Finally a doctor whom I’ve never met came in. “I don’t like what I’m seeing” he told us. “If no improvement happens in the next 5 minutes, we are going to have to take the baby.”

I couldn’t wrap my mind around this last sentence. At this point I felt like I was in a dream, watching on the outside. The doctor stood by my side and watched the computer screen, pulling nurses aside here and there, telling them to prep for surgery.


But this couldn’t be happening. This isn’t what I planned for. I wasn’t ready. Our baby wasn’t ready. We still had six more weeks. How could this be happening? What do we do? Alex, call my mom and dad. My mind was racing.


Five minutes came and went,  I was surrounded by nurses and doctors prepping me for an emergency cesarean. Legal documents shoved in my face while my gown was being lifted up and a catheter being inserted, needles poking in to my skin while instructions are being shouted back and forth from the nurses and doctors. Eventually being wheeled down the hall at a sprint, the anesthesiologist asking my permission for a spinal- sign this, do you agree to this? sign here, here, and here. What the hell is going on? Where is my husband?  


I remember the room where the surgery took place. For one very brief moment I laughed because there was an iPod in the corner playing a Pandora station that I also play in my massage studio. “Hah! They listen to White noise radio too!” The back wall was all windows. I was transferred on to the table after the spinal was administered. One very kind nurse who was with me the entire time held my hand and talked to me until my husband was allowed to come in. I remember her face, but I cannot recall her name. She was very sweet.


Surgery began just after 6pm. My OB made it in time to perform the surgery, my midwife was also present. 20 minutes later, a baby girl was pulled from my belly and whisked into the adjoining room. We never found out the sex of our baby during pregnancy, no one told us what we had right away. The doctors were trying to resuscitate our baby. Her umbilical cord had wrapped itself around our daughter's neck tightly, twice.


Finally, we asked “What is it?!” “Oh! You didn’t know?” one nurses asks, “You have a baby girl.” She was eventually brought over to us. She was beautiful. I was feeling loopy from the medication. It was just a few moments until they took our baby away to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I wasn’t to see our baby girl again until the following afternoon.


While I was in recovery one of the nurses came in to tell us that our baby girl was stable, but lucky to be alive. She held my hand and told me “You saved your daughter's life by following your intuition. If you had waited any longer, she would be gone.” These words resonated within me then, and still do today. I was overwhelmed with “what if” scenarios.


The next few days were a blur of NICU visits, and conversations with doctors about my condition and of Evelyn’s. I never pictured learning how to diaper my baby in an incubator.


The neonatal specialist was optimistic that Evelyn would be released soon. Feeling hopeful, but also very empty inside, we returned home when I was discharged without our daughter. I’ve never cried so hard in my entire life. No one ever pictures the ride home from the hospital after you have your baby, without your baby in your arms.


One day after I was discharged, now four days after Evelyn’s birth, I received a phone call from one of the neonatal physicians. “We found a bleed in Evelyn’s stomach. She needs a platelet transfusion. We need your consent to perform the transfusion.” I had no idea how to respond. I was out of my mind on pain killers for the excruciating pain from my surgery, and they wanted me to do what?! We consented to have the transfusion.


Four days passed, Evelyn was finally able to come home after a traumatic birth, and a platelet transfusion. Alex and I were exhausted, but overjoyed to finally have our baby home. Our phones rang from family to express their congratulations and to schedule a day to come meet our dear Evelyn...


This is the short version of my birth story. I lived this event over and over and over for weeks, and told myself for a solid month that I was fine and that I would be ok;  I could never become “depressed”. I was in complete denial and was falling down a hole, and falling fast. On the outside I looked fine, on the inside I was falling apart. There was nothing that could be done to make myself feel better for quite sometime. At the time, I could not understand why this was happening. My experience with postpartum depression felt as if I had been stuck a tide, bearing heavy weight on my shoulders at all times. I didn’t know what to do or who to reach out to. During my pregnancy I never thought about postpartum depression. It’s one of those things that you never think is going to happen to you. I was never going to be one of “those moms”. I had my act together and I was going to be just fine. Well it turned out that I wasn’t fine! I was irritable, angry at times for no reason, and I cried. A lot. My dear husband was by my side as I tried to get back to my regular life. Adjusting to having our new baby was difficult. Much more so than I ever anticipated. My birthing experience went completely wrong and I let it fester in my mind for months. And then, when my daughter was about six months old, I had the strangest sensation that I swam up on the other side, lifted my head out of the water, and looked back at almost half of a year during which I seemed to have been underwater. I can’t explain the change or when it happened exactly. It simply felt like I had literally swam up to the surface after being underwater for so long, and was finally ready to accept what had happened, and move on.


Postpartum depression affects approximately 30% of women according to U.S. statistics. Most women will look like they are doing well on the outside, but on the inside they are hurting deeply. PPD can affect anyone, no matter the birth experience, even fathers! I had gone through a birth trauma. My pregnancy was wonderful. My delivery was frightening, especially as a first time mom. This is a condition which is not talked about in detail very often. Most people are aware that it exists, but no one wants to hear about the details. The postpartum period is very delicate. About 80% of women experience the “Baby Blues” after birth. One minute you will be on top of the world, the next minute on the bottom, and then back to the top again. This typically lasts about three weeks. Anything beyond this time frame constitutes as postpartum depression.

There are variations of this postpartum period. Some will experience the baby blues as mentioned. Depression lasts a much longer period of time and it can be a matter of weeks, months, or longer. Many women will experience sleep deprivation, fatigue, irritability, and feeling “off” on a regular basis. Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Postpartum Psychosis are more severe conditions that affect mothers after birth. For more information on these, please visit http://www.postpartum.net/. These conditions are much more severe and immediate medical attention is recommended.


It is so important that any expecting mother and family be informed about the postpartum period. If you think you might be experiencing any symptoms, you can take a self-assement called the Edinburgh Perinatal Depression Scale (http://www.spectrumhealth.org/edinburghscreening) to determine whether or not you may be at risk. It is also important to speak to your care provider about your feelings to determine the right path to help you get back to feeling like yourself, to lift you out of the water and get back on to the other side.


You are not alone!








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