‘Your brain is injured, it needs time to heal’

26 Aug

God is good. All of the time…

Have you ever prayed so hard for something that seemed so elusive? I’m not talking about a better job, more money or even someone to love you. I’m talking about something that seemed like it was completely out of your control and reach, even though you prayed fervently about it. I have.

Over the last five + months, I have prayed for one thing daily: peace of mind. I have not had it since the moment the doctors told me that my child’s heart had stopped and that my 33 weeks and three days of pregnancy would end in broken hearts for me and my family.  It is one thing to mourn the loss of my child but, it is totally something else to also have to deal with post-partum anxiety at the same time. I’ve had it badly.

I was left feeling like I was on the outside looking into my own life. I didn’t recognize who I was anymore. Afraid to be alone, go outside, take the elevator, sit in my car in traffic, travel any long distance away from the apartment I call home, ride the subway, and fly among many other ‘normal’ things. Most of all, I was afraid of being afraid.  My fears kept me up at night and when I finally did fall asleep; my fears caused me to abruptly awake an hour or two into slumber. It was mentally taxing and I was physically exhausted and frustrated because I could not rest. I did not rest.

Every night I prayed the same prayer. Reminding myself that God is in charge and that He is bigger and mightier than I and that I was choosing to overcome this great obstacle no matter how long it would take. When I wasn’t praying for the hurt and pain to go away along with my panic attacks over the most normal routines, I challenged myself to face my new fears once or twice per week. I took trial runs on the subway and even went underground. I shook in distress and sweated the whole way but, it was one step to conquering one fear and getting my life back. Every single time I challenged myself the result would be a sense of accomplishment and then deep depression. I thought will I live my life this way forever? Surely, there is much more of the world I want to see. This cannot be it for me. So these exercises/challenges became worth it and instrumental to my recovery.

I continued like this for the first three months often getting frustrated and sometimes losing hope. At my lowest moments I relied on my husband and my sister for reassurance. One evening, my sister was visiting and although I tried not to alarm her, I know my husband kept her abreast of everything happening with me. I unloaded on her my emotional and mental state and beat myself up a bit about how long it was taking for me to get back to normal. She looked at me and said something that has made me look at my temporary inability to thwart off unfounded fears in a new light. She said to me, “your brain is injured” and like any other injured part of your body, it needs time to heal.

Wow.

It seems so simple but how many people overwhelmed by traumatic and tragic experiences beat themselves up and think they’ve lost their marbles when in fact, there is good reason for that state of mind. I lost a child and my body had to abruptly stop a biological and physiological process before it was able to finish. Of course I’m going to be affected, my mind and body is trying to figure it all out too.

When my sister said those words, I immediately changed my outlook on the healing process. I knew now that I didn’t have to push myself so hard. That if all I could handle was one task or challenge per day, then I was not going to allow myself to get frustrated for not being able to do more.

At five months post-partum, I am where I couldn’t even imagine one month ago. I have been on four trips and 10 planes. I did it! Flying has been my greatest new fear. The thought of sitting on a plane for several hours (I’m African, remember we have to go a long way to visit family) was debilitating and would send me into panic.

As much as my husband wanted to whisk me away to some exotic place where we could try and forget our pain for a short time, I just couldn’t bring myself to entertain flying. But God works in mysterious way, I had to two opportunities to fly locally, one for an hour and the other for two and a half hours. The one hour flight was the most nerve wrecking and agonizing. Everything that could go wrong ran across my mind and I was a mental mess. There were tears but, as the old saying goes, no pain no gain. Thanks to these two short flights I was able to fly all the way to Malawi and then Spain earlier this month. The impossible became possible.

Although, I am still not eager to jump onto the next plane or be by myself, the fact that I have flown 10+ hours at a time on several planes and to different far away and unfamiliar lands, has given me new vigor. I can do anything (through Christ)! And with my sister’s sagely advice, I know that my mind is still healing and I will have peace again.

 

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Everyone has a story

5 Aug

My husband and I have been to quite a few doctors’ offices since we lost our Demilade. I couldn’t bear the thought of walking back into the same OB practice that sent me home  two days before I found myself hopeless in an OR, after not hearing my son’s heart beat; so we have been “interviewing” as many other doctors as possible to ensure that I’d have a caring and attentive pre/postnatal health care provider going forward.

The last Obstetrics physician we saw is a high risk pregnancy specialist. She sees patients like me all the time. She started the consultation by asking me what happened and what brought me to see her. She listened actively and took pages of notes. She asked about my family history and any other conditions i may have had in the past. She asked my husband too. She then reviewed my medical history files during my pregnancy with us and confirmed what We had already been told. We had lost our child due to severe preeclampsia.
Before she ended the meeting she said two things which stood out. The first was that we would have to wait one to two years to get pregnant again because although outside wound looked as though it was healed, there’s a second cut inside, on the uterus that must also heal. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought to ask about this before. Or why all the other doctors thought it was common knowledge and didn’t bother mentioning it. It was hard information to digest because you know that whole I’ve realized I’m not in control thing? Yeah, it’s a process…I had already made plans for when we would try again so, imagine my disappointment at this news.
The second thing she said was that “everyone has a story” and then proceeded to tell me about how she had lost her first child to preeclampsia as well. She had tried again and gave birth to a second healthy child but, still that pregnancy proved to be a difficult one. She later resolved to adopt instead of enduring a third or anymore pregnancies. Her story put everything in perspective for me.  Just minutes before meeting her, I sat with my husband in the waiting room and looked with a broken heart at all the pregnant women and other new moms bringing their babies in for a checkup. I started to feel hurt, envy and even hate and then quickly told myself to snap out of it. I leaned over to my husband and told him what I was thinking and then I told him, why should I be envious of anyone? I don’t know what life experiences have brought them here. I can’t compare myself to people whose life story I don’t know!
When God wants to teach you and make you understand, the message will be loud and clear. Up until this point, I would see pregnant women and babies and immediately go into a deep state of depression. In the few weeks after our loss, this depression was accompanied by anger. The message I received this day helps me to overcome the hurt I feel every time I see a mother and her baby, guesstimating how old the baby is and if Demilade would be that big as well.
I went home feeling a bit defeated by the waiting news and knew it wasn’t going to be a good rest of the day, until I picked up my Bible for some reassurance and read Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Doesn’t this sum it all up? Not my plans, but God’s plans. My story is not finished yet.

Not Again!

14 Jul

I have been sleeping OK for the last couple of weeks. I no longer wake up in fear and panic over small things three or four times per night. I can finally say I’m getting uninterrupted sleep (even if its only 4-6 hours).

It has become normal for me to not fall asleep until after midnight and if I don’t force myself, I can be wide awake way into the early morning hours. The inconvenience to my daily routine is noticeable. I can hardly leave my home for work by 8:30 am. This is not sustainable. Something has to give.

I woke up at 4:00 am this morning for no particular reason. Heart racing, head pounding and an uneasiness that I can not explain but, it keeps me up. Wide awake. Its been a few weeks since this kind of episode and after falling asleep early at midnight, I looked forward to sleeping straight through to 6:30 am or 7:00 am.

Immediately, I ask when it will end. When will I go back to my 8-hour- per night sleep pattern? There are few things that frustrate me and not being able to sleep is at the top of this list.

One thing is for sure, I have come a long way from March 13th, 2013 when my world was shaken and changed forever but, I am gradually working on becoming “normal” again.

My symptoms

8 Jul

One of the main reasons for starting this blog was to share my experience while I was pregnant with Demilade so that others might have a reference to help them decide when to take action if experiencing similar symptoms. When I lost my baby boy, I was hopeless and I was angry. Angry at my doctors; angry at myself; and eventually, angry at everyone who could have counseled me and didn’t. Women can lose their child and their lives due to pregnancy complications. We don’t like to think about it and definitely don’t want to talk about but, it happens and these realities should be shared when the information is there.

Preeclampsia occurs in 5-8% of all pregnancies  and still births occur in 1 in 160 pregnancies (of which preeclampsia is just one possible cause).  These seem like small numbers but, for those of us who experience it, it is too many and a far too traumatic experience to not be explored further.

I share my symptoms and experience keeping in mind that not everyone will go through the same exact pattern of events as I did and, that some of these events mean nothing for some pregnant women. It is important to be diligent about our own health listen to our own instincts. There is no one who knows how you are feeling but you, no matter how many abbreviations come after the names of so called experts.

I’ll start from the beginning because it might help to piece together the the final diagnosis.

At about 6 weeks into my pregnancy I had severe abdominal cramps which took the wind out of me and knocked me out. The cramps crept up on me and within about 5 minutes because so severe that I could not walk and eventually blacked out. My husband had to throw me over his shoulder to the emergency room. By the time the nurses and doctors in the ER had checked me out, the pain had gone and I felt fine again. Blood tests were done and ultrasounds performed and none of it came back with any conclusive information. I was released to go home about 6 hours later and didn’t experience this again.

At about 4 months, I noticed that I had hardly gained any weight. I mean, I couldn’t keep anything down for the first 3 months but, at 13/14 weeks I was slowly getting my appetite back so I expected some weight gain. When I raised this concern with my OB, I was reassured that it is normal. Especially when a woman is so sick in the first trimester.

At 5 months, I had gained 10 pounds between the previous month and at this point. I remembered reading the weekly pregnancy blogs and being told that more than 2 lbs in weight gain per week was a cause for some concern, so I made sure to mention it to my OB. She again reassured me that this was normal. This is also the time I started experiencing sleepless nights. When I also brought up this concern, I was told that it was to be expected. In all honesty, every other mother I encountered and who gave me that precious unsolicited advice corroborated the doctor’s assessment that the sleepless nights are to be expected. But, what about the fact that I felt like something was sitting on my chest. Or that my poor sister would take midnight walks with me just so that I could feel tired enough to try and close my eyes when I laid down. And when I could close my eyes, I would abruptly wake up multiple times every night, heart racing and sweating profusely. For about two months, I could not calm myself enough to sleep more than 3 or 5 hours every night. I was tired and I was frustrated and it still was not enough of to raise concern from my health care provider.

At 25 weeks I went to the ER yet again. This time preterm contractions were the cause. Unlike the usual interruptions to my sleep, I was awakened this day by what felt like cramping in my abdomen. I knew there would be stretching and shifting so I wasn’t immediately alarmed. When I finally got out of bed to head to work, the pain was still there and constant but nothing alarming. It was not until about 12:00N that day that I realized I was having contractions. They have a rhythm you know. I asked a friend of mine at work who had just had a baby if these could be Braxton-Hicks contractions and she immediately let me know that if they were, they would not hurt.

Contractions are supposed to feel like very bad cramping, this is what I’ve been told for the longest. But how is one supposed to measure the pain when the regular menstrual cramps are a horror to go through. The thing is, I’ve had cramps that leave incapacitated and when I compare the contractions I was having that pain would rank at a 5. My 10 is extreme.  Later that afternoon I went to the ER and was hooked up to a heart monitor for Demilade and then given fluids via IV. For about 5 or 6 hours the contractions were relentless and showed no signs of stopping. Dehydration wasn’t the problem and the baby was not in distress but the contractions kept going strong. Finally after I had been in the ER for about 5 hours a nurse came to tell me that they would give me something to stop them. She gave me one shot of Terbutaline. The most they can give is 3 shots with some time lapsing in between each shot. Nothing happened. The contractions were still steady. 30 minutes later, I was given a second shot. This time the contractions slowed and stayed that way for the next 30-40 minutes. The nurses were confident that they would eventually stop soon and discharged.

The moment my husband and I got back home and prepared to sleep (it was now after 2AM), the contractions came back to the same level they had been all day. They did not end until late afternoon this day. At this point I had had them for over 36 hours.

The next episode was what happened two days before I lost my child. I had all of the symptoms you will find if you google Preeclampsia.

  • Headache for 3 days straight
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in my chest (under rib cage) and back at what seemed like the mirrored spot
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarhea
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Lower back pain
  • Swelling

Other than my trips to the ER, I suffered from sleepless nights and fatigue as a result. I had occasional swelling of my feet but they always returned to normal. Some of my colleagues said my skin looked grey and eyes yellowed. I felt a great amount of stress all of the time. Much more than I ever have.

Discuss your symptoms with your doctor and seek guidance and/or treatment. If a doctor can’t put it together, it is good to know the signs so that you can seek life saving action sooner.

The Preeclampsia Foundation is a great source of information regarding this disease.

I hope this is helpful to someone.

Aftermath…

3 Jul

I don’t know how celebrities do it. All that unnecessary cosmetic surgery. I mean what kind of a person gets cut up voluntarily? I suppose that could speak to a different kind of strength or maybe I’m just being over dramatic, since it was neither desired nor a personal choice for me to get a Cesarean Section surgery.

I have a bikini cut, as I am told. When I get back in shape, everything should look normal again. What about feel normal??? No one ever tells us how it feels to have a scar that you not only see but feel. How is one supposed to feel about something permanent like the scarring from a C-section that  is not planned? The hardness of the area for a few months and you trying to reconcile why you feel so disfigured. It is not a part of you are; who you were rather and, now you have to get used to it or go mad.

After being given Magnesium to prevent any seizures resulting from the severe Preeclampsia  I had just been diagnosed with, I was wheeled away into the OR knowing I was going to be awake during the C-section surgery. However, I did not expect to have a panic attack in the middle of the operation upon I realizing  that I could not feel or move my legs and remembering that I would not be able to do so for another 2-4 hours (as told by the anesthesiologist). No one tells you this. That its not some quick surgery that doesn’t mess with your psyche. Maybe I was the first to react this way. Maybe its because my mind did not have the luxury of focusing on the crying baby that would normally result in this kind of procedure. Maybe my claustrophobia kicked in. Who knows?! I just know it is an awful feeling to be wide awake and aware that you are being cut open and there’s no running away and nothing you can do to speed up the process or simply wiggle your toes.

The trauma didn’t end in the operating room. When I was released to go home a few days later and had to clean the wound on my own, I realized my body was no longer the same. This wasn’t a matter of losing the 35 pounds I put on. I can always exercise the fat away.  This was much more. The scar had hardened along my bikini line and apparently this is how it will remain for the rest of my life. It is a bit softer now and I am more at peace with it always being there but, there are days when the feel of it triggers emotions I cannot control.

I have questioned myself on several occasions. Is it vain of me to feel this way about my physical appearance? I was dealing with too many other things psychologically, physically and emotionally and yet I had time to think about this scar. Beyond the physical damage, it is a constant reminder of what I don’t have in the end and causes me much anger.   If I had my consolation prize, the scars and mental anguish so far would  be well worth it. I am certain these feelings would not be as pronounced as they are now, if at all.

 

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