Last January to June, when I was utilizing the services of a therapist/social worker at my Pregnant & Parenting Teens program, I learned that I was dealing with a combination of PPD (postpartum depression) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I didn’t see a psychiatrist about it so I was not medicated for it. I felt like I could deal with it without being medicated, as I felt better the longer time went on. The therapist/social worker appointments actually ended up making me feel worse so I stopped seeing her around June.
I still struggle with the PPD side of things, which I’m sure could be considered actual depression now (I’m not sure how long the PPD label lasts after baby is born). I’m working on seeing someone about it, and I may or may not go on medication…I’m a little bit more open to it now.
I didn’t realize how the PTSD had affected me until very recently. Last month, Caleb, Noah, and I went to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton to request Noah’s hospital records.
While we were there, we visited “Noah’s tree”, which is a tree in the “Labyrinth”, a sort of indoor garden on the fourth floor. It has a piano, a little library, some plants, and most notably, 2 giant trees planted right there in the floor. It’s completely natural light, and when we went there it was around 1 pm, so I was surprised that it was so bright since I was used to seeing it at night, haha! It’s “Noah’s tree” because when we were at the Stollery and we believed that Noah was going to die, we decided that we wanted to leave a little piece of him at the Stollery. So we carved his initials and birthdate into a tree in the Labyrinth.
I recently decided that we would come back every year around his birthday and take a picture of Noah with his tree.
When we initially carved it, in December 2010, there was nothing else on the trunk. When we went last month, the entire trunk was filled with names, initials, and messages. I feel a bit bad for the blatant vandalism that we started, but it really is beautiful; a visual representation of the lives that the Stollery has touched.
After we visited the tree, I decided that I wanted to visit the NICU (well, the outside of it, anyway). Which brings us to why I started this post talking about PTSD.
If you have PTSD*, you may find that you have certain “triggers”. This article explains what triggers are.
When I was told that I had PTSD, I kind of believed it. I mean, it made sense, I just didn’t really completely understand what that meant.
Until that day last month. When we started walking down the hallway leading to the NICU, I immediately became very anxious.
I started flashing back a little, mostly to the first night we arrived at the Stollery, where Caleb’s aunt had met us in the connection between two walkways on the same floor, and it completely brought back the terror, the panic, the FEAR that we had felt. Just that morning, Noah had had his seizure, and the rest of the day was spent in a frantic casual-panic (I call it that because we were freaking out but I made a “To-Do List” so that we would have a goal in mind. We must have looked relatively calm for what was happening) of us tracking down a doctor so that I could be discharged, setting up our accommodations, then running home and packing for what we thought might be a few days. Then we hopped in the car, on the way learning that he had had another seizure right before the air ambulance arrived. We had literally no idea what was going on, and we managed to get really lost once we were in Edmonton. It took us 8 hours to get to the hospital from home, when it should have taken 4-6. We had finally arrived at the hospital at midnight, Caleb’s sister (Olivia) and dad had driven in front of us, and Olivia told me that some woman named “Patricia” was looking for Noah, which freaked us out even more — who was this random woman looking for our baby?! Later we found out that it was Caleb’s aunt….Rhonda. Silly Admitting person! *eye roll*. Caleb and I hadn’t slept for something like 32 hours. We were exhausted, mentally and physically.
So walking to the NICU brought all of that emotion from that day back to me. Walking past the hallway which led to the back entrance to the hostel room that we spent 7 extremely long, emotional days in. Walking past the elevators that I had sat next to the first night, when I called my mom and bawled my eyes out, and the call kept getting cut off whenever the elevator came down, but I couldn’t trust myself not to get lost if I went anywhere else. Walking past the little waiting room where Caleb’s sister, dad, and aunt had been waiting for us once we got into the NICU (they weren’t allowed in at first for security reasons).
And then the NICU itself. The closer we got, the more anxious I was. My heart was beating incredibly fast, I could have broken down crying right there. I felt all of the emotion that the NICU had for me. It was almost overwhelming. But I forced myself to move. I told myself that it had been a year, it will be ok, and I needed to start making the Stollery a happy place in my mind.
The Stollery was the place that I had to prepare to say goodbye to my son. It’s where we spent his first Christmas. His first Santa picture is with a fishbowl Santa in the Family Room.
The song “Mistletoe” by Colbie Caillat still brings me back there. We had been sitting in the Family Room on December 23, I believe. It was right after we heard “the big news”. The Family Room was quiet. We hadn’t discovered the Labyrinth yet. That song came on, and I almost burst into tears right there, when I thought that I was already cried out.
“I’ve been waitin’ for you to come, but it’s hard ’cause, I feel so alone, and I just want you to come home…”
So many memories. Too many memories. Literally the worst 7 days of my entire life.
I will never forget those days, but I need to move on from them.
So I made Caleb slow down and hold my hand as we walked to the doors of the NICU. I needed him there. He’s the only person in the world who understands how I feel about that place.
I think back to how much we depended on each other while we were there. Sometimes being among other people felt stifling. We would cry together, hold each other, comfort each other. We would roll our eyes at our neighbor who would always sing the same loud annoying song while she rocked her baby (I mean that in the nicest possible way). We would make little jokes, trying to make the situation hurt a little less. I would text him from the pumping room even though phones weren’t allowed. It was too hard being apart from him for long.
That hallway feels like the longest hallway in the world.
I made him hold my hand until we reached the doors. Everything about it was so familiar and yet so terrifying, suffocating. I made him hold Noah for a “happy picture” in front of the NICU sign, while I choked back tears and thought about how far we have come.
Then we walked back up the hallway and he had to use the bathroom, so it was just Noah and I in the little waiting room. There were people there, an entire family. I could relate too much so I avoided their eyes and instead focused on the fish tank. Even that was hard. I remember staring at it the first night. To combat those emotions, I decided to make more “happy memories”. I showed Noah the fish. I took a picture of the fish, and then Noah and I. I saw a man and a woman head into the PICU [it’s right across from the waiting room], and another man walk past to the NICU. I thought about how they must have been feeling at that moment. I knew exactly what they were feeling.
I realize now that birth is also a trigger for me. Whenever a friend has gone into labor in the past year (believe me, there’s been a few!), I have been filled with anxiety and pure fear. NO ONE needs to go through what we went through. But it didn’t click until I was actually writing this post that that was WHY I always felt that way, and why I felt such utter and complete RELIEF when I got the message that everything was fine.
Caleb came back from the bathroom, and walking back to the elevators that would lead us to the hospital exit was like a breath of fresh air. I hope that the next time we come back, it will be easier. I need to make it easier.
We went down to the gift shop. Noah already has a “I Was Born At the QEII Hospital” bib so I wanted to get him a Stollery bib. I ended up buying him a stuffed bear and a bib, and then a keychain and little pin for me. So now my keys have both “Pregnant Teens 2011” and “Stollery Children’s Hospital” keychains attached to them. It seems fitting, somehow.
While we were searching for a bib, I saw a man with the same haunted look that I recognized all too well. I would be willing to bet money that he is a NICU or PICU dad.
It’s amazing how many of us there are, those of us who walk around with that experience on our shoulders. In a way, I can see it in people’s eyes sometimes. They know what it’s like to walk back to the maternity ward without a baby in your arms. To cry yourself to sleep because your baby isn’t home with you yet. I can see it in the way that they talk about life. I find that generally, we see the big picture a lot clearer.
Being a NICU parent changes you. Whether it’s because your baby has jaundice, or something more serious like a preemie or a life-threatening illness, disease, or condition.
I find that I am a lot more empathetic for the things that people go through. It made me grow up, incredibly fast. In one moment I was just a 19 year old, naive girl giving birth for the first time, and just a few short days later I made the decision to take my baby off life support. I am one of the very, very few people who come back from that experience with an alive, basically healthy child. He doesn’t even have a feeding tube! I don’t understand it, hell, even his doctors don’t really understand it, but it’s what happened. I’d like to think that we are only given as much as we can handle. Apparently I can handle a lot more than I thought I could. With every terrible, devastating thing that happens, another, beautiful, amazing thing replaces it.
Noah gave me something to live for.
THIS little boy is why I get up in the morning.
A Mother’s Oath
There are women that become mothers without effort, without thought, without patience or loss and though they are good mothers and love their children, I know that I will be better.
I will be better not because of genetics, or money or that I have read more books but because I have struggled and toiled for this child.
I have sat in the NICU and waited.
I have cried and prayed.
I have endured.
Like most things in life, the people who truly have appreciation are those who have struggled to attain their dreams.
I will notice everything about my child.
I will take time to watch my child sleep, explore and discover.
I will marvel at my surviving miracle every day for the rest of my life.
I will be happy when I wake in the middle of the night to the sound of my child, knowing that I can comfort, hold and feed him and that I am not waking to a nurse taking another temperature, an alarm going off, another round of meds or because I am crying tears for fear of the unknown.
I will be happy because my baby is alive and crying out for me.
I count myself lucky in this sense; that God has given me this insight, this special vision with which I will look upon my child that my friends will not see.
Whether I parent a baby with physical challenges or medical issues, I will not be careless with my love.
I will be a better mother for all that I have endured. I am a better wife, a better aunt, a better daughter, neighbor, friend and sister because I have known pain.
I know disillusionment as I have been betrayed by my own body.
I have been tried by fire and hell many never face, yet given time, I stood tall.
I have prevailed.
I have succeeded.
I have won.
So now, when others hurt around me, I do not run from their pain in order to save myself discomfort. I see it, mourn it, and join them in theirs.
And even though I cannot make it better, I can make it less lonely. I have learned the immense power of another hand holding tight to mine, of other eyes that moisten as they learn to accept the harsh truth and when life is beyond hard. I have learned a compassion that only comes with walking in those shoes.
I have learned to appreciate life.
Yes I will be a wonderful mother.
– Author Unknown (adapted for Noah)
* You can have PTSD from a lot of different things. Most famously it’s known for soldiers that have served in combat. It can be for what I went through, losing a loved one, anything particularly traumatic. So this post is based entirely on my experience, I don’t know anything about the triggers that other people go through. I write this disclaimer simply because I don’t want to offend anyone, particularly those who have angel babies. ❤