By Megan Wahl, MDT | December 16, 2019
Trigger Warning: Birth trauma, Postpartum OCD
When I had my first baby, I didn’t know you could feel love like that. I knew love, a deep and passionate, a challenging and beautiful love. But this was different. An all-consuming, I would die for you kind of love. As I lay in the hospital bed, staring directly into this little boy’s soul, I remember being in such awe. So this was wonder, this was joy. It was the most profound awakening I have ever experienced. I didn’t know it would be like this. This powerful, this soul shaking, this raw, this profoundly life altering. I didn’t know.
As the doctors rushed around me post-delivery, I didn’t know I would feel disconnected. I was on a euphoric high, floating above myself, looking down at the scene unfolding from above. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t hear them when they said my baby broke my tailbone during delivery. I didn’t know you could do that, break open in that way. I didn’t know.
I didn’t know that when we left the hospital it would be the longest and scariest drive of my life. That my knuckles would turn white with every turn taken too fast and every pothole not avoided. I didn’t know that when I got home and left my baby in the car seat to nap, I would experience the first full blown panic attack of my life; that when he didn’t immediately wake, I would never ever be the same.
I didn’t know that from that day forward I would see visions of him dying – graphic horrific visions. A horror movie on repeat. I didn’t know these visions would stop me in my tracks, that my heart rate would skyrocket, that I would start sweating and black out, seeing stars. I didn’t know that when I told my doctor I would be told to “get more sleep” and “see you for a follow-up appointment a year.” I didn’t know that the thoughts would get so bad that I’d have to pull over to the side of the road for fear I would drive into oncoming traffic. I didn’t know it would feel like a tunnel with no escape, no end, no light, no air.
I didn’t know that every time I saw a baby sleeping in a car seat I would feel compelled to walk over and touch it to make sure it was breathing. If only I could feel their chest rise and fall. I didn’t know the looks of panicked mothers would pierce my heart; if only they knew it was out of concern, out of love. I just wanted to make sure they were safe. If only they knew what was going on inside my head.
I didn’t know that when I unexpectedly got pregnant again, in the midst of that darkness, that I would feel terrified and as if I had been pierced by the most radiant light. That it would feel as if I was again broken open yet differently now.
When I birthed my second baby, I didn’t know I could feel so connected, so powerful. I didn’t know I could find a place never found before, despite already having done this once. I didn’t know that the second time would be just as profoundly beautiful as the first yet calm, steady.
I didn’t know that the thoughts would come later this time. I thought perhaps I was lucky, that maybe they were just a product of my first. I didn’t know…until that night. That night when I held him in my arms and watched his ribs suck in against his skin as I frantically rushed him to the ER. I didn’t know that when you show up like that they take your baby away and immediately get to work. I didn’t know that a 3-month-old could scream like that and turn wet with frantic, cold sweat.
I didn’t know that for the next week we spent in the hospital I would only put him down to go to the bathroom because I was so terrified of losing him. That he would sleep on my chest every night so I could feel his tiny heart beating next to mine despite the thoughts that swirled through my head and plagued my dreams. I didn’t know how to live without feeling the rise and fall, rise and fall of his tiny breaths.
I didn’t know that I would be physically unable to drive out of the children’s hospital parking lot a week later because I was overcome with gratitude that I was leaving with my baby alive. That he was still breathing, there in the back seat. I couldn’t shake the thought that some parents would drive this same road one final time with an empty car seat. I didn’t know that for the next 9 months I would be unable to sleep without my hand on his chest at night to feel him breathing. The comfort of the rise and fall, rise and fall.
I didn’t know that this would be my story. That someday I would own it without shame. That I would find healing in therapy, medication and in sharing the darkest times of my life. I didn’t know that this would pass, that the days would get easier and the nights longer. I didn’t know I’d be able to finally sleep without touching my children. I didn’t know that there was hope, that there was life beyond that darkness. I didn’t know that this would be the first step in my rising.