I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket as I start to wash breast pump parts in the community sink at work. It’s 7pm, bedtime. My husband has called me so I can still be a part of my almost-4 year olds bedtime routine even though I am at work. I immediately smile and feel so happy to see my family’s smiling faces. Even the baby is there for bedtime stories. We make funny faces at each other, share “I love you” and “see you in the morning.” When we hang up, I’m profoundly sad. Before I left for work, my son asked why I had to go and said it wasn’t fair. No kidding. I’ve had a difficult time adjusting being back at work since I had my daughter in June. I’ve been back for almost two months now, and nearly every day I still drive to work with tears in my eyes.
Part of me wonders if I’m struggling so much because of the traumatic experience of my daughters birth. She was born unexpectedly at 28 weeks and 6 days gestation. It was a difficult pregnancy from the beginning. I was so sick the entire time with morning (let’s be real, all day) sickness. I never had much of an appetite and actually lost 10 pounds during my pregnancy. At about 15 weeks pregnant, I started having excruciating back and hip pain. We found out I had a herniated disk in my lower back and it had become symptomatic probably because of the changes occurring to my body due to the pregnancy. I was in agony for nearly 5 weeks before weeks of physical therapy and chiropractic got me back to being able to stand and walk again. Then, at 26 weeks pregnant I found out I had gestational diabetes. Really? Come on body! I know 34 years old isn’t a spring chicken for a pregnant lady, but give me a break! I adjusted my diet and had started to feel a little better by 28 weeks. Then one night, I just started feeling really ill and had a racing heartbeat. I was going to be near my OB’s office the next day for a gestational diabetes class so I called to see if I could come see a nurse because I just didn’t feel right. It never crossed my mind that I’d be admitted to the hospital that afternoon. But my blood pressure was high (156/101) and I had protein in my urine. Preeclampsia was probable.
We had to rush to figure out what to do with my son because we have no family here in Oklahoma. Luckily, our awesome neighbors stepped up and kept him overnight. Everything just kind of went downhill from there as I was hooked up to magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures and given steroids to try to boost my baby girls lung development. Labs showed that my liver enzymes were through the roof. I had labs drawn every 6 hours to keep close tabs on those enzymes and luckily we were able to make it 48 hours more, long enough for those lung-enhancing steroid shots to have maximum benefit for baby girl. I was so out of it from all the medications I was on, I didn’t really have the energy to be too nervous about the c-section. All of my energy was focused on my girl and if she would be ok. And making sure the doctor tied my tubes, because after two horrible pregnancies that both ended in preterm births, I was so done with having babies.
Luckily, our sweet girl is a rock star and she made it through the NICU with flying colors in only 40 days. But I have had a harder time dealing with the experience. The worry and anxiety I feel are consuming. She had a minor (grade 1) brain bleed. While the doctors do not think it will have any impact on her development, there is a tiny chance it will. Cerebral Palsy is the main concern with this type of bleed. She also has a heart condition where a hole that is present for every baby in-utero did not close once she was born. She has to undergo a procedure to correct the issue. And while I’m assured the risks are low, they are not zero. Every four weeks she gets a shot called Synagis. This is meant to reduce the impacts and severity of symptoms should she contract the RSV virus. My son had RSV at 13 months of age and was in the hospital for a couple of days. It was awful. He now has reactive airway disease. If she gets RSV, what havoc will it reap on her tiny lungs? Will she continue her rockstar status and give RSV a big middle finger? One must be 6 months of age to get the flu shot. That means she can not get it until December. There are a whole host of fears I have regarding illness. Fears that for a normal person would seem preposterous. But I know that for her, a simple cold can be dangerous. That anxiety paralyzes me. So much so that I’m terrified to travel with her in a week to meet her family 8 hours away because what if one of them is sick and doesn’t take my warning seriously to not come near her if they are in fact ill (even just a cold!).
Then there is the mom guilt. My body ultimately failed her. My son didn’t see his mom for a week while I was in the hospital. He had to stay with neighbors who, while not strangers, were not his safe place and norm. He is resilient and did fine, but the guilt piles on. I’m afraid to take the kids places this fall and winter because of my fears of illness. So I feel guilty that they are missing out. Every time I leave for work, I feel like I’m failing them. Especially my daughter who needs extra attention to make sure she develops and thrives and catches up on her milestones. I feel completely out of control, and for anyone who knows me well, thats huge, because I am a bit of a control freak.
Finally, I feel like failure as a wife. I am tired, anxious, probably a little depressed. I’m consumed by worry for my kids and my inadequacies as a mother. And my awesome husband bears the brunt of my crabbiness, my sadness, my anger. It’s not fair to him. He deserves better than me. And even though I want to be better for myself, my kids and for him, it’s a constant struggle.
At the end of the day I hope my family will always know how much I love them and care about their happiness. And I hope I do a good enough job of hiding how afraid I am, how much self-loathing I carry, how anxious I am that I’m screwing it all up. Fake it ’til you make it, right?