Since we’ve wrapped up the first month of 2015, I thought it was time to post some of the good reads I’ve been pondering lately and a few other goodies. And since yesterday was the Superbowl (why not a running play???) and my whole family has been trying to survive FLUmageddon, I’m posting the Sunday Specials today.
We repent of how we ignore you, of how we turn a blind eye to your suffering and your brilliance, of how the nations of the world continue to look on with only empty words and threats, of how our compassion has yet to turn to action. Your massacres, your sufferings, are forgotten, it seems.
The thing about shame is that it doesn’t so much live in your brain, as it inhabits your heart. It is a parasite that takes up lodging in your soul. I have been host to my shame for so long that it is hard to imagine my life without it. Shame was always my baseline. Shame has always felt a lot like home to me. What’s so deeply insidious about that particular type of abuse is that it fundamentally changes how a child feels about who they are, how they see the world, and how they believe the world sees them. I used to think everyone knew. In fact, I used to think they could smell it on me. Literally. I was obviously bad. I was the type of girl boys wanted, but not for their girlfriend. I never thought I was beautiful, but I always knew I had that thing- whatever it is. That’s another thing about shame- you wear it. Every day. You just assume it’s visible.
Since we cannot simply get over fear and anxiety, we must enter both through our narrative by familiarizing ourselves with how our bodies, pain and voices were regarded in our stories. We all have many accounts to which we’ve experienced harm, neglect and parental anxiety. Whether it was a mother who was constantly worried about your pain and safety or a family member who sexually abused you and manipulated silence or parents who didn’t ever speak or consider their bodies’ health and needs. Of course there are a myriad of other stories that could be told, ones I’ve heard, ones I’ve experienced and stories so subtle and insidious, it requires a practitioner of some kind to name them. Simply put, our bodies carry, conceal and cleverly disclose the tragedies of our past.
If you’re like me and often on the road, you may enjoy a few of these podcasts as well.
And lastly, have you heard The Lone Bellow’s newly released album yet??? Here’s a teaser for your inticement:
That’s it for now folks. What has caught your eye…or ear this year so far?
I awoke in a fog to the rhythmic sound of the breathing tube still lodged down my throat. I was surprised at how anti-climatic it all felt. There I was, lying again in the same ICU room attached to what appeared to be all of the same machines and equipment. Having only a slight awareness that it was late into the evening, I began trying to sort through the sequence of events. My mind was hard at work grasping for the few details I could recall. Briella. Her name came to me first. Yes, I reminded myself, I now had a set of four little women. My family was complete. But how can she be okay if I am here connected to all of these tubes? Panic began to set in as I wondered where everyone was…where my baby girl was. Wait, I thought, am I really here? I’m assuming I survived whatever the heck just happened…otherwise, why would I be in this sterile, cold, loud ICU room void of any sense of nurture or comfort?
The panic did not sit well in my stomach and the questions brought forth attention to the pounding in my head. I was only awake for a matter of seconds before every last bit of substance from my stomach began hurling itself up and out of my poor beat up body as if it was expressing it’s bitter grief for all it had endured in less than 24 hours. Bile filled my throat and mouth and began to rob me of the air my lungs weren’t strong enough to reach for anyway. My poor mother, who unbeknownst to me, had nodded off after one of the longest days of her life only to be awakened by the stench of my vomit and the sound of my desperate pleas for air. I was helpless lying there, restrained and at the mercy of those willing to care for me in those moments. The irony still causes me to take pause. Like an infant entering into the harsh circumstances of life outside the womb, I too was tended to with a maternal love that can only be described as ferocious. My mother’s care as she helped clear the vomit from my mouth and call out for assistance assured me that I was very much alive. I must have fought hard to be here. Of course I fought hard to be here.
My mother tended to my needs throughout the remainder of that awful night as my body continued to be repulsed by the cocktail of narcotics, fluids, transfused blood and anesthesia it had been forced to receive during both the c-section and hysterectomy as well as the emergency surgery to address the hemorrhaging. All the while, Brian was mothering our new baby girl in his own room on the Mom-Baby floor of the hospital. He held her all night long mutually offering and deriving comfort in an effort to tend to the emotional trauma they’d both endured. It was one heck of a dark night of the soul for all involved, but the dawn finally appeared and with it came a new hope that the storm might actually be over.
They were able to remove me from all of the life-saving machines by midmorning and transferred me to a new room to recover and reconnect with that little human that needed her mama, her home, her person. And what a glorious reunion it was. Briella was accompanied by her big sisters and the man they are lucky enough to call their father and I am honored to call my partner in this wild life. Faith, our then 12 year old, was the first to speak, “Mommy, you look so much better!” The relief in her eyes revealed that these spoken words were more characteristic of a sigh of relief than words of affirmation for my own encouragement.
That day was filled with doctors filing in and out of my room attempting to construct the narrative of exactly what had happened in both of my operations. In the initial cesarean section, the doctor discovered early on that not only was it apparent that I had the condition everyone had warned me about (called Placenta Accreta) where the placenta attaches to deeply to the uterine wall, but that the presentation of this condition was in it’s worst form. The life source for Briella while in utero was actually jeopardizing both of our lives all along as it’s blood vessels had grown through my uterine wall and out into my abdominal cavity adhering slightly to my bladder as well. Had any of those blood vessels ruptured throughout my pregnancy both Briella and I would have been in grave risk of fatality. It was this condition that necessitated an emergency hysterectomy once Briella was removed from my body. There was an injury to my bladder during the removal of the uterus that required initial reparations from a urologist and because of the presence of a benign tumor, my right ovary was removed as well. As a result, the blood loss I experienced put my life on the line as the surgeons and anesthesiologists worked tirelessly to transfuse enough blood product to stabilize the borderline DIC condition of my body. After six hours, everyone that mattered believed I was stable enough to be sent to the ICU for monitoring.
It was only a few short hours later that they discovered I was hemorrhaging. With an estimated two liters of blood in my vaginal canal the doctors believed that their only option was to conduct an exploratory abdominal surgery to sort out where the bleeding was coming from. Though they were never able to confirm the source of the bleeding, they inspected and re-sutured organs that had been impacted most by the previous surgery. They also transfused even more blood product which likely provided the balance of blood and platelets still needed for my body to stabilize. At that point, everyone collectively exhaled a sigh of relief as it appeared all would be well. Once all of the doctors were finished explaining the outcome of my surgeries, I was left with a catheter that I would have in for two weeks as my bladder continued to heal. It was difficult for my mind to rest comfortably in the hope that all of this trauma was behind us, though the doctors all agreed I was now on a relatively short road to recovery.
The glimmer of hope that the doctors had dangled before us was snuffed out before we could ever grab hold of it. Later that first night out of the ICU, I heard those infamous words once again, “Don’t worry too much…” a nurse responded after I communicated that I was experiencing lower back pain on my left side. Yet again, those words did not provide the comfort they were likely spoken to deliver. Instead, my mind fell easily into the trap that trauma creates. What if something else is wrong? How can my body possibly endure another surgery? What if coming this far was just so I could have a day to tell everyone how much I love them…but now that I’ve been afforded that luxury, perhaps it really is my time to go. These were the thoughts flooding my mind. I was drowning and a voice of reason or a reassuring statement were not an adequate life preserver.
My fears weren’t silenced by sleep that night. Instead, I repeatedly woke up feeling like fluid was escaping every pour of my body. At one point, I sat straight up in bed (a painful thing to do after undergoing two abdominal surgeries) and woke Brian to check and see why my back was drenched with some kind of fluid. He was confused as he felt my hospital gown and realized it was dry. It is a strange thing for a therapist who has studied the impact of trauma to observe oneself experiencing symptoms of PTSD. I oscillated between the triggered panic and a reflective awareness that sounded a bit like, “Ahhh…so your brain is in a state of hypervigilance and hyperarrousal, Shauna. Don’t worry too much…it’s just your brain.”
By morning, though, the pain in my lower back had not dissipated or decreased. In fact, over the course of the next four days the pain went from bad to worse. The first couple of days, nurses and doctors alike presumed that the pain was from the excess fluid my body had retained after the two surgeries. One nurse even suggested that it could be gas. Looking back on those conversations now can at times send me into a conversation with my inner critic:
Why didn’t you trust your internal voice, Shauna? Why was it so hard for you to listen to your body and all the ways it was still trying to tell you that it was not okay? When did the voices of strangers, medical professionals though they were, become more important and more trustworthy than you own?
But even now as shame tries to weave its way through every step of those questions, I know the answers already and can always find my way back to grace. I learned early on, like many other victims of abuse, to disconnect from what my body was feeling. So much of my journey has been about finding my way back to wholeness, and I have made such significant strides in that direction, but there are wounds that may need tending to for many years to come.
On the third day of experiencing excruciating pain while on morphine, I met my limit of tolerance. I remember thinking at the time that the pain in my back was far worse than any labor experience, which would explain why mentally I went to a different land entirely. I hope to never have to re-enter that territory for the rest of my life. It was a desolate land where hope was non-existent, where the desire to live had no place to call home in my being any longer. Whatever survival instinct I had tapped into the few days prior had abandoned me in that place. I just wanted the pain to end.
Once again, it was my own mother who came to my rescue. She trusted the pain in my body more than I had been able to and she became the bullhorn I desperately needed her to be.
“SOMETHING IS WRONG. FIGURE IT OUT NOW!” She demanded and they finally ran enough tests to determine that during my second surgery, the surgeon had somehow obstructed both of my ureters. Your ureters are tiny little straw-like organs that connect your kidneys to your bladder. They are a very necessary part of our drainage system. So for days upon days, urine was backing up in both of my kidneys, but most significantly in my left kidney. MY POOR KIDNEYS WERE LITERALLY DROWNING IN URINE. Had it been another couple of days before the identified the injury, I would have likely lost at least my left one.
What we had been told previously would have been a relatively short road to recovery became a 5 month ordeal filled with what I not-so-fondly referred to as “pee bags,” multiple tubes inside and outside my body, a ridiculous number of trips to and from various doctors offices, on-going infections leading to on-going bouts with Thrush, and nearly a dozen invasive procedures ALL involving my lady parts. It was one of the most vulnerable, life-altering, perspective-shifting seasons of my entire life. It is not something I can tie a pretty little bow on…and thank GOD, because bows are overrated and overused. But what I can tell you is that this story, like any story, is connected to the grander narrative of my life- a life of trauma and healing, a life of desire and loss, a life of grief and glory. It’s messy. And I like it that way…because I’m really good at sifting through the mess.
Thank you for entering into this ridiculously long and drawn out story. Though I have gifted all of you with the major details in this four-part series, there is plenty more I have to say about the meaning(s) I’ve discovered along the way.
*Our first night home from the hospital. After going over a week without eating food, I was under strict orders from the doctor to drink lots of milkshakes!
*A continuation of Shauna’s story which began in Don’t Worry Too Much: Part 1
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not this time around. We were older now, wiser even and far more engaged in our own story together than ever before. Though we had always imagined we would have four children, life took some twists and turns when the youngest of our three older daughters turned two so we decided to hold off on solidifying that dream. We needed the waves of chaos to recede long enough to catch our breath and sort out where we were headed to next. It took us nearly six years of processing life, healing and rebuilding enough to determine that having one more child was indeed the desire of our hearts.
I don’t think I was surprised when the details of this narrative began to reveal that nothing would actually go according to the initial plans I had formulated and held loosely in my own mind. I learned early on that there would be no chance for a home birth given Colorado laws attempting to prevent high risk deliveries from occurring outside of a hospital setting. Having had a caesarean section with our second daughter relegated me to the non-negotiable high risk category. I was still hopeful at that point to at least see my midwife throughout my pregnancy as opposed to the standard OB/GYN Doctor. My last visit with her came shortly after I was diagnosed with placenta previa. I remember her reflecting on the early years of her midwifery work where she assisted countless catholic women who had multiple ceseareans. She was trying to comfort me with her assurance that it was unlikely that my placenta previa was a result of accreta (a condition where the placenta attaches too deeply into the uterine wall and in rare cases attaches to other organs outside of the uterus). This condition was treated like the plague by nearly every medical professional I had conversed with, but she didn’t seem all that concerned. She said in all of those years of working with women who had experienced numerous c-sections she had never once witnessed accreta. I tried really hard to find comfort in her words throughout the remaining 20 weeks of countless appointments, but every ultrasound remained inconclusive. So we simply had to wait. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The doctor responsible for performing the cesarean even said so that very morning. He was a specialist, trained to conduct these types of risky deliveries, and he affirmed what my OB had already indicated – that given the fact that my placenta never migrated up the uterine wall throughout the duration of the pregnancy there was a 25% chance that I had accreta. But he was feeling hopeful that morning and he said so as my three nervous daughters and terrified husband gathered around my hospital bed just before the surgery. He assured us that he was taking extra precautions that morning, however, and had ordered four units of blood to be ready if needed. But he was hopeful and I was prayerful.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I could tell something was wrong. It was taking too long. The stated plan was that once he got in there and was able to inspect my uterus we would know if he’d be able to take the baby out while I was still conscious. We had already been in the operating room for nearly an hour and I hadn’t yet been able to lay eyes on my baby or hear those first precious cries. The doctor was sweating profusely and had quit making small talk. I looked at my mom, not wanting to worry my husband unnecessarily (he had already nearly passed out prior the start of the surgery), and asked her if she could tell what was causing the delay. It was only moments after I made that inquiry, when panic seemed to ensue all around me. Doctors and nurses flooded the room, the temperature rose dramatically and some nurses began furiously trying to adjust the thermostat, someone was calling for another anesthesiologist and then I knew…it wasn’t supposed to be this way. They ushered Brian and my mother out the door and all I could do was release a quick “I love you” in the midst of the chaos just before it all went black.
The next thing I remember was trying desperately to wake up so I could figure out what was going on. I was in a different room and I was hooked up to all sorts of machines making all sorts of noises. Everything was hazy…until I heard her name. Briella. It was the first time I heard her name spoken as an indication that she was really here. My mind was struggling to hold onto the reality that I had delivered my forth child and that she was another precious baby girl. I fought that cloud of darkness with a longing that only a mother can know. I wanted to hold her, to see her, to smell her, to know her. So I fought tirelessly to keep my eyes from closing and there she was before me.
She was real. She was alive. I was breathing through a tube and I didn’t understand why, but she was here. That is all that mattered in those moments that Brian held her up to my face. I stroked her head as best as I could with my own cheek and she began to coo. It was a miracle. She was a miracle. I was a miracle. Maybe it was supposed to be this way.
Time became a strange thing that day. In moments it seemed to stand still, in others it raced right on by. I’m not sure of the passage of time that occurred between those blissful moments of greeting Briella and when Faith and Bailey entered the room, their eyes searching my own for reassurance. The ventilator robbed me of a voice while the drugs continued to cloud my mind. All I could think to do was give them a thumbs up and squeeze each of their hands three times – our code for “I love you.” I later learned that poor Krisalyn was too frightened to enter my hospital room. My poor babies. All four of them.
Eventually the propofol became too much for my tired and traumatized body to resist. It had to have been evening which meant that it had been a full day since I had arrived at 6:30 that morning. I somehow knew that my own mother was in the room, resting in a chair behind me. I felt comfort in her presence as I tried to surrender to that damn tube in my throat. The rhythm of the machines became hypnotic as I drifted to an entirely different state of consciousness. I thought to myself in that moment, “It is finished.” I still wasn’t clear on what had happened and why I was in the ICU but I knew that Briella was safe and that I was still here. It was enough peace of mind to welcome the sleep I knew I needed.
And then the gush came. There is no other way to describe it. It was a warm gush of fluid, spreading upon the bedding beneath my immovable body. But what was it? Hadn’t I already had a baby? So that meant it couldn’t have been my water breaking. And I assumed that since I was in the condition I was in that I must have had the dreaded accreta which would have necessitated a hysterectomy. Was it even possible to be bleeding if I didn’t have a uterus any longer? I couldn’t make any sense of the experience. Perhaps I was hallucinating – God knows I was on enough drugs to make that a likely scenario. But something inside of me knew it wasn’t supposed to be like this.