My Story: At 26 weeks gestation, I was diagnosed with mild preeclampsia and put on bed rest. My OB-GYN said we would take it one week at a time, but to be prepared for an early delivery.
How do you prepare for something like that?
Every day, I would lie in my bed or on the couch, holding my belly and talking to my daughter, to my circulatory system, to my kidneys, to everything! I gave pep talks, encouraging them, sometimes flat out begging for them to hang in there, stay the course, for just one more week, one more month. From the day I saw the two pink lines on the pregnancy test, the general anxiety I have been suffering with since my teen years turned into extreme hypochondria, and every day, I was convinced my baby and I were going to die.
Finding out I had such a potentially serious condition felt like a self fulfilling prophecy, and I blamed myself for worrying my body into dysfunction. Somehow, my blood pressure stayed stable enough and my kidneys functioned well enough for me to make it all the way to 38 weeks. After 14 hours of pitocin-induced labor, with contractions a minute apart almost the entire time, my cervix still would not dilate past 3 centimeters, my blood pressure began to skyrocket and I felt dizzy and sick. I was rushed into surgery for an emergency cesarean, and my beautiful, healthy Helena Maureen was born.
The epidural only sorta worked, and I felt a lot more of the procedure than I thought I would, but at that point, I just wanted her out. My body felt like a sinking ship, and all I cared about was getting my baby to safety. We came home three days later, and for almost two weeks, I was in a sort of functional daze.
My husband and mother helped as much as they could, but as exhausted as I was, all I wanted was to take care of her. I struggled with breastfeeding, nursing and pumping around the clock, but never managing to squeeze out more than a few drops at a time. Once again, my body was betraying me. I am over 6 feet tall, with broad shoulders and less-than-dainty facial features, so I always felt insecure in my femininity.
The traumatic birth, and now such extreme trouble with breastfeeding, only reinforced my feelings of being an inadequate woman, a failure at something so basic, so fundamental to the female identity.
I had to supplement with formula because otherwise my daughter would have starved. Not only was my body betraying me, it was now failing my baby!
Little did I know the worst betrayals were to come. When my daughter was two weeks old, I was rushed to ICU. I had developed blood clots in my legs after the cesarean, and one broke off and became a pulmonary embolism. I was coughing up blood and struggling to breathe, and for several days, my temperature mysteriously plummeted to less than 95 degrees.
To this day, the doctors aren't sure why that happened.
No one knew if I would even leave the hospital alive. I knew my mother and husband were taking good care of Helena, but the separation so soon after giving birth was more painful than any blood clots or lung damage. Every cell in my body screamed to hold her. At night, as I would drift off to sleep in a drug-induced haze, the beeps and clicks and other ambient noises of Intensive Care seeming farther and farther away, I could feel the phantom sensation of my baby's head on my shoulder, catch a whiff of her sweet scent, and my last thoughts before sleep claimed me were desperate prayers that I would indeed wake up in the morning.
I spent a week in the hospital, and upon coming home, I refused to let anyone else near her for months. I was so exhausted, and should have been focusing more on healing, but I couldn't let one more moment go by where I wasn't being her mother. I couldn't fail at womanhood any more than I already had, or perceived to have, failed.
Helena is nearly a year old now, and while I still deal with health anxiety, guilt, and a toxic slurry of other negative thoughts and emotions almost daily, I also experience more joy than I ever believed possible. My daughter is everything I have ever needed, the focal point of all the maternal love that has been aching inside me since I was that little girl rocking her baby dolls to sleep at night. Despite my body failing at it's duties, my heart and soul have truly come alive, illuminated by the shining light that is my daughter, my life's purpose.
Katrina Banaghan | Florida | Mama to Helena, 11 months