Finding My Way Back to Work After A Traumatic Birth
Some people are lucky enough to have the picture-perfect pregnancy. You know the ones, beautiful bump, glowing skin and a peaceful serene labour.
My pregnancy was nothing like that.
Although it may seem to some to be an ungrateful statement, I did not enjoy my pregnancy. It’s not an unusual thing to hear. Believe it or not, those perfect magazine-spread pregnancies don’t happen for everyone.
My pregnancy was not a pleasant experience. I was nauseous all the time and baby was sat so low that the pressure on my hips and lower spine was really painful and I was signed off work at 23 weeks.
I couldn’t wait to meet my baby and be relieved of the pain. But just like every expectant mother, I assumed I would have to wait until 40 weeks to hold my baby in my arms.
As much as I often wished for the pain to end, I never expected to meet my baby sooner than that!
At my 12 week scan, I was informed I had PAAP A.
For those of you who don’t know what that is, PAAP A is ‘Pregnancy-Associated Plasma Protein A’. Trust me, when you are laying in a hospital bed and a white coat spouts a range of letters at you, it can be terrifying.
Essentially, PAAP-A can cause pre-eclampsia and is often an indicator of Downs Syndrome I was told it was nothing to worry about but they would perform more regular scans when I reached 30 weeks to monitor my baby’s growth. This was all routine so I thought nothing more of it. It seems PAAP-A is more common than us expectant mothers think.
I turned up for my first routine growth scan at 30 weeks and was told that my baby had a build-up of fluid on his tummy that shouldn’t be there and his heart was beating too quickly.
The next few hours flew by in a blur – I was rushed into theatre for an emergency C-Section. At 30 weeks. This was not the plan.
My husband was taken to get a hospital cap and gown and it was explained to him that they there was a high possibility we would lose our child in delivery.
The doctors were expecting the fluid to reach our baby’s heart and lungs which would mean he could drown or his heart would go into heart failure during birth; or worst-case scenario, both of these things could happen.
Neither I nor my husband had time to process all of this information. Everything happened so quickly.
Miraculously our son, Neil, survived the delivery. We weren’t allowed to hold him but we were allowed to look at him through the incubator for a minute before he was rushed away. The next four weeks would not be easy. My baby boy (Neil) fought for his life and fought hard! The doctors struggled to get his medical conditions under control and for the first month, we had no idea if he was going to survive from one day to the next. Neil needed reviving a few times and really kept the doctors and nurses on their toes.
Once I had recovered, obviously I was sent home but Neil had to stay. Saying goodbye to him every night was torturous, I was in a constant and helpless state of worry and tears.
The fifth week was a turning point. Neil was transferred to a specialist hospital and they quickly got his conditions under control. He went from strength to strength and after 73 days on the neonatal unit, we got to come home.
But as much as it was a joy to leave the hospital, it was also the hardest part for us. As soon as we walked into our home with our baby for the first time, I immediately started unpacking all his medication. Initially, I had it all lined up on the side. I was totally overwhelmed seeing it all in one place. The reality of the task ahead was starting to set in.
Everyone assumes that once a baby is discharged from the hospital, all is fine. But for us, our journey wasn’t even close to being over. And for me, the true struggles were only just about to start.
After 4 days of being home, Neil stopped breathing and went into respiratory arrest.
He was in my husband’s arms at the time who is regularly first aid trained. He started performing CPR on our son’s tiny, limp blue body while I rang 999. The ambulance arrived just as Neil started to whimper and of course, we were rushed back to the hospital where we spent a further week.
We were regularly admitted back to the hospital but come summer there were fewer admissions. Friends and family encouraged me to get out and about but what they didn’t realise is that I was terrified to go far in case I needed Neil’s medication, or I needed to perform CPR on him, or bundle him up in the car and get him to the hospital. The anxiety was a constant shadow that followed me everywhere. None of this was how I expected to start our lives as new parents. This was not the picture anyone has painted.
One of my first trips out was a 10-minute walk to the local shops. Two elderly ladies were discussing their medical ailments and prescribed medication. One mentioned a medication called Digoxin. I froze on the spot. I had a knot of fear in my stomach and my heart was in my throat. Mentally I had transported back to the neonatal unit where I was being told that the Digoxin was failing and the doctors weren’t sure what to try next, heart failure was a real possibility now with so many medications not working. Even the mention of a medication by someone else was giving me flashbacks.
I was coming to the end of my maternity leave and I hadn’t enjoyed anything that I saw other mum’s doing on their maternity leave. It wouldn’t be long until I would have to hand over my precious baby boy to someone else’s care and I just didn’t feel ready.
I was so upset and when I really thought about it I didn’t know how I was going to go back to work and panic was setting in. Flashbacks were frequent, I had nightmares every night where I would wake up in such a panic that I’d have to check Neil was still breathing.
Certain songs upset me as I remembered it being played on the way to the hospital, TV programmes would suddenly show a hospital scene or a poorly baby and I would fall apart. I needed help.
I booked an appointment with my GP. We discussed the options of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I felt I needed to be really alert to monitor Neil’s health so I opted for CBT. I was fast-tracked and was quickly booked in with a therapist.
I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but with the help of the CBT therapist, we came up with a plan of what to tackle first. The sessions were hard work and I left each one feeling exhausted and emotional.
I was a nervous wreck on my first day back in the office.
I liked work but I never expected such a massive dose of ‘mum guilt’. I felt so torn being there. Despite being armed and ready with techniques I learnt in my CBT sessions, just three days in I was feeling the strain. Constant questions about my pregnancy and how Neil was doing resulted in a break-down in the middle of the office. I went back to CBT and we discussed the situation.
I am so fortunate, my workplace colleagues were really understanding and with the recommendation of my therapist we put a phased return to work plan in place.
I gradually increased my hours, but winter was coming which saw Neil’s health turn again and he was admitted to the hospital more frequently.
Being a mum is such a tough job, the hardest I have ever done. I felt once my son was discharged from the neonatal unit society was telling me “well he must be ok, so get on with it!” That’s what we end up doing, getting on with it.
I recognised that I was struggling to get on with it though and knew I needed help. Asking for help is such a hard thing to do and can feel like admitting defeat, but let me assure you that feeling doesn’t last long. Once you start the process of helping yourself things get so much easier.
I am not cured and I still have bad days like everyone else but I also know how to deal with those dips a lot better and the smiles from my little miracle boy certainly help.© Vivienne Guy Forever Green Photography
(Note from The Editor: Lisa’s story was first brought to light with us here at The Glass House when we were asked to read and review an anthology of stories about inspirational Mumpreneurs.
Lisa now runs a successful business which provides thoughtful and useful gifts for premature babies. If you would like to know more, you can visit Lisa’s website here. If you would like to know more about Lisa, you can visit her author page here, or pop over and share the love on her facebook page, Presents for Preemies.
Lisa is just one of 25 authors featured in the latest Amazon Bestseller – Mumpreneur on Fire 3 – a collection of awe-inspiring, gritty and at times often emotional stories from just some of the women who belong to The Mums in Business Association. The book puts the spotlight on 25 of their members and allows them to become the authors of this book by writing down their own journeys to success.