We were huddled together, sharing a tiny bed in the ER hallway, as the hospital was so crowded that there were no spare rooms. I was wearing a gown and motorcycle boots and he made a headrest for himself with his coat, so that he could lean against the nurse’s station. We couldn’t see most of each others’ faces, as the masks we were wearing went all the way up to the tops of our noses, but we held hands and together, we said the Schehecheyanu. We could finally put the ghosts to rest. We could walk, hand in hand, into the new.
Part of me wishes that I could say, “I don’t know when it happened. It just crept up on me.” in talking about my depression, but that would be untrue. I know exactly when the turning point occurred, exactly where, exactly why and exactly how. It was March 17, 2013. St. Patrick’s Day. I have referenced this day before when I first opened up about my struggle with postpartum depression, but now I can tell you more, perhaps because I now know more. This may be the most vulnerable in my writing that I have ever been or will every be, but right now, at this moment, my heart is completely open, and so I am letting the feelings pour out of me, before my brain starts to compartmentalize things again, burying the painful, shielding me from the hard and forgetting the details.
On March 17, 2013 I was 6 weeks pregnant. I was at my parents’ house for Chinese food and when I went to the bathroom and saw a bit of blood. My entire body became paralyzed. I can’t remember whom I told first, my husband or my mom, but the thought of it now would bring me to my knees if I were not already seated. It is making me double over. I thought that I was losing my baby.
It was a Sunday night, so we had no option but to call the hospital’s emergency line. The doctor on call was brusque, and said to me, “Well, either you’re having a miscarriage or you are spotting so you can come in or you can just wait and see.”
I don’t understand how someone could be so callous in her line of work, but to me there was no choice. My husband and I went to the emergency room and I was more scared than I had ever been in my entire life.
From the moment that I found out that I was pregnant with my second child, I felt a tremendous sense of love and gratitude. I felt whole in a way that I had never felt before. I felt like our lives were about to change in a way so that we, as a family, would be complete.
I didn’t have to wait, that night, as I checked in to the Emergency Room. I was sent into the triage room immediately and then, we were given a bed in the hallway, as there was no room ready for us at that time. I remember some specific things about that time on the hallway hospital bed; I remember having my blood drawn there and then seeing blood on the sheet that covered the gurney; I remember talking to my husband about the thing–the possibility–that something was really wrong. How would we tell our daughter?; I remember when they wheeled me to the ultrasound room and how I had to endure an uncomfortable examination and the technician was not allowed to tell me anything. I had to sit there, as she watched my uterus, and I was not able to find out if, in fact, I had a baby with a beating heart inside.
We were moved into a room after an hour or so and our doctor was a young, tall, dark haired man who was more of a busy ER doctor than a hand-holder, if that makes sense. He told me that my blood levels looked good, that there were two definite structures in my uterus, the yolk sac and the embryo; and the embryo was my baby, with a strong beating heart. I am writing this with tears streaming down my face, for all that was, all that could have been, all that is and all that will never be.
I asked the doctor for an ultrasound photo, but apparently they don’t do that in the ER like at the OBGYN’s office, but he allowed us to look at the images on his computer and pointed out what he referred to as “a little cheerio”. That was our baby.
And then, my life changed.
There are details about this part of the story that are both too painful and too personal to share, but that was the night that I turned down the road from being the person I had always been towards the depressed person that I would become. As I have written before, I went completely numb to the baby growing inside of me. It sounds horrible and ungrateful, but really, it was my defense mechanism. I had been so scared that I couldn’t let myself feel. And I think that this also caused a rift in my marriage. While he was relieved and unfazed, I was everything and nothing.
I think of that night, often. I have shared details of it with my friends, some more than others, and it has haunted me for 22 months. This was when I started to feel that lonely feeling. I was not alone, not ever really, but I was lonely nonetheless.
And you know the rest.
The rest until yesterday.
My kids have been sick for over a week now. Fevers, ear infections, snot, coughing…the works.
We started Saturday morning on the later side, which was nice, and I spent most of the early hours on the computer trying to order things like new bedding for my daughter, birthday gifts for her friends and a present for my husband’s birthday next week. At 9:30 my husband brought our congested baby up into my bed with me and he napped next to me for two hours. My husband went climbing at the rock gym and my daughter played in her room and I can’t remember what I did. Truly. I don’t know if I slept or wrote on the computer. I feel you Adnan.
When my son stirred, I texted my husband to come up to our room, I wasn’t feeling quite right. My left arm was hurting and I was having some chest pain. We thought that maybe I was hungry and dehydrated so I sat with a bag of cinnamon raisin bread and just kept eating slice after slice and I drank a smoothie. But I did not feel any better. I started to feel lightheaded and so we took my blood pressure which was 90/58. My pulse, to me, felt unusually weak. My lips turned blue. We called my mom and she came to watch the kids while we went to the ER. On the way there my husband joked that we should have a punch card like they give out at the frozen yogurt store or the nail salon, as we seem to be incredibly frequent visitors. But the on the ride there I was also shaking uncontrollably and even though I wore a tank top, a cashmere turtleneck, a big cardigan and my winter coat, my husband covered me in his heavy Canada Goose jacket because I was so cold. When we got to the hospital I couldn’t even think straight to sign the forms, so my husband did it for me. They put on my wrist band and when I looked at it, I thought something looked odd, but I was feeling so lightheaded. “My name is not Tasha Williams*” I told the lady and she cut off the mislabeled bracelet and gave me a new one with my correct information. I was taken to triage immediately where they made me change into a gown, despite my uncontrollable trembling and gave me an EKG. Apparently the spasms made the reading look crazy. The nurse asked me for a list of medications that I take and also medicines that I am allergic to. I was still somewhat disoriented, but I heard my husband give her the list. I felt such warmth towards him at that moment. That feeling only grew when he wheeled me into the bathroom where he helped me to pee into a cup. I can’t even begin to imagine what search engine terms will now lead people to this site, but I am telling the full story, because I am trying to emphasize to you how lucky I feel to have a husband as wonderful as mine. And it was in the bathroom that I started to cry.
Earlier this week I wrote about having an emotional day, but those were spells of tears or wet-eyed smiles. The deluge I had been waiting for finally came. I sat in the wheelchair as my husband pushed me back into the waiting room and I sobbed and sobbed.
“I am so sorry,” he said.
“Do you know why I am crying?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“There are two reasons,” I said.
“I know,” he said.
“What are they?” I asked, not meaning to quiz him, but just curious if he really understood.
“You’re sad because this is where you gave birth and you’re sad because this reminds you of being in the ER on St. Patrick’s day when we thought we were losing the baby.”
He knew exactly why I was in such pain at that moment and let me sob into his shoulder.
When the woman from radiology took me back for an x-ray I cried to her. “My babies were born here. And now I can’t have any more,” I cried.
“Aww honey,” she said. “Did they just tell you this today?”
I then explained that I had learned about this fourteen months ago, but I still whimpered my way through my x-ray nonetheless.
Now before we all let things get too heavy here, let me add some levity by painting the picture for you:
My husband and I both wore masks for the entire 5 hours that we spent in the ER, completely paranoid about (specifically flu) germs. But not only did we wear masks, we used hand sanitizer at least 20 times (my husband even rubbed it on the handrails of the chairs on which we were sitting) and every time someone would come within six feet of me I would hold my breath and turn away. (I read that the flu particles can travel as far as six feet.)
Because of the face masks, we could not whisper to each other, so we had to text when we wanted to speak privately.
For instance, a lady stood up near me and I was aghast, turning my head as far away as I could and breathing in as little air as possible.
And so, because I had undergone a series of tests (bloodwork, the EKG, a chest x-ray, etc) we had to wait to be seen by a doctor. But the hospital was so inundated that we could not wait in a room, as we usually would. We had to wait in the waiting room. For three hours.
As time went on, I grew more and more impatient. My phone had died, my chest was hurting and I was simultaneously and equally scared of the germs that were clearly infiltrating my mask/the Carbon Dioxide poisoning I was likely getting by breathing solely through a mask for 5 hours.
There were a few bright spots during the endless wait.
At one point “Take the Money and Run” played in the waiting room, and my husband and I talked about the time about nine years ago when we went up to his dad’s farm house on a vineyard. We walked home about a mile from a wine tasting and sang all of The Steve Miller Band songs we knew, a little tipsy and a lot in love.
A miserable hour after that, one of us pointed out the fact that at least we were sitting, doing nothing, and not having to chase after kids. #thingsonlyparentswouldthink
Finally, appearing like a mirage in the desert, a nurse came out from behind the double doors and called my name.
So from the waiting room I was moved into a hospital bed in the hallway. No room. No privacy. Just a stretcher in the hallway.
It was just like where we sat on St. Patrick’s day, almost two years ago.
“How eerie is this?” I asked. “It is exactly the same.”
“This is incredibly weird.” he concurred.
But, this time, things were different. They really were. We still had anxieties and concerns about my health and the unknown but somehow, we were in it together in a way that we had not been that night in March. We have grown so much as a couple in the past two years; We are so bonded and such a tight team.
Still, it was hard to be there.
And so I continued to wait, very impatiently, while a doctor gave me a Neurological exam, took more blood and I hounded the nurse for my test results. At one point I pulled her over (after the fifth time I asked her for a print out of my labs) and told her that I am on an anxiety medicine that I take four times a day. During my time at the hospital I had missed two doses.
“You really are anxious,” she said. “Why do you even have anxiety?”
Oh no she di’int.
“The reason why I am asking you for the anxiety medicine that is prescribed to me is because I suffered from severe postpartum depression after giving birth to my son in October of 2013. It was so severe that I ended up being hospitalized. I am still dealing with the after effects, both physical and emotional.”
“Oh,” she said. “And you have another kid too? That explains it.”
“I did not have postpartum depression because it was hard for me to handle having two children,” I began, but my husband looked at me and said, with his only his eyes, as the mask still covered his face, “calm down or they are going to throw us out of here!” and so I just looked up at her, still in my mask, and asked, “Were you my nurse before?” as she looked familiar. She couldn’t remember, but I knew that I had seen her before. When she told me that I needed a bag of IV fluids I told her that I would not be happy to get one (model patient, I know) because I have had more bags IV fluids in the past year than I can count (this is not a figure of speech).
Again, she asked, inappropriately, “Why have you needed so many IVs?”
And I rattled off my list of ER visits and then she stopped me when I mentioned the carbon monoxide poisoning. That jogged her memory; she had treated me and the kids back in May.
And then we waited, and waited, and waited some more, and I started to feel really defeated, like I had wasted our time. I felt guilty and confused.
And then something occurred to me.
“Maybe we were supposed to be here. Maybe we were supposed to come back to this place and make peace with it; this place that has haunted me for almost two years.” I have admitted before that I suffer from PTSD. That night, two years ago, is part of that diagnosis.
The tears started to flow, again.
“I think of this hospital as both the magical haven where our children were born and also the place where my life changed for the awful. This place holds my Happy Story and my Hard Story,”
I told my husband.
“Well,” he said, so wisely that it takes my breath away. “That’s what most hospitals do.”
And I realized that he was right.
Minutes later my doctor returned to tell me to rest, to take a medicine that I am allergic to and to follow up with my PCP on Monday. All in all it was an awesome visit.
But I only say that with partial sarcasm; because I do believe in things happening for a reason. I think I needed to sit in that hallway with my husband, again, and leave with him, hand in hand.
I couldn’t see his lips moving as we spoke in unison,
Baruch atah adonai
eloheinu melech ha’olam
A new beginning. A new year. A new version of us, one so much stronger than ever before.
Two years ago on March 17th I thought that I was losing so much; I was uncertain about the future health of our growing embryo, and the state of my marriage, and, really, I lost myself for awhile. And truly, when I think about it, the girl who walked into that hospital on that evening, is gone.
Since then, so much has changed. And for that, I feel so glad.
So I signed my discharge papers, these ones with the diagnosis of “Chest Pain” as opposed to “Possible Miscarriage” and my husband wrapped me in his warm coat and strong arms and we walked out together.
Into the future.
And I held my breath through my entire walk back out through the waiting room.
*Name changed to protect the innocent. And to protect Mommy, Ever After from violating HIPAA.