Tears still fill my husband's eyes when he lets his mind wander, taking him back to that room. He'd been ushered out of the operating room and into a small, stuffy box, magazines sitting on the chairs. He wondered who could read at a time like this when the walls felt like they were caving in. It was the room where doctors send you when the news isn't good.
We had dreamy ideas of how we'd bring our baby into the world. We told friends and family not to come to the hospital right away. We wanted ample time to cuddle our new bundle. Just us.
We weren't prepared at 31 weeks when the slight ache just above my left groin became an agonizing, I'm-going-to-die stabbing pain. That's exactly what was happening. I was dying right before the doctors' eyes. The nurses moved deliberately to get me on the operating table as my husband grasped my hand and squeezed, both of us shaking in terror. I awoke in the intensive care unit after seven hours of surgery, my husband sitting in that dreadful room, petrified he'd have to raise our son alone.
"Your colon perforated and you now have an ostomy bag," the nurse said; the bluntness of her statement felt like a stab to the chest.
I soon learned the seriousness of my condition: my colon split in two and the contents of my large intestine leaked into my body, causing massive infection. There would be no cuddling of our 3-pound, 9-ounce bundle for some time. I was near death, and he was in the NICU.
I spent nearly 30 tortuous days in the hospital. The doctors gave me a pain pump, a magic button to push every six minutes for more meds. Instantly, my veins flooded with Dilaudid, the opioid pouring into my body like warm water, killing the physical pain and the growing emotional ache. I left the hospital without a baby, but with a new sidekick: the ostomy bag hanging off my stomach. Instead of diaper blowouts, it was my own leaks causing frustration. My husband had to help me clean up my own feces more times than I would like to remember. With my dignity gone, my emotions turned ugly.
"I'm sorry I've ruined our lives," I cried out to my husband a half-dozen times.
"Not only had my body almost killed our son in utero, but now that he was here, I was too frail to be a mother."
I felt robbed — robbed of the sweet newborn smells, the first gassy smiles, and the tribulations of breast feeding. Not only had my body almost killed our son in utero, but now that he was here, I was too frail to be a mother. I blamed myself while resenting our newborn.
"Are you suffering from postpartum depression?" my OB-GYN asked. I was suffering from some sort of depression; whether it was postpartum or post-ostomy, I don't think it mattered.
Doctors said the chances of what happened to me were one in a million. As such a rare pregnancy complication, my case now graces the pages of a medical journal. Looking back though, I realize how relatable it is. Motherhood is hard, especially in the beginning. And rarely does it turn out the way we thought it would. Oftentimes, it's better.
Our son thrived in the NICU. In just five weeks, he was discharged. My maternity leave came and went. Too weak to work, I stayed home. With every lift of that boy, I got stronger. With every midnight feeding, I felt a little more worthy.
As I started to chip away at my depression, I returned to where it all began. Doctors repaired my intestine in a final surgery which rid me of the ostomy. Another week in the hospital, another six-inch incision, but this time felt different. Of course, I felt relief to finally go "number two" in a toilet again, but I also felt preoccupied. That little boy, who I once resented, now consumed my every thought. As I laid in my sick bed, I yearned for his toothless grin. Despite all it had taken away, my illness couldn't deny me loving my son.
His first birthday is right around the corner. One year since he took his first breath and one year since I almost took my last. It's the year I felt the deepest despair and the purest joy. The year I stopped to smell the roses. The year I quit caring about the rat race and finally understood what matters most. It's the year I realized how much my husband loves me. It's the year I brought life into this world and the year life was given to me.
I'm happy to report we've had ample time to cuddle that bundle. Just us. And I feel a happiness I never knew existed.