Maxwell Carter was born last Sunday at a healthy 6lbs. 12oz. He was full term. I couldn’t wait to meet him; and I was thrilled with the prospect of seeing a newborn without any wires.
In the vast majority of life arrivals, I would wait until the new family was settled at home before joining the throngs of paparazzi friends and family. But Maxwell’s mom had spent a significant amount of time visiting me in baby jail. She’d seen me at my worst. And she invited me to come visit her. (And damnit, I wanted to see a wireless tiny baby.)
On Monday evening, I headed to the hospital. It wasn’t the same hospital as my summer home, and as the muppets crawl and babble, I’ve relegated the heartache to a mere memory – so I didn’t foresee my visit being an issue.
I found the hospital and wandered around in the rain looking for the maternity ward. I clutched a case of diapers for the muppets’ new friend and a toy garbage truck that said, “I’m stinky!” when you pressed it, for the newly minted big brother (I thought the toy was an appropriate ode to the diapers ultimate purpose). Finally, after 20 minutes of geographical ineptitude, I found the Women’s Hospital. I felt my heart beat a little faster and I started to get excited about seeing tiny fingers and toes.
Then the elevator doors opened. A giant hippopotamus coffee table statue guarded the entryway to the Labor and Delivery Unit. The case of diapers slipped out of my hands. “I’m stinky! I’m stinky! I’m stinky!” the garbage truck chanted as it clattered to the floor. I bent to pick them up, startled by the life size hippo eying me. I wiped my palms on my pants and picked up my goodies. I realized I was sweating profusely.
I stood at the entryway to the Mother/Baby unit and surveyed my surroundings. Nurses sat at their stations and I instantly flashed back to the nurses station outside Mother/Baby Room 14 at Kaiser Santa Clara. I clearly heard the nurse from Mother/Baby Room 9 exclaim, “Where’s the baby?!” from my first ante-partum stint. My heart was pounding. My head was pounding. And I suddenly felt a little dizzy and nauseous. The hippo didn’t look very friendly should I fall.
I stepped forward, slightly disillusioned, and asked the station where I could find Room 167. A nurse looked up and pointed at my head. I was standing directly next to the room number. Amber was smiling when I walked in. Maxwell was having lunch. A perfect tiny healthy baby boy. I sat down to gather my bearings and offer congratulatory diapers. Her room looked bare – no pictures, bags, books – there were no signs of a lengthy lived-in feel.
According to Postpartum Support International, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will challenge up to 6 percent of new mothers. Postpartum PTSD is nothing like the postpartum depression affliction pregnant mommies are warned about. The former occurs as a result of delivery trauma, while the latter is a succession of hormonal changes in a woman’s body naturally resulting after birth.
Postpartum PTSD most often affects preemie mothers whose children began their lives in critical condition. A study from Stanford University School of Medicine found that over half the parents whose babies were in the NICU for an extended period of time either had PTSD, or were at high risk for developing it.
Well, crap. I was PTSD-ing all over my friend’s baby bundle of joy.
In 1993, The Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing noted the results of a study showing that 80 percent of mothers who had given birth to “premature at-risk infants” (I have no idea what delineates at-risk from not in preemies, but I’ll go ahead and guess that 27-week twins counts), exhibited symptoms of PTSD up to six months after the expected birth date.
PTSD is a term most of us associate with soldiers returning from war, not new mothers. But the trauma is simply taking place on a different battlefield.
- Life-threatening situations
- High pressure
- High stress
- Unfamiliar environments
- Unexpected events
- Witness to death
And then I held him; he was so small. I thought about the muppets banging their toys together back at home and laughing with Grandma Nancy. Our NICU nurses told us it would happen, but at the time I didn’t believe it would ever be possible. I forgot how small they were.
Maxwell was 6lbs. 12oz. When the muppets were welcomed home after two and a half months, they weighed 6lbs. 6oz. Jon and I thought they were huge. Then Maxwell gave me a sleep smile.
I’m not jealous of new mom’s anymore and I don’t usually have panic attacks when we go to the hospital (pediatrician, ER or even the NICU to visit). It was the L&D unit that set me off, from the period of unknown fear before they were born. Clearly, I won’t be going anywhere near a maternity ward – Ever. Again.
But all of us are looking forward to watching Max grow up with the muppets.