The Valley of the Shadow of Death: a piece on labor and PTSD

Many of my dear friends and family are already too familiar with this story. So I apologize if this is old news for some of my readers, but I have been working up the courage to blog this story for months now. This story is the reason I wanted to start a blog. Sharing this story, opening up my heart and being truly vulnerable, will be one of my most courageous moments. 

Disclaimer: If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, please don’t let this story scare you. If you’re easily frightened by delivery stories DO NOT READ. If you do read it, remember my experience was one in a million and the chances of you having a similar delivery experience are very very slim. You will be OK. 

So… Here goes nothing…

I was in labor for 9 days before finally being admitted into the hospital. I checked in Sunday night the 14th of June. I’d been in active labor since that morning. I got my epidural put in and got ready to relax and get some sleep so I could save energy to push. 

But that is not what was in store for me. 

Just a half hour after being medicated, a nurse (who was not my nurse) came into my room and said, “I’m sorry, but there’s a mom here who delivered her first baby in this room, and she wants it for her next one. You’re going to have to switch rooms.” Not a terrible thing, until she added, “oh, and we don’t want to switch the beds so you have to get up and move into a new bed.” 

Um… I just had an epidural. My legs didn’t work. 

I told her I couldn’t move, and I didn’t want to, so naturally she ignored me and she got a couple other nurses to help her move me into a new bed. 

At this point I was sobbing. I’m I a low priority? Do they even care about my baby? Do I have to be a delivery alumnus to be treated well? 

These thoughts sent me into an anxiety attack, and it was all downhill from there. 

My mom had a hay day yelling at the nurse, who then covered her butt by saying we “could’ve said no.” Even though I had…

My mom and husband worked together to calm me down and assure me I would be well taken care of, and they would make sure of it. 

When that blew over, I was finally getting some sleep in when alarms sounded and my nurse rushed in to put me on oxygen. She said my baby was in distress which caused him to have a bowel movement in the uterus. He had swallowed some of the fecal matter. She then said I wasn’t progressing fast enough and put me on pitocin. 

That’s when the pain started. 

Yes, I was in pain all those 9 days, but that pain paled in comparison to what my body was about to put me through. 

The anesthesiologist came in several times throughout the night to administer more medicine. I would have a couple minutes of relief, and then the pain would return with a vengeance. 

I kept my eyes glued shut, because being able to see was just too overwhelming on top of the pain. My whole body was on fire. I literally thought I was dying. And actually, I was. 

Finally I was 10 cm dilated. The nurses said to let them know if I had an urge to push. I had been told that pushing could be a relief from the pain because you’re focusing on something else, and I would’ve done ANYTHING to dull the pain, so I told my mom I wanted to push. I don’t know if I had an urge to or not, I just know I needed to. I needed the pain to end. 

I began to push. And push. And push. And to my horror, with every push the pain shot through my back like fire and sharp stones, worse than when I wasn’t pushing. I begged the nurses to let me stop. After an hour of what felt like medieval torture the nurses called the on-call Doctor and explained what was happening. He told them to have me just keep pushing… When I cracked my eyes open I saw the faces of my mom and husband, both soaked with tears. My mom later told me that despite how many labors she had seen, she had never seen anyone in so much pain as I was. 

I pushed despite the pain for another half hour before I couldn’t take it anymore. I layed back in the bed sobbing and screaming. I couldn’t think. I could hardly breathe. And there was no relief. Not even seconds of it. It wasn’t just transition with contractions on top of each other, it was one long contraction of death that never stopped and had already been going on about 3 hours.  

Finally, my doctor came into work. He rushed to my room as soon as he heard what was happening, before his shift had even started. The new anesthesiologist looked at how much medicine I had been given through the epidural and got really upset. He said he couldn’t give me any more and that I had already been given too much. 

I opened my eyes a little when I heard my doctor talking to me. He was surrounded by an army of nurses in scrubs and hairnets. He said, “you can try and push a couple more times if you’d like to, or we can just head to the OR now.” 

When I was pregnant, I had prepared myself for every complication. But I always prayed, “please, I just don’t want a c-section.” My birth plan stated that I only would do a c-section as a last resort. 

But in that moment, I knew I couldn’t do any more. I was spent. My heart sank as I looked at my husband, whose face was full of anger and pain because of what I was being put through. I told him, “I’m so sorry,” and then I begged for them to end my pain. 

The anesthesiologist said I would have to be put out since I was already overdosed on pain medicine. I begged for him to do it soon. 

But I had another half hour to wait. Because I was being put under we had to wait for another doctor from another hospital to come and assist in the c-section. Some policy thing. 

I heard my husband sob as he begged my mom to go in with me because he couldn’t bear to see me get cut open. The nurses assured him the curtain would hide everything, and he would only see my face. I peeked my eyes open to see my mom holding my husband tight and telling him everything would be ok, and that I needed him with me. Today, I am forever grateful she was there, not just for me, but for him. 

As they prepped me for surgery and I felt myself being wheeled to the OR, I cried out to my Lord and begged for his mercy. I couldn’t pay attention to what was happening to me, I could only scream my prayers to heaven and hope beyond hope my Heavenly Father would rescue me. 

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4

I woke to the sound of nurses asking if I was ok. I was cold. Freezing cold. I saw bright lights and blurry faces. The pain was gone. I couldn’t believe I was alive. 

The nurses began to wheel me out of the OR. One of them said, “you have a son.” But I couldn’t really understand what that meant. I closed my eyes again. They were so heavy. 

As I was wheeled down the hall I heard cries. I knew the cries belonged to my baby. I forced my eyes open as I was wheeled into a room. 

My husband held a bundle, and he brought it to me. 

I saw my baby, and the only emotion I felt was relief, and the only thought I could think was, “we’re alive. We’re both alive.” 

I later found out I had been in the OR for a whole hour after my baby was born. I had lost a lot of blood, and my doctor was trying to decide if I needed a transfusion. I ended up taking prescription strength iron supplements for 3 months instead. 

My doctor said he had no idea why the epidural didn’t work. He said it baffled him. But he did know why pushing didn’t bring me my baby. He said in the c-section they discovered my pelvis was very small. He said even if my baby had been 5 lb instead of 9 lb 1 oz, he never would’ve fit through. So for those two hours while I pushed, I had been slamming my son’s head into my pelvis over and over and over. His head was swollen and scabbed for months. He now has a bald spot where the scabs were. 

During an extremely difficult surgical recovery and the realization that my post-partum depression was actually much more complicated than the baby blues, I told my husband that we were not having any more kids. 

I began to have compulsions. I would get in the bath with my clothes on. I would sort my shoes and throw the ones that didn’t fit me anymore at the wall. In the car my mind would torture me with fantasies of my baby dying in a crash. When my baby took a bath the obsession was what if he drowned. I lived in constant fear, and when that fear overcame me, I coped in strange ways that made no sense to me. I would strip the bed of its blankets and sheets and sit on the bare mattress. I started pulling out my hair, which disturbed my husband greatly, and that’s when we decided I needed more that anti-depressants, I needed therapy. 

I was diagnosed with PTSD on top of my already diagnosed post-partum depression. In the coming months, I learned new ways to cope, and I learned mindfulness. Through mindfulness, I was able to overcome my PTSD, and through engaging in healthy coping mechanisms, my compulsions faded until they were no more. 

Now, I have never been more healthy emotionally. I will admit to you, I am still on medication. And I honestly think that will be a life-long treatment I may always need. But it’s working. 

I am now open to the possibility of having more children, with the understanding that I have to have a c-section every time, but that a planned c-section will be much smoother going than what I have already been through. 

At first I was crushed when my doctor told me I would never be able to deliver a baby naturally, but now I am grateful. I am grateful for modern medicine. I am grateful that I am still alive, and so is my baby. 200 years ago he might have made it alive, but I absolutely would not have. I am grateful mothers can survive c-sections now. And I am grateful that that fact makes it possible for me to have more children. 

“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” John 16:21 


2 thoughts on “The Valley of the Shadow of Death: a piece on labor and PTSD

  1. Wow. Amazingly written and full of true emotions. I felt like I was experiencing it allowed with you and wanted it to end!! You’re amazing. I’m so glad you are doing better and you were able to share your triumph over something so frightening and painful. Giving birth is never really how you expect it and often times is quite emotional. My experience was full of ups and downs too but I’m so so grateful for modern technology and medicine too or my situation would be the opposite- me alive and my son not living. We have much to be grateful for at the end of the day:) thanks again for blogging!

    1. It’s so true… Pregnancy and delivery are full of expectations that are rarely met. So grateful modern medicine can turn those unmet expectations around and save lives.

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