On the physical and mental challenges of recovering from a C-section.
This post has been in the works for over a year. It started by floating around my head before I decided to write it, then a draft kept changing and changing, sitting idle and then changing again.
As much as I enjoy motherhood and my son brings me immense joy, the whole journey has not been entirely rosy. As you already know from my birth story, my homebirth plans went down the toilet and resulted in an emergency c-section. I ended up suffering from PTSD which evolved into PPD, people immediately assume that it was from the surgery but that is not so.
As detailed in my birth story, when I was hooked to the monitors and I could hear Shammy’s heartbeat, I would notice that his heart rate would drop every time I had a contraction and would practically stop every time I pushed. The doctor wasn’t in the room most of the time so I had the midwife still telling me to push while my husband and doula cheered. Nobody noticed but me so I did the only thing that I could think of at the time I started to fake push.
I didn’t expect my husband or doula to catch on because they’re not trained and not even focusing on the monitor but the midwife kept looking at the monitor to check for contractions yet seemed oblivious to the drop in heart rate. It wasn’t until days later that I shared with my husband what had happened in that room.
I realized that I couldn’t fake pushing forever so as soon as the doctor came back into the room I pushed for real, it took 1 push for him to notice and immediately ask me to stop and say that for baby’s safety a surgery would be best. By then I already had plenty of time to evaluate the situation and had come to the same conclusion so I admit that for a moment felt relief knowing that there was an end in sight.
I was surprisingly calm for the circumstances but at the same time I was terrified. By then I was sure that Shammy would be alright so I only had to deal with my fear of the surgery itself. And the rest as they all say, is history.
After the birth I had to deal with frequent flashbacks of being told to push and listening to the beeps in the monitor slow down only to pick up again when I stopped. This scene has replayed in my mind endlessly for the past year. I was so happy to have a healthy baby yet I was crying regularly at the reoccurring memory. After several days of nightmares I realized that this wasn’t the typical baby blues brought on b the typical hormonal changes.
At first I didn’t know what to do, therapy wasn’t an option at the moment and I was too exhausted and overwhelmed with a newborn to really apply my spiritual practices that have helped in the past.
At 1 week postpartum I broke down crying while the OB checked the healing of my incision. I could see by how uncomfortable he was that talking to him was not an option so he helped in the only way that he knew how but pulling out his prescription pad. I was prescribed an anti depressant but I didn’t immediately take it and instead chose to suffer longer.
The prescription for Zoloft had been filled, the pills were sitting on my desk but I wouldn’t take them. I kept researching it’s effects on breastfeeding. I was scared that the OB said that I would have to take them for a minimum of 3 months and couldn’t just stop them cold turkey, it felt like such a huge commitment since I couldn’t expect immediate results either. My fears were somewhat calmed by Dr Punger sharing that I could only take it for a week if needed.
At 3 weeks postpartum my parents were flying in from Puerto Rico to meet their grandson. Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t have a very close relationship with them and any sort of interaction with my family brings a wave of anxiety oftentimes resulting in full blown panic attacks. In the past a shot of tequila would help but that wasn’t an option this time.
At the encouragement of my husband that is when I finally surrendered in hopes of having an amiable visit with my parents. It helped a lot and I could see results sooner than I expected but I also started to experience side effects just as quickly. I had to take the daily pill right before bedtime and I had 15 minutes to get settles before “the high” would kick. But this wasn’t a good high, I felt like I was on a bad trip along with hallucinations, the only way to really deal with them was to sleep through it. If Shammy woke up within 4 hours of me having taken the pill I couldn’t walk with him because I was just too unstable and would literally walk into walls. Despite all of that I felt that the benefits were outweighing the side effects.
I did have to keep a close eye on how the pill was affecting Shammy. I did notice that the fat content in my breastmilk had dropped greatly while I was taking Zoloft but that is something that I knew would happen and I just made sure that Shammy’s weight was regularly monitored. He may not have gained weight as fast initially as other breastfed babies but he still held his ground on the growth charts and it was never an issue.
Another weight related side effect that I did notice was in my personal weight loss. Before the pill I had lost 32 pounds of pregnancy weight by just sitting on the couch and breastfeeding but that stopped once I started the medication. At first my weight just plateaued but after a month I gradually started to gain weight. It wasn’t until I stopped taking the pill that I started to loose weight again but even then it has been slow but I blame that on my sedentary lifestyle and being less careful with my nutrition.
My original plan was to take the pill until my parents left town but then it became time for me to prepare to go back to work and that brought a whole new round of anxiety so I took it a little longer. As you already know if you’ve been reading this blog a while. I didn’t last long at work. I was hopelessly depressed while at work and I spent more time crying at my desk or in the bathroom than getting any work done. Add to that the challenges with pumping and management trying to change my schedule I don’t want to imagine how it would have been if I was not on medication.
Overall I took Zoloft for almost 4 months, once life started to feel stable and I felt like I had the hang of motherhood I started to self wean. By then I didn’t have health insurance so even though I was supposed to step down with a doctor’s care that was not an option for me. I started to take the pill every other day, after a while I went to once every 2 days. Until one day I just forgot to take it, and forgot again the next day, and the day after that.
During that time I was experiencing some weird symptoms that had started to scare me, for a moment I even thought I had vertigo or some other sort of weird disorder but with no health coverage I couldn’t seek a diagnosis. I had problems with vision and balance. After about a week my husband wondered out loud if my symptoms were related to me not taking the pill anymore. The thought had not crossed my mind!
So I consulted the doctor for the uninsured, Dr. Google and found no shortage of people in my situation. I was experiencing withdrawals and my only option to feel better was to start taking the pill again. I did not want to become a junkie, it had already been over a week so I decided that cold turkey was how it was going to be and I would just have to grin and bear it. It took over a month for my body to fully detoxify and for all of the withdrawal symptoms to disappear.
For months I lived in fear of a relapse but thankfully it didn’t come to that. I regret not having been able to have gotten traditional counseling but thank the support of strangers in PTSD/PPD and C-Section recovery forums for doing the part that the pill could not do.
I consider myself lucky that things didn’t get as dark as they could have and I have to give credit for me accepting that there was a problem early on. It would have been a much steeper hill had I been in denial.
I am disabling comments on this post because just like I didn’t want to talk about it during the first year, I still struggle with bringing my vulnerabilities out in the open so this is being posted for that new mom days, weeks, months or years down the line that finds herself in the same situation and just needs that stranger’s story to know what she needs to do. Just like that stranger mom with her blog post did for me.