Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How I Healed {Part I}


**Note to men: you don't want to read this blog. Trust me. If you're one of those, "If you tell me I can't, I will" sort of people, I apologize ahead of time. Don't say you weren't warned.




Hollywood loves to laugh about the way pregnancy affects a woman's body: the weight gain, stretch marks, discomfort, weird cravings and frequent trips to the bathroom. It's great fodder for comedy, to be sure. But have you ever seen any serious discussion on movies or TV shows of what happens to a woman after she has the baby? Yeah, me neither.

When the photo above was taken, I was 22 and fit, having run my first marathon 6 months previously. I was also 9 months pregnant. The pregnancy was unplanned, but I had sailed through the trimesters with virtually no problems. I was educated and prepared for childbirth. And truly, I was -- about the actual labor and delivery part.

What I wasn't prepared for in the slightest was the way the medical establishment looks at pregnancy and childbirth as a disease to be managed.

I was young and trusting. Since I was so healthy, I had almost no experience with doctors, let alone military OBs. I figured they would know what to do and work with me to naturally deliver and naturally recover.

I was wrong.
Thankfully, there was a recovery room available and I was allowed to leave the broom closet!

Here are the lowlights of my precious Jack's birth: there were no available rooms, so I gave birth in a janitor's closet. It took a teenager several tries to find a vein for the IV I didn't want, eventually exploding my vein and finally putting the needle in directly on my wrist bone. The blood went all over the ceiling and wall that was only a few inches away from my face (remember, it was a broom closet, so the room was tiny). I asked them to wipe it away, but they said it wasn't their policy to clean until everything was over. So I stared and smelled my own blood for more than 8 hours.

Though I had planned on utilizing pain management tools like walking, slow-dancing, bouncing on an exercise ball, etc. they strapped me down (literally) on my back the moment I got there, hooked me up to a monitor and wouldn't let me leave until I birthed. The nurses, when they remembered that I existed, never actually looked at me when they entered the broom closet. Their eyes just went straight to the monitor.

The nurses kept offering an epidural, despite my request that they stop. Finally, around 7 or 8 centimeters, I relented. The anesthesiologist was incredibly rude to me, only speaking to Nick and ordering him to "get your wife to cooperate" when I couldn't hold still during the needle insertion...because he was doing it during a contraction. The minute he left, I became completely paralyzed from the waist down; I couldn't move a thing. But I could still feel every last pain.
I started hyperventilating, thinking something was seriously wrong. Nick found the man and asked him to return. He took one look at my back and chuckled softly. "Yup, I was right," he announced. "I thought I put the needle in the wrong place, and I did. Oh well."

Later, I wanted to push, but the nurses said no, we can't wake the doctor up yet. You'll have to wait another 2 hours. When she did arrive, I wanted to push in any other position but lying flat on my back. Absolutely not, they said, and I was too naive to demand otherwise.

I ended up with third-degree tearing...after they gave me an episiotomy. I dare you to Google the definition. I literally could feel myself tearing apart, but when I told the doctor, she said that was impossible. She later took 45 minutes to stitch me up...with no anesthetic. I felt every last plunge of the needle and every pull of the thread, screaming my head off. The nurses told me to be quiet, that I was making it hard for the doctor to concentrate.

They had already whisked Jack away, and eventually I was completely alone. Naked, with not a single sheet to cover me. I was deathly cold and shivering, probably going into shock. I started calling out, quietly at first, gradually screaming for help. A male janitor came in with a mop, methodically mopping up my blood on the floor. "Please bring me a blanket," I begged. And remember, I had nothing on.

He didn't even glance up. "Someone will be here soon," he replied. But they never showed. Nick finally heard me yelling from out in the hallway, found a supply closet and brought me a blanket as my lips were turning blue.



Once we returned home, more terror appeared. For nearly a year after Jack's birth, I suffered from insomnia (often going days without sleeping), and when I finally did manage to nod off, I would wake up screaming from a nightmare in which knife-wielding doctors were coming at me, my hands bound. During the day, I couldn't even drive near the hospital where it happened without my heart jumping out of my chest, so I took alternate routes. I had flashbacks, especially when hearing another mom's birth story. I blocked the memories of the actual night, not writing about it in my journal or even telling my mother. I felt anxious over every decision, fear that something would happen to Nick and overall like a total failure for not loving every moment of motherhood like I thought all perfect mothers did.

(I didn't know at the time that birth trauma is real, diagnosable and that I had it coming out my pores.).

And that was just the psychological part. Physically, I went from being a marathon runner in her early 20s to an old lady who couldn't control herself over the smallest of sneezes, the shortest of walks from the chair to the counter. I was in a ton of pain almost constantly. And because I was so traumatized, Nick suffered for months as well.

Whether I tried to tell my doctors or nurses about the physical stuff or my friends and people at church about the mental stuff, I always got the same responses: "Welcome to motherhood!" "Someday you'll look back, laugh and even miss this time." And my personal favorite: "Well, none of that matters as long as you got a healthy baby, right?" The inference was clear: get over it, weakling, because what happened to you was normal and unimportant.

As a result, I felt like the worst mom ever. The guilt grew, until I decided we wouldn't have any more kids. I couldn't handle another trauma like what I went through with my firstborn.

And then, thank God, we moved to Oregon.

So yes, I recovered. But here's the nitty-gritty on the details, since so many of you have asked.

My midwife, noticing my obvious physical trauma during my pregnancy with Jude, referred me to a women's physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor dysfunction. (This PT also treated attractive baseball players from the local minor-league team. Thoughtfully, she put up a sign on her door when I arrived for all to see: PELVIC DYSFUNCTION THERAPY IN SESSION. Thanks, Erin.).

The few months in therapy were life-changing. By the time I finished, my core and other related muscles were stronger than they had ever been -- even before I had kids! I quickly became a groupie, which probably freaked my PT out because we had been friends before I ever became her client. (Whenever I saw her in church from then on, my first thought was usually something like, "Hmm, there's that nice chick who felt me up last Thursday."). The benefits even lasted through my pregnancy with Avinly; at 9 months along, I could run, do plyometrics and jumping-jack until the cows came home without leaking a drop.



And for the last piece of my gynecological puzzle, I turned to Bethany Learn, mommy fitness guru and founder of Fit to Be Studio, a wholesome, family-friendly workout website that is all business when it comes down to healing women's bodies.

I first heard from Bethany, a national expert on repairing the postnatal woman's core, at my MOPS group. Her lecture was so informative, so radical to what we moms always hear (crunches are not the answer to getting your flat stomach back, for starters), so full of common sense and so moving that several of us left the room in tears. Since then, including myself, several of my friends have subscribed to her vision with stunning, life-changing results. Not just inches lost and flatter tummies (although those are nice side effects!), but we have our bladder and body control back, minus the back pain that comes from weak abdominals. You just can't put a price tag on that!


There are many reasons why I love Bethany and her fitness company, several of which I will discuss in a future blog post. But here's the skinny: if you've given birth, you probably have issues -- you know the kind I'm talking about. Without going all crazy and Jillian Michaels on you, Bethany can help you heal those problems. Full of exercise videos (we're talking LOTS), informational articles, a supportive member forum and more,
Fit2B™ Studio  is unique in the fitness world and straight-up works.

Interested in learning more or giving Fit to Be a shot? Sign up for 3 months now for just $20 (that's a $10 savings!) by entering CRYSTALKUPPER at checkout. And check out this free workout in the meantime. (Don't forget to enter the code CRYSTALKUPPER at checkout to get the $10 off!).

God worked a miracle in my spirit with the arrivals of my second and third children. But I strongly believe he also used a team of amazing women -- my midwives, doula, PT and fitness instructor -- to heal my physical scars, too.

So when I read Mark 12:30 -- "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" -- I can now smile where I once cried in pain.

I know, at least, I've got the last one down.