The story of ours began like most; I heard your heartbeat and joy propelled me from dreamlike stupor to scheduling baby shower and maternity photography sessions, deciding on nursery decor and what names would match you.
When I received my preeclampsia diagnosis, my heart sank and everything on my carefully crafted to-do list dissipated, along with the idea that this story of ours would be easy.
Motherhood welcomed us at 31 weeks.
It also welcomed strength, unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. There would be no crying at our reality or our missed bonding time as you were wheeled away into a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) over an hour away. Instead, I had to summon whatever will and adrenaline coursing through my body and demanded it heal so I can be closer to my heart. Tears would come later. And as I sadly learned, tears would come in waves that crippled and made me wonder where that strength went all those days and weeks I spent by your isolate in the NICU.
The story of ours paralyzed me.
I don’t know for sure how I lived to see you celebrate your first birthday, when every image I’d see, you were surrounded by tubes and wires and your heart monitor constantly beeping.
Somehow I did learn to move freely. I learned to save my tears in the shower. I learned to whisper prayers of gratitude every night as I watched you sleep.
As I started to accept the idea that there would only be the three of us - you, me and your dad - I learned I was again expecting.
This did not bring me joy. I met this news with anger and I tried for a long time to be happy. You were a beautiful four year old. I survived our first year and I was becoming less afraid of your future.
When I heard the heartbeat, I didn’t want to know the sex. I couldn’t give this heart a name.
I didn’t want to write to-do lists and there was no dream like stupor, either. I was a mom on a mission and my mission was to live so I could go home to you and our life.
A history of preeclampsia could mean I was a ticking time bomb again.
A history of premature birth meant I would be revisiting my nightmare in an enclosed NICU space.
A history of traumatic birth meant the possibility of not surviving.
And history usually repeated itself.
I packed my bags at 30 weeks and waited anxiously for 31 weeks.
It came and went. I wept and almost believed we were going to make it to ‘full term,’ at 38 weeks.
When I woke up with a headache and felt nauseous at 34 weeks, I knew it was time. My vision blurred and my blood pressure was elevated. My heart had already shattered when I was told I’d be welcoming another bundle in a few hours.
I thought I welcomed him in my arms. I thought I kissed his head as he was wheeled to the NICU. I thought I was doing okay until I wasn’t.
Until I didn’t hear him crying even when he was next to me.
Until suddenly, the idea of leaving you and him seemed like a rational action.
Motherhood has defined me in ways I never knew I'd be defined by.
While I knew motherhood gives you a different identity and purpose. Mine came with a two time Preeclampsia survivor, a parent to premature babies, and NICU graduates. I also had to include on postpartum depression survivor - an identity that I didn’t know I’d endure and survive.
And while the story of ours is still writing itself, I am hopeful that you and your brother can overcome any obstacles in life. After all, the strength I had to push through my storms were reflected in your eyes. You gave me courage. I choose to live bravely because of you. My purpose isn’t to understand why the story of ours began the way it did but how our story could give a voice and comfort to another.
My purpose in advocating for maternal mental health came because of the way our story began.
For more of my preeclampsia and postpartum depression story, please see here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073MVG4R4/
November is coming up and it's always been rough. One the one hand, it's Prematurity Awareness month. The day before I see images of cute 'trick-or-treaters' and then all of a sudden, my feed is inundated with mamas and pictures of their preemies. I remember it all over again; the NICU, the isolette, the alarms and my two premature babies.
On the other hand, I post my gratitudes as a daily reminder that I am here. They are here. It's helped me over the years but I still second guess the 'why NOT me?' 'why NOT US?' that survivors often wrestle with.
A few weekends ago, I attended the Champions for Change summit and I heard so so so many stories of near misses.
I was lucky.
My OB knew at 26 weeks and told me that my birth plan needed to change.
She knew at 31 weeks that I was not doing my care at home and I needed to be on strict hospital bed rest.
She knew when it was time to deliver Ellie. And because of her, I knew to do my research.
I advocated for myself and knew to seek a high risk pregnancy doc for the second one.
I knew to do my daily blood pressure readings and let the nurses know when it would spike above average.
I knew to pay attention to my body and knew at 34 weeks and change that my headache, my blurry vision and high blood pressure reading meant it was time to go.
And the nurse who triaged me in the emergency room knew to call my doctor and start prepping the labor and delivery room.
Women who knew versus others who didn't know or couldn't have known or choose not to listen.
I was lucky.
And I count my daily thanks.
But that doesn't mean it has gotten easier. I've often heard well intentioned friends and family asking, "why are you not over it? it's been years." How could I get over trauma so easily when I see my trauma daily? When I hold my what-ifs daily? When I take my miracle to her monthly hematologist and wonder was it because of her being premature? Because of my preeclampsia that caused this blood disorder? What did she do to deserve every bruised arm from nurses who can't find her veins?
Was it because of me?
And so the guilt keeps coming back around and around,
But I can change guilt to action
I can change guilt from weighing me down and make it become something. I can funnel my words for change, I've been so inspired about the stories I heard and I know my story can't stop now. Especially, since looking around the room, I never saw another 'me.' I saw so many white women and I wonder why there was so few black women? Why so few latinas? Why not another one of me? Another Filipina.
Where are we in the community of mental health advocates and preeclampsia survivors?
A few projects
So next month is also National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I'm still converting my novelette into a Christmas themed novella. I started on it a few weeks ago and then my ever so distracted brain decided to put it down and start working on a journal prompt book idea for mamas. Motherhood is tough and we so desperately need community. I want my community to be filled with Filipina mamas navigating mental health challenges, life after diagnosis - be it a preeclampsia diagnosis or postpartum diagnosis. I want community and I want it filled with mamas that look like me.
So I don't exactly know what that looks like.
But I do know that I am lucky to be surrounded by women who do. I just need to get over the guilt and grab some courage and ask questions.
What are you working on friends?
Any other passion you have that you can incorporate writing into?
I drink too much coffee, read too many books, and in between raising miracle babies, I find time to write.