Yesterday I stumbled across a blog post about woman whose child was born via emergency c-section following the discovery of a cord prolapse. She was awake during her child’s birth and shared that she was prepared for the worst, but was hoping for the best in terms of the outcome. Her child emerged pink and squealing and scored an Apgar of 9/10. I am happy for her.
Such posts are hard to read when your story ends up being “the worst”. Matthew, like the baby in the blog post, was born following a discovery of cord prolapse as well. However our birth story and the resulting journey is far less rosy. I was unconscious for the birth. Matthew’s first two Apgars were 0/10 and 0/10 – which means he was completely lifeless. He did not have a heartbeat until about minute 7 and did not attempt to breathe until about minute 9. We were told that minute 10 is when resuscitation efforts are usually halted and Matthew came in just under the wire. The rest of the story, in many ways, is told via this blog.
The internet is full of stories of happy endings and it can be hard when yours doesn’t follow that script. I sometimes find that the collateral damage of being that seemingly rarest of statistics, the story that doesn’t end happily, can be very difficult to live with. One symptom I constantly struggle with is the need to tamp down my chronic sense of anxiety that bad stuff will happen. I have to always fight the temptation to stack bricks in my emotional wall to ensure that I am prepared for the next major life blow. I don’t like living this way and it isn’t healthy. I make an intentional effort to manage my anxiety with cognitive behavioural strategies, and for the most part I think the strategies work. But it can be a struggle at times and sometimes I find that when I least expect it anxiety sneaks up and taps me on the shoulder – or smacks me upside the head.
I was always a bit of a worrywart as a child according to my mother. I was diagnosed with migraines at the age of ten and these were linked by a doctor to my sense of chronic anxiety and need for perfectionism. Whether that is true I don’t know, but I took the message to heart at a young age. Despite ongoing strategies to manage anxiety it can always lurk in the background. So while I apparently come to worrying naturally, raising a fairly complicated kid certainly hasn’t helped me manage my worrywart tendencies.
Last night about 1am my youngest son starting vomiting and came to get me for some help. I found him some Gravol, settled him into the guest bed (he sleeps in a loft bed – not good for quick trips to the bathroom) and found him a bucket just in case. And then I went back to bed myself. And didn’t sleep. The rational part of me knows that my son probably has whatever stomach bug is doing the rounds. I know that today there is no real reason to worry – that after a day or two of Gravol, jello, popsicles, and Gatorade he’ll likely be back to his grade ten classes, hanging out with this friends, cross country running, and rehearsing for the school play. But last night at about 1:30 am none of the cognitive behavioural strategies I tend to resort to worked. As I tossed and turned in bed I ransacked my brain wondering if there was anything other than a virus I should be worried about. I had to fight images of David becoming worryingly ill. Knowing that these thoughts were both irrational and unhelpful after a few of hours of not-sleeping I resorted to distraction techniques that tend to help when I am particularly worried. I am not sure I slept but I began to worry less about my son and regain some sense of perspective.
Being someone who has had the “worst happen” to their child I have found that living with a chronic sense of anxiety, particularly when it comes to my children and health, is one of the side-effects – collateral damage of a deeply traumatic birth and the ongoing journey with a medically complex child.