Trauma Doesn’t Just End

There are times in life, when you don’t really know what it is that you are going through, until you have to describe it to someone else. Two different exchanges today made me feel like I was getting slightly closer to getting to the bottom of… something.

“I just thought I would be over it by now.”

My son is a year old. He’s turning into a toddler. Nobody asks me what it’s like to be a new mom anymore, but the truth is, I still very much feel like one. The truth is that I still feel like I’m trying to get my footing, and just when I feel like I’ve gotten my footing, something shifts. He learns a new skill or enters a new developmental stage, and the rules change. His needs keep changing, my abilities keep changing, reality keeps changing.

Reality keeps changing.

In one way, it was always like this. My life has never been static, your life has never been static. But without a child it was different. The changes were slower, or more predictable, or more voluntary. Now, my life is both unbearably predictable (wake up, feed the baby breakfast, drink the coffee, playtime, go for a walk, nap time, lunch time…. over and over and over again) and constantly in flux. I would call it shifting sand, but it’s more like shifting sand in an earthquake, on a spaceship.

I don’t know where we are anymore.

“I’m currently reprocessing a lot of trauma.”

My son is a year old, that means he was born a year ago because that’s how time works (I think). My son was born a year ago. I find myself writing the sentence in the most passive way possible, he was born, I of course, had almost nothing to do with it. His birth took place a little over a year ago, and I want to tell you that it happened, without delving into the fact that it happened, without confronting the fact that I’m still not over it.

Nobody asks me about it anymore.

My son was born, after a week of on and off labor, by cesarean section. A stranger (his name was Doctor Anderson, and I will never forget his name, and I will never be able to clearly picture his face) cut into my abdomen, made a brand new hole in my body, and lifted my child up and out of me and into the bright light of the world. The drugs made me too nauseous and shaky to hear his first cry.

For the first hour of his life outside of my body, his other mom held him, and I missed him so much I felt torn in a thousand directions. I couldn’t move, I was fighting not to vomit, I was dreaming of a day when all of this might be over, and they were sewing up my incision. At once point, the drugs failed, and I felt the needle pushing into my skin. They gave me more drugs, and it went away. My life had gone from the constant awareness of early labor and my planned home birth, to the weird disconnect of trying not to notice that someone is jabbing a needle into your abdomen repeatedly. I remember exactly what it felt like. My stomach clenches when I think of it.

I’m not over it.

A week later, the edge of that incision would look funny, and then it would ooze. At the hospital, when I tried to describe it, the midwife tried to tell me that there was no way it could be infected. But when she looked at it, I could tell by her face. I was right. She asked what kind of pain medication I was on, and how recently I had taken it.

“Ok.” she said, and she looked right at me. “We are going to give you morphine, and then we are going to shoot your stomach with lidocaine. But you are still going to feel what we are going to have to do to you, and I am so sorry.”

She was right.

I’m not over it.

I’m shaking now. I’m shaking because the trauma of the last year has been endless and heartbreaking and tragic. There have been amazing moments of beauty and wonder, and I have tried to focus on them, but there has always been so much trauma. More trauma than I had ever imagined I could survive. More trauma than one body and one brain could process within a calendar year.

Only now, now that I’m not a new mom anymore, I am supposed to be over it. I was supposed to move on. I was supposed to take a deep breath and get my shit together. It’s all about him now. His little life is opening and up and changing with the wonder of discovery. That’s great. That’s amazing. Only, the thing is, I’m still here. And I’m still hurting.

Trauma doesn’t just go away. It does not expire and lose its potency. You cannot wash the memory from your body. If you go through what I’ve gone through — if you suffer through a week of labor until you literally beg for death, and then you feel the needle sewing you, and then no one will give you your drugs because “opiates are dangerous” and your uterus burns like death for two days straight, and then the incision weeps and comes open, and then they cut you with scissors, and then your partner has to repack the wound with gaze twice a day and it is actual hell, and then you start having gallbladder attacks that are worse than labor, and then you suffer medical neglect, and then you have surgery, and then you can barely lift the baby, and then you become homeless, and then the baby stops sleeping, and then someone you love assaults you, and then you find yourself living underneath domestic violence and wondering “will my upstairs neighbor kill his girlfriend today?” — if you live through all of that, and find yourself on the other side of with a healthy kid and a life worth living, you are allowed to not be over it. You are allowed to still be in shock.

How long is it allowed? A year? Two years? I don’t know.

What I know is that some days are easier than others. Some days I can say “my son was born” and that gives me the distance I need to not go back to that place. And some days… like today, I just can’t do that.

In the front yard, one of the neighbor kids says “It feels like I was five just five days ago, but now I’m going to be eight soon!”

I feel like that kid. I feel like that. I feel like all of this just happened, and I’m just barely starting to catch my breath. Only to everyone else, so much time has passed, to everyone else, it seems like maybe I should just be over it.

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