Meredith Abend: One phone call brought on the toughest days of my life ... and then healing.
Many describe receiving a traumatic diagnosis as being punched in the gut or kicked in the head. I felt my pain in my heart. It was broken. The days and nights that followed were filled with panic, dread and guilt. Why did I take Zofran for my nausea during my pregnancy? Why could I not nurse this baby who might be sick? What kind of mother was I? Guilt and fear washed over me, day in and day out.
Being a therapist who had worked in the wake of 9/11 in New York City, I knew trauma. I had seen many people in my office day after day who were unable to function. I had dispensed advice and supported victims during the acute trauma phase immediately following the attacks, and watched many continue to suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder as time went on. I was strong, empathetic and resilient. My patients relied on me to help them pick up the pieces -- not fall apart.
After my son's diagnosis, I recognized that my symptoms mirrored what I had seen in my practice. My ability to concentrate was dampened, and I was visibly shaky. I had difficulty calming myself down. I awoke every day telling myself what I "needed to do." Eat healthy foods. Try not to drink too much alcohol. Lay off the caffeine. Try to exercise. While all of this would help, I faced a long list of doctors to contact and experts to consult. I did not have time for my agony and desperately wanted to shake myself out of it. During this time, I met with a therapist, thought about consulting a higher power and tried to read books about living in the now. These attempts took too much time, however, so instead I took Lexapro, then Ativan and then nothing at all once I started to feel like a zombie.
Just as I had seen with the many trauma victims I had counseled, the more desperately I tried to bury my feelings, the more power I gave them. What kind of mother are you? Just love him, just love him, stop it and just love him. I told myself this every moment of every day, and I hated myself for feeling like I wanted to run and hide -- or to go back and start all over. I could not believe that I kept asking, "Why me?" about my amazing baby boy.
Change came not from anything I did, but from what I stopped doing. As I tried to nurse my three-week-old son, the sobs came in waves. I tried with everything I could muster to stop the feelings, but the sorrow was powerful and I could not fight it. Once I gave in, the despair struck me like a hurricane -- and then quieted into a soft, gentle rain that soaked me to the bone but was a relief nonetheless. I crawled into bed next to my son and allowed the anguish to take me over. I couldn't stop crying as I stared at my perfect, sleeping baby boy. Afterwards, for the first time in weeks, I slept.
After I awoke, I looked at my son differently than before. He was no longer someone who was breaking my heart, but someone who would strengthen and mend it. Little by little, minute by minute, my heart began to heal. I began to cry regularly and freely. While I looked weaker on the outside, each tear was a release. There was time to cry and time to feel. Each tear was a reminder to slow down and realize that my son was still alive, and I loved him.