WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOTHERHOOD JOURNEY THUS FAR?
I dreamed of having children all my life. All I wanted to be since I was a child was a "mommy". I love children and I made it my life's work to study Early Childhood Education, Childhood/Adolescent Psychology and then my Bachelors of Education. I have been working with children for over 15 years when I was finally blessed with my first. She was full-term but after 3 days of primitive ways to induce my baby, I had a c-section. My eldest (now 7) came out 4 lbs 13 ozs- FULL TERM. They snatched her out of my awed and long-awaiting embrace to take her to the NICU. I had to watch my baby through a glass cage and I couldn't hold her for the first 5 days of her life. To say I was heartbroken is a gargantuan understatement. Then I had number 2, by c-section as well (came out 6 lbs. 7 ozs. - amazing) but she was not able to draw a deep breath for 21 hours so she just stopped breathing- 3 times- and we had to rush her to McMaster Hospital for Children. She recovered but once again, she was whisked away from me to NICU and I was not able to hold her for two weeks. I actually unplugged my own IV and discharged myself from the post natal unit, and traveled to Hamilton from Newmarket to be with her. My incision got infected and I was severely suffering from PPD and I contemplated suicide multiple times. However, she came home and recovered so we thought to give it one more try. I originally wanted 6 kids but the Ob/Gyn, on my third and final pregnancy at Mt. Sinai High-Risk Clinic, firmly declared that I will need to tie my tubes after this baby. It was a boy. Oh what joy. After two girls, I was granted and blessed with a boy. I did everything right. I ate well, I didn't get much weight, I exercised and I prayed.
I prayed that God would give me the one chance to actually leave the birthing room with a bundle of joy. I would observe mom after mom after mom leaving the operating room with a baby in a pink blanket then another in a blue blanket. I would watch movies and see the joy on the faces of the daddies as they paced the hallways in the evenings while their wives rested with a tiny version of themselves in their arms. I prayed to be able to nurse at least one baby. When they go to the NICU, they are offered formula in a bottle so it makes it highly improbable for a baby to latch on and nurse naturally. I prayed that I would be able to hold my baby after they are born not a week or two later. Timothy was born a healthy weight and seemed to be perfect in every way. Then 5 minutes into cleaning me up and as we were gushing about his perfection- he grunted. Once again, to my dread and utter dismay, a NICU nurse came in and introduced herself. I was so familiar with the protocol, the speech and the cause. I knew it had to do with his breathing and the fact that there is fluid in his lungs because I didn't labour naturally and had to c-section. I knew that grunting meant an obstruction or inability to breath normally. I knew he's be taken from me and poked a hundred times as well as attached to 5 or 6 different tubes. I knew he was going to be intubated, incubated and caged. I knew I wouldn't hold him and that I would have to settle to tapping the glass or touching him through a glove attachment to the cage. I knew it hurt. Immensely.
Needless to say, a week later, we brought him home but he actually nursed well and became strong. I was mentally shattered and had to pick up the scattered pieces of my broken heart (three times over). I suffered from PPD for 4 months then my mother fell ill on a cruise in the British Version Islands and the sadness was enhanced and entrenched. My mother felt better and was recovered 6 months later but by then, my last baby was 10 months old. I had missed majority of his babyhood to save my mother. I was filled with bitterness and a deep, black hole of infinite sadness, bitterness and hopelessness. I had to fight off demons I didn't even know existed. Then everything got better in Christmas of 2016. Things were starting to return to normal and I was applauding my resilience and courage to get through all of this on my own without therapy. Then my son had two complex seizures at the age of 15 months. He was shaking and foaming at the mouth for 40 minutes and then a tonic clonic seizure where he became stiff as a board and turned blue for 20 minutes. My world fell apart. He overcame that too and went on to have three more seizures in the short 3 years of his life. He is stronger than I could ever be but I am broken. I am numb. I often look at my children whom I would die for and try to mentally detach myself from them. It hurts too much to think of them in pain or dying. I realized I was suffering from PTSD. I knew I needed help. I am still trying to receive this help and trying to find the right fit to help me but this is my story and this is how I came to be....me. Now.
HOW DOES YOUR Post Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) SHOW UP? WHAT TOOLS HAVE HELPED YOU COPE?
I have panic attacks when I see ambulances. Irrational fear of ambulances. I just pull over and breathe while counting down from 10. I also close my eyes and pray.
WHAT SUPPORT / RESOURCES HAVE HELPED YOU WITH YOUR PTSD?
I tried to see therapists. None of them were exceptional. So I decided to channel my anxieties into calming activities like knitting, painting, volunteering to help others and learning how to cook new meals. I write a mommy blog www.smartignani.com to expel my thoughts and share my experiences. I even started to work out so that some of my anxious energy can exit my body. It's a struggle and every morning I wake up and rush over to my children to see if they are awake and alive. I am fighting my demons everyday but I am also filled with gratitude that I was granted these beautiful children and another day to live with them and enjoy them.
HOW DO YOU FEEL WE COULD DO BETTER TO SUPPORT MOTHERS WHO HAVE A CHILD THAT EXPERIENCES A TRAUMATIC HEALTH ISSUE / SURGERY / ILLNESS?
I think we need to tell each other to embrace the pain and fear instead of "get over it" or "count our blessing". I have developed a strong dislike for others who discount my son's seizures and make statements like "At least it's not leukemia". How that is even a comparison? My anxiety can't differentiate between cancer and seizures but I tell you this, as a mother, they are both equally traumatizing because anytime we witness our child in pain without an ability to treat them, it is impossibly difficult and heartbreaking.
HOW DO YOU ENSURE YOU ARE TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF SO YOU CAN CARE FOR YOU CHILDREN?
I reach out to others with similar challenges. I talk with my husband who is my best friend. I pray incessantly. I also take breaks and vacations with my family to create as many memories as possible. I take photos of clouds (I think they are majestic) and I take deep breaths to trick my brain into relief and release.
HOW HAVE YOU TURNED YOUR EXPERIENCE INTO AN OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE OTHERS?
I am constantly reminded that other mothers are experiencing a variety of similar challenges and this gives me infinite patience and an elevated awareness of health struggles. I reach out if anyone needs help of any kind and I am a huge advocate for mental health and wellness. I don't think we should hide or disguise our disease but we should embrace it and tell the world about it. I am vocal about my anxiety struggles and this usually unhinges others and allows them to drop their defenses. The most common reaction I receive is a hug (often silent) that tells me their entire life story. In that embrace I sense their fear and their anxiety. I know their sadness and hear their cries of pain. Without a single word being exchanged. They get it. They just hug me and then I get it. That right is there is POWERFUL!