My traumatic cesarean was almost eight years ago. My last major PTSD incident was over five years ago. Since then, I've had two babies, including one in a hospital. I've been studying midwifery for several years without incident. Honestly, I had gotten to the point where I pretty much forgot about the PTSD. I felt pretty well "cured." I should know better.
A few weeks ago, during my studies, I started reading about Pitocin. I've known about pitocin for awhile. I figured I had a pretty good handle on the risks and side effects. I knew pit had caused the tetanic contraction (turns out that's the name for the unending contraction I had) that lead to my cesarean. I knew I'd been overdosed on it. I could handle this. It never occured to me to expect trouble.
As I was reading, I came across more information than I had ever previously heard about pit, and it brought some of the events surrounding my cesarean into focus. Most of them I had written off as incidental to having surgery, or part of the trauma, and some didn't even merit mention in the birth story. Turns out many of these may have been caused by the pit, and were WAY more serious than I had ever been told.
For example, I didn't know pitocin is an antidiuretic. That means it keeps water in your body, even when that fluid should be excreted by the kidneys. The morning after my cesarean, I was swollen up like a balloon, from chest to toes. I am not a person who swells. My feet are swollen when the veins don't stick out as much as normal. That morning I was SWOLLEN. Shiny, taught, painful skin. The level of swelling is what drove me to talk the nurse into walking the halls with me at five in the morning. It scared me and I wanted it to go down. I figured walking would do it. It didn't. Turns out, in sensitive individuals (or, I imagine, in those who have been given three times the proper amount) and especially when combined with excessive IV fluids, pit can cause the body to retain so much water it can cause severe electrolyte imbalance, which can be fatal.
I also didn't know that pitocin can cause a drop in blood pressure. No wonder my blood pressure went so low! In addition to both the spinal and epidural lowering my blood pressure, I had pit to deal with! With my heart already racing and already feeling flashbacks coming on, I looked up just HOW low my blood pressure had gone. Mine was 70/40 AFTER two doses of epinephrine, which is used to raise blood pressure. 50/35 leads to coma. I have no idea how low my bp went before the epinephrine. But I'm fairly sure I was crashing. It explains all of the disjointedness I felt about the surgery after they took my daughter out of the room, and how I went from dying to see her the moment she was taken out to totally not caring when they brought the burrito baby over to me. I'm pretty sure I was literally in the process of dying.
Even knowing that in the end I didn't die, I was terrified for myself when I read all of this. It doesn't make any sense, not rationally, but I was suddenly wracked with fear for myself and my baby daughter. I was no longer in the "now." I was back to "then," living it, dying and terrified. When I was actually living it, I didn't know I was dying. The idea never entered my mind, and I certainly never felt like peacefully slipping off to anywhere. I specifically told the anesthesiologist he had better do something about my blood pressure! But I also wasn't scared, and I probably should have been. It is impossible to accurately express how I was apathetic during the actual event and terrified during my flashbacks almost 8 years later. It doesn't make sense to me, but I'm certainly not an expert. All I know is I was. It was a very real fear. And now it is a new part of the experience, one I'm having some trouble integrating.
Fortunately, having eight years of experience behind me, I was able to recognize what was happening. I wanted to fight it, but I knew better. Instead I took a deep breath, warned my husband that today was going to be a difficult day for me, and got in the shower. I cried in a hot shower until I couldn't anymore, then got out and called my friend Cass, who gets it. I knew I needed to talk about it, even though it would be awful. And talk I did, for three hours. And cried some more. I let the flashbacks wash over me when they came, and tried to hold onto my anchor, the thought that I knew I WASN'T actually there, that it's eight years later, and we both make it out mostly unscathed.
I rode it out, and in some ways I'm still riding, because I HAD to write this post, just like I had to call my friend the day it happened. I'm still thinking about it every day, and especially at night. But I also know it will fade, it will go, and if I do what I need to do, it'll pass again into the realm of "then" and I'll move to normal. I'll think about it less and less, and when I do, it won't feel traumatic. It gives me hope, which I didn't have during the first few trigger events. And it makes me proud of me. For what I've survived and how I've come through. Scarred, but strong. And this too shall pass.