Three years ago Valentine's Day took on a whole new meaning for me. There was no candlelit dinner. No chocolate. A bottle of wine was out of the question.
But nothing says romance like a trip to the doctor for cervical sweep, am I right ladies?
I was five days overdue with my second son, and desperate to get him out. If you're lucky enough to have no idea what a cervical sweep is or what it involves, I suggest you take a moment to throw some gratitude out to the universe.
I'll spare you the unpleasant details but I think we can all assume that any sweeping motion associated with my nether regions at this very late stage of pregnancy wasn't going to feel good. Even if doc had warmed me up with chocolates and wine beforehand, which she didn't by the way. Foreplay killjoy.
A cervical sweep hurts. It hurts to have it done, and it hurts afterwards when the contractions and severe cramping trick you into thinking you finally get to evict the stubborn squatter from your belly.
How do I know? This was my fourth sweep. If at first you don't succeed, Happy Valentine's Day to me.
Needless to say, my anxiety was high and getting higher with each passing day that didn't bring on labor. Knowing my history with postpartum anxiety and depression, doc understood the fragility of my mental state. With empathy and kindness she called the hospital to request an induction for the following day if the fourth sweep proved as ineffective as the three before.
So my husband and I went home to wait.
The cramping started almost immediately, but that was no surprise. After three failed attempts that each brought on brutal pain, I didn't give it much thought. But when the pain brought me to my knees on the bathroom floor within 20 minutes of arriving home, I knew it was go time, and time to go fast.
The race to the hospital was dramatic, to say the least. I was like an injured, wild animal trapped in a cage. The contractions came one right after the other, with barely any time in between for relief. With both hands gripping the ceiling handle of the car I convulsed in pain, pleading with my husband to drive faster, and banging on the window as if that would somehow make the red lights turn green.
Tangled up with all the physical pain was the sinking feeling that I wasn't going to get an epidural. It was all happening too fast. I was terrified.
When we pulled up to the hospital I couldn't even stand up on my own. My husband helped me inside to the registration area where I doubled over the back of a chair waiting for someone rescue me. Within minutes a group of nurses arrived with a wheelchair and whisked me off to the delivery room.
"I want an epidural."
I begged for drugs -- something, anything, please! I didn't care what as long as it took the pain away. The nurses calmly and quietly explained all the reasons why they could only offer me laughing gas to take the edge off. I wanted to punch them. Furious, I bit down on the tube and tried to huff my way into oblivion.
Left with no other option, I somehow pushed my 9lb 13oz baby boy out into the world.
When I close my eyes and conjure up the memories of that experience, it's not the pain, anxiety, panic or fear that floats to the surface.
It's the sunlight that I remember most, and the way it poured in through the windows of the delivery room and made it glow with warmth. I remember holding my sweet baby boy against my skin and breathing him in for the first time. And most of all I remember the overwhelming sense of calm that washed over me as I realized I was going to be ok.
I was prepared this time. Therapy sessions during my pregnancy gave me the tools and the confidence to take care of myself and to speak up and ask for help. I had my antidepressant prescription filled the week before. The little yellow pills that brought me back the last time were patiently waiting for me to decide if and when I needed them again. When the time came, I did not hesitate. No shame. No guilt. I had been down that dark road of postpartum depression and anxiety before, and I sure as hell wasn't going back.
I still have anxiety ups and downs, and probably always will. Managing my thoughts is an ongoing challenge and some days are better than others.
But I can always close my eyes and go back to that moment. I can feel the sun and the calm, the contentment and the love.
No Valentine's Day gift will ever top that.
If you think you may be struggling with postpartum depression, contact your doctor for help.