Part 2 - Wounded, Scarred, and Radiant
Content Warning: medical trauma, birth trauma, mental health, suicidal ideation
This is the second part in a 2-part essay. For the first installation, click here.
I blamed myself for years. After the traumatic birth of my daughter, while most friends and family were supportive and encouraging, my traumatized brain told me that I alone knew the truth: that I had failed. I lived in a world of “If only”s; if only I had eaten healthier (I had), pushed harder (I did), demanded a C-section (how was I to know, exactly?) then things would be different. On the outside I looked like I was functioning just fine, but inside I felt like a failure as a mother and as a woman. In my darkest moments, I thought it would’ve been better for everyone if I’d just died in the delivery room.
I now know that such self-blame and deep grief are typical symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Managing the symptoms of my PTSD was one thing but finding healing from its root cause was quite another. I needed healing all over: my brain, my life, my heart.
After years of therapy and some much-needed medication I was able, through a therapy called Eye Motion Desensitization and Reprocessing, to confront how trauma had rewired my brain. Through EMDR, I reframed the conclusion that I took from the trauma. Instead of concluding “I failed”, EMDR helped me see it as “look at how strong I grew my daughter that she could survive all that!” Reframing my trauma was the beginning of learning how to live with PTSD. Now I know my triggers (hospitals in general, beeps, the sounds of screaming or gasping for air), how to avoid them, and what to do if I fall into a flashback. I know now that certain times of the year will always be difficult, and that encountering a newborn and mother together will usually hurt. In many ways, it has felt like learning to walk all over again.
Healing my life was its own journey. The NICU nurses warned my husband and me that the majority of NICU parents and parents of children with special needs end up divorcing from the strain it puts on their relationship. And they were right; we fell apart. Through a lot more therapy, a couple miracles, and more work, we pieced our relationship back together and now it’s the strongest it’s ever been. Amid all this, we moved across the country to be closer to family and better medical care for our daughter. It took us about a decade to recover from the financial strain of so many medical bills. When we bought a house, I made sure it was wheelchair accessible in case we ever needed it to be (and we did). We amassed an impressive collection of neurologist-approved baby toys. I can walk you through a school IEP plan in my sleep. My life is nothing like what I thought it would look like 15 years ago, but I’ve found a beauty in this pieced-together new reality.
It’s through that beauty that God has shown God’s self, and thereby healed my heart. Once, during a particularly low moment, I begged a dear priest-friend to tell me how I was supposed to live with so much pain. “Like Jesus did”, he said, “by letting God’s light shine through your scars”. Slowly, decision by decision and tear by tear, I have tried to do just that. There was such divine wisdom in what my priest-friend told me that day; Jesus’ glorified body could have been woundless, perfect in the eyes of the world.
But that isn’t how God chose to appear in the world on Easter Sunday.
God chose to appear as Jesus truly was: wounded, scarred, and radiant, all at once. Just like me. Selah.