My second pregnancy was high risk but it took me more than a year to confront and internalize that rather basic fact. I acquired a tiny tube of off-brand toothpaste during a weeklong stay at the hospital when I was pregnant with my second child. Until that daughter was more than a year old, the tube of SparkleFresh still sat half-used in my bathroom, taunting me.
Where did my tumultuous relationship with SparkleFresh begin? At 28 weeks pregnant, I found myself in the hospital maternity ward. Babies were crying and cooing in the rooms to either side of mine. I should have been thankful and happy. And I was. My pregnancy was high risk but my baby was still inside and growing. But, so was my fear.
I had a full placenta previa so bleeding during my pregnancy was “totally expected” according to my doctors. That didn’t make me feel better.
As I sat alone in my room, brushing my teeth suddenly became an urgent priority. I couldn’t find the toothpaste my husband had packed from home, so I grabbed the SparkleFresh provided by the hospital and tried brushing away my panic. I tossed the tube in my toiletry bag. It was mine, now.
My teeth were neither sparkling, nor fresh. I climbed into the hospital bed and felt like I was swallowed in that instant by a black hole of panic and fear. Immense pressure was all around but I was alone in the void. Physically, I felt fine (except that I was bleeding.) Mentally, not fine.
I felt like crying but held it back. Why? Because I knew I was very lucky. I was honored and thrilled to be carrying a baby. My baby was healthy and seemingly unaffected by the disturbance going on next door in my cervix or any of the various health issues I’d experienced throughout my pregnancy. Many people experience miscarriage, infertility or more difficult pregnancies than me. “I’m fine!” was my mantra.
I was caught in the trap of “I’m #blessed” and that caused me to shut down and invalidate my own emotions. This wasn’t like me at all. Ask my husband, friends, co-workers, or anyone I’ve ever met. I typically can’t hide what I’m feeling.
I had a C-section scheduled for 37 weeks but a week prior, I was sent into emergency surgery.
Even my plea to the doctor that, “We haven’t even finished stocking our freezer!” didn’t delay surgery. An immediate surgical birth was necessary to safely deliver my baby. I was alone in a windowless emergency room when the doctors came to tell me that I would also require a hysterectomy. I showed the surgeon my brave face, which was now so easy to put on since I didn’t know where my real face was. I signed papers, was poked and prodded and numbed beyond recognition.
I didn’t recognize myself at this point, anyway. I had put on the “I’m fine” show so many times. So I did it yet again and let the doctors do their work.
Then, the magic moment. I watched my baby being pulled out from a vertical incision I could see through a haze of happy tears in the mirror that a nurse was holding above my head. My surgeon, a wonderful, talented doctor with not-so-great bedside manner, determined that a hysterectomy wasn’t in fact needed and my 3-4 hour surgery was shortened to all of 10 minutes. I didn’t care about my huge scar in that moment. I would’ve hugged her… if I could sit up. I felt more than blessed to meet my healthy baby.
If only the panic and terror I’d stocked up on all year could be dismissed as quickly. I tried, but it remained for far longer than I expected.
Back to the toothpaste, languishing in my bathroom for a year. Why was this triggering piece of garbage staring up at me, night after night? After our initial introduction, the next time I laid eyes on the SparkleFresh tube was when my daughter was a few months old. It immediately transported me back to that week in the hospital, willing myself to stop bleeding, praying that my daughter would be safe, and turning myself to stone. But on that day, baby in my arms, I burst into tears. Sobbing. Gasping for air. Maybe postpartum hormones played a role, but when I came out of the moment, I felt like that black hole had finally collapsed. I climbed out of the rubble in my head and heart, and realized that now my work is to pick up all of these pieces. To rebuild and figure out what I had actually been through.
I continued to leave the SparkleFresh in my toiletry case or sitting on the sink. It was an odd little reminder to check in with myself frequently. To let myself feel whatever came up about my pregnancy and emergency birth, however difficult.
For whatever reason, SparkleFresh took on more meaning and significance than the little toothpaste tube should have been able to hold. But when I finally threw it out more than 12 months postpartum, it didn’t mean anything anymore. And for that, I am truly thankful.