Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pressing Pause While Flashing Back

I participate in a weekly critique group. It is a wonderful, blissful two hour block of time devoted to writing, and I love it. We meet in the evening, and usually run late, so I tend to go to bed thinking about the feedback I received, and then stay in the same train of thought as I wake overnight to feed the babies.

The other night, when the snowflakes woke me at around 4AM, I started thinking about words. Which words are the right words to convey what I am trying to say. Which words have the strongest impact on imagery etc. etc. For some reason I got caught up on the word "doorknob" of all things, and before I knew it, I was holding tight in my mind a clear picture of the doorknob to a family suite that I used to pump in at the NICU. 

PTSD is funny that way. You really never know what is going to trigger you.

When I look back on the fact that we only actually spent 8 days in the NICU before Peyton was transferred to the oncology floor, it is so hard to believe, because those 8 days felt like a lifetime. Those days, despite the fact that Peyton had been diagnosed with such an awful disease, represented the best of times that we would share with her.

8 hopeful days.
8 days of believing naively that she would make it.
8 days spent surrounded by supportive staff who encouraged things like skin-to-skin time to improve her bloodcounts, and breastfeeding.

I am not knocking the care we got on the oncology floor, but there was a different level of attention that we received in the NICU as parents. A level that now, in retrospect, I realize must come from working in a place where you see so many parents come in with their children, and leave without them.

As my mind wandered from the doorknob, into the suite, I could see myself, and feel it like I was actually there. I couldn’t tell you if it was day 4 or day 5, but I had gone in to pump while Peyton napped.

 I was pumping, for my child.

A small TV against the wall was showing an interview with Mariska Hargitay. She was talking about her career, and life growing up as Jayne Mansfield’s daughter.

I won’t even attempt to try and understand why I remember that interview. I have come to realize that little about PTSD makes sense.

When I finished pumping, I walked over to a sink in the room and cleaned the bottle parts, careful to do so in the most sanitary way so as to protect my immuno-compromised child. My husband was at the lunch cart, buying us a snack.

I remembered it.
Smelled it.
Felt it.

I knew I was flashing back, and yet I chose to stay in that moment. To hold onto it. Despite the worry and the exhaustion, I was hopeful in that moment. I was making milk for my child who (I believed at that time) would need it. I was gearing myself up for the long haul. This was going to be my new life – living in a hospital rather than home with my first child – but I had accepted it.

There is another memory that comes right after that one. It is not a pleasant memory. It is the moment where my hopes were dashed some five minutes later and down the hall, but I pushed that memory away, and chose instead to hold onto the moment that had come calling for me.

Usually flashbacks make me want to run. There are more moments than I can count that are so painful that I can’t write them. The only post I have ever taken down from this blog was when I shared just such a moment. I took it down because it hurt more to have it out there than to not.

But not this moment. In this moment I was too naïve to recognize that the battle had already been lost. That she was born destined to die. That there had never been any hope. In this moment, this memory, I was just a mother, doing my best to make milk for my child, and looking forward to her waking from a nap so I could hold her again. In the entire span of Peyton's short life, this was as good as our time together ever got to be.

Remembering doesn't change anything. We still lost Peyton. She won't come back. But the flame of hope that burned that day, and the feelings of love I felt for my first child, are not to be forgotten. I choose to cup that moment gently in my hands and fan it from time to time, so as to feel its warmth against my skin. To watch the beauty in that ember glow.

In flashing back to how it felt to be in that room, I choose to pause.


  1. It's amazing how any of those moments catch us. Thank you for sharing this, it reminds me of those smells, sounds, feelings, everything, good, bad and ugly that WERE the NICU. My moment I "pause" in is the day they told us Trey would be taken to the local Children's Hospital to continue his treatment, have surgeries, and "get better". I had so few pictures of him with his eyes open, so when they were loading him into his traveling incubator, he opened his eyes and the nurse grabbed me and said "HERE! His eyes are open, take a picture!" And I did, it was the best pic ever (it's all over my blog). In those blue eyes I saw hope, love, faith, and perseverance, but most of all strength. It was an award winning moment. 24 hours later, we were told "We have a feeling you have not been told the whole story." I choose to pause looking in my son's eyes. HUGS!

  2. Writing is definitely your talent. My senses came alive while reading this post. (partly since I've spent time in a NICU so I know the sounds,smell ect)
    Its interesting what our minds choose to remember...when we pause and lock away those actions/words/sounds...The NICU is one place I hope my future children never end up but if they do its nice to know the care they will have...its unlike any other place in the hospital- the attention and care for all parties is un-matchable.You once again make a connection for me in this post- when you mention the care and it being b/c so many parents walk through the doors with or for their children and leave empty handed. I have never thought to much about that...but it rings true, sad to say.

  3. We had 5 of those days in Holden. I go back to a time in a pumping room myself. A time before her first OHS, when all I was filled with was hope. When I too pumped because I believed she would be getting my milk. When we moved to the PICU floor things changed. There was a different feeling there too. It's those smells and sounds that I too frequently go back to, thank you for reminding me that I too have those good memories that I have to pause on. My heart is with you.

  4. I found myself reading this post and nodding and thinking "Exactly, EXACTLY!!!" I related so much to it. There is so much that I feel I can't put in my blog. Can't put into words. I sometimes go many days between posting because anything I would say would just be too painful to write so I choose to say nothing at all.

    I too get caught in the flashbacks. Of not wanting to leave some and finding myself entering the ones that I wish I could forget.

    This is the worst kind of hell imaginable.

  5. I wish I had more moments to flash back on that weren't so painful. I guess that is the thing with a stillbirth. It was all so fine..... until it wasn't. She was gone, then there was no hope. And no Hope.
    This post was simply beautiful, with love oozing out all over the place.

  6. This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your memory so candidly. *hugs*

  7. This post left me breathless...and took me there with you. I am often struck by the way time slows and our world shrinks to the simple details of a doorknob...a sink...a smell. We soak it in and it remains somewhere in the recesses of our mind until that moment of trigger, when it is dredged up and takes us to that place. Sometimes I run, too...and sometimes I pause.