Here's to Being Vulnerable...Postpartum Edition.
The woman pictured is a mom that has struggled immensely postpartum but has come out on the other side so much stronger. Here is my postpartum story.
As many of you know, on February 18th, 2021, I gave birth to our baby boy Brooks Theo McCulloch. Tyler and I fell in love with him immediately and the connection we had was the most beautiful. I continuously thank God for convincing us to bring life into this world - we couldn't imagine life without Brooks. The joy he brings us is never ending and he is equal parts myself and my husband. It is amazing to see the milestones he has hit: first laugh, rolling over, first tooth, etc. How beautiful to have God bring this miracle into our life and have these little miracles happen as they grow. However, it wasn't always picture perfect those first few weeks after postpartum. Now, let me clarify, Brooks was doing amazing. Breastfeeding great, sleeping well, and was such a happy baby. For me, on the other hand, was a different story.
The day we went into labor and delivery for my scheduled csection my blood pressure was elevated. I have never had issues with my blood pressure prior to pregnancy or throughout my entire pregnancy. I thought, "Hmm, must be anxiety with it being my first time in the hospital, especially giving birth". However, throughout the csection and my time in the hospital my blood pressure stayed elevated. I was placed on Labetalol with the hospital staff and doctor hoping this would take care of it. After three days, we went home with our bundle of joy. We were so excited but nervous of bringing him home, introducing him to our dogs, etc. But with that anxiety, I had to get a blood pressure cuff for at home to take my pressures to keep an eye on them. It was 4 AM they morning after we came home and I took my blood pressure - 205/100. A stroke level blood pressure appeared on the screen and I was so scared. Would I have a stroke, heart attack, would I be okay? Tyler, Brooks and I headed to the ER - all tests came back negative (thank the Lord), but my nerves were shot. They gave me IV Labetalol which brought it down which was good, but little did I know how long of a journey it would be. My BP was still very high those next couple days. After multiple med adjustments I was on the highest dose of Labetalol - 2,400mg. Yikes...but it was bringing my pressures down. But even as a nurse, why did this happen to me. I wasn't preeclamptic so what was causing this. Then my research began.
I spent hours online researching "Postpartum Hypertension", but it was not very common so data was limited. But I found a group on Facebook that had hundreds of thousands of women who were going through the same thing. Within this community, I got so much help, many questions answered and it brought me hope. Especially after my 6 week postpartum appointment. I was pretty much told I would have high blood pressure from then on and that I needed to go to my PCP. That was it. I felt like I was pushed away and my concerns not answered. Those first 6 weeks postpartum, I was so anxious and so scared. I believed every day that I was going to die. My husband (who was amazing postpartum) and Brooks brought me so much light postpartum and truly saved me. But I kept thinking - what if something happened to me? What if I die? My health anxiety was destroying me and I was just living in a constant fear. Until I asked for help.
A few weeks after my 6 week appointment I got into a new nurse practitioner. I went to her and discussed my concerns, my fears, etc. I cried to her, explained my anxiety to her, broke down in front of her. Previously I wasn't being listened to about my fears with my blood pressure. I knew anxiety had an effect on it too but they wouldn't listen. Until I went to my new nurse practitioner. As I sat in front of her and opened my heart to her, she listened. She heard me. She was there for me, she said that due to hormone changes from birth that these changes can occur in the body and take longer for some women to go back to normal. She did say that my high blood pressure that occurred postpartum can come back later on but that she was going to try and get me off my medications. At that point I was still on the max dose of Labetalol because I was fearful of weaning off. But the side effects were awful, I didn't feel like myself and I was miserable. So she started me on Norvasc so I could start weaning off the Labetalol. Little by little we weaned off the Labetalol (because if you wean too fast you can have a rebound effect). I was well controlled on my medication but I needed to get off of it due to how bad the side effects were. Week by week I communicated with her via MyChart and would go in office for blood pressure checks because looking at a BP cuff would send my anxiety into a tailspin. So after weeks of weaning off I was then only on the Norvasc and felt like myself again.
When I first met with her she asked if I wanted to get on anti anxiety medication. I know many find it unnecessary but I was needing something to help me through this. I was prescribed Zoloft 25mg which is a super low dose. But I wanted to see if it would help. After a few weeks of seeing how the Zoloft worked it was helping take that edge off and I felt like myself again. I used to be so scared to ask about meds but it ended up helping me so much. I prayed every single day and I kept praying harder and harder and harder. I am sure God was probably sick of me, but I would worship and pray daily for God to bring me back to how I was before. I wanted to be my happiest, healthiest self for my baby. As of June 22nd (roughly 4 months postpartum), I was off ALL of my blood pressure medications and my BP was 110s/70s consistently. I ate healthier, watched my sodium intake, I got back to work which made me more active. I was back to myself. I am still on the Zoloft which truly has helped me tremendously. And God, oh GOD - HE SAVED ME. Many times I forget how much he has sacrificed for me. I truly think God had this happen in my life to show me what is important. He wanted to show me how strong I truly am and what I can overcome. Sometimes I wonder why God does these things in such drastic ways, but it really awakens us to show us what we can overcome. God is hard to understand sometimes, he is frustrating, confusing. But he knows our big plan, he knows all. Without him - I wouldn't have survived this struggle internally. Brooks and Tyler brought so much love and hope in my darkest days that I can't thank them enough for all they have done.
And throughout my own struggles, I worried about my husband who saw me like this day in and day out. I tried to think of his feelings and worries. I worried of my baby boy too who is learning to grow, reaching milestones, etc. We had a scare with him postpartum due to an area on his head protruding out where he may need to get a helmet or undergo surgery. As if my postpartum experience wasn't scary enough, I had to worry about my baby boy having something wrong. We were sent to Akron Children's Plastic Surgery and they did measurements of his head. I had prayed day in and day out that all would be okay. I always think worst case scenario and when we were told something could be wrong I went into a full blown panic attack. However, after countless prayers, his appointment went great. His head measurements were great, his fontanelle was open like it was supposed to be with no concerns of a helmet or surgery. I could BREATHE again. The anxiety of something possibly being wrong with your baby is nauseating. It will never go away but I am so grateful all was good for our baby. It is so hard being a mom and worrying of not only yourself but your babies. The anxiety, panic and scares we go through is never easy, but we are pretty amazing for getting through it. Whether with the help of other mamas or from a doctor or nurse practitioner.
And to all of you amazingly beautiful mama's, currently or soon to be, SPEAK UP. If you feel you aren't being heard postpartum by a physician - FIND A NEW ONE. Do your research. KNOW YOUR WORTH. You know your body, you know when something is wrong or you aren't yourself. Get help and don't be afraid to talk to someone. Postpartum is HARD. You're taking care of a new baby, don't forget to take care of YOURSELF. And remember, when bad things happen, it may not be resolved in the time frame you want or like, but this will pass - you will come alive again. And you'll forget all the bad that occurred before. Whether you're religious or not, just remember that you WILL get through the pain, the struggle, the numbness. You will come out stronger, happier, and healthier. Whether you have to get on medications, seek therapy, etc. DON'T FEEL BAD FOR GETTING HELP.
To my lovelies, if you or someone you know is struggling - reach out. If you need a friend to talk to, don't be afraid to talk to them or to ask for help. I used to fear I was bothering people, but we are human and we need human connection to get us through tough times. Seek help in your time of need. Your mind, body and soul will thank you.
And to myself, you got through this struggle. You prayed so many nights to get to where you are now. How beautiful knowing I finally made it. I am healthy, I have a healthy baby boy, and my relationship with my husband is stronger than ever. Life is a whirlwind of emotions, but I couldn't imagine any other life.
If you or someone you know is in need of postpartum help please visit www.postpartum.net for more resources and support groups. Always speak to your doctor right away of any concerns you may have postpartum.