April 29, 2022

Traumatic Birth and The Rise of The Phoenix - by Angela White

Traumatic Birth and The Rise of The Phoenix - by Angela White

Angela's Story: The Phoenix, Prolapsed Cord, and EMDR

 Phoenix. According to an ancient legend, this mythical bird is known for burning to death and rising from its ashes. A symbol of renewal and birth. For four years we spent an adventurous time full of personal growth in Phoenix, Arizona where we would gain inspiration for the name of our second born, Phoenix Kingston-or what we like to call him, P.K. Little did we know, this name would correlate with the experience of our own little miracle boy who rose from the ashes himself.

Prolapsed Cord and HIE
Eating potato wedges. This is the last moment of peace that I remember before my traumatic birth experience. With my second child, I promised myself to opt for a natural birth. I already knew the feeling from my first child. The cramps, the tightness, the lowering, I felt it all. I breathed heavily and in between each breath my husband was fueling me…with potato wedges. I told myself, “I’ve got this.” As I switched positions, my water broke and I was 8cm dilated. This is it, here I go. What happened next was very unexpected. The cord came out first. I had no clue what that meant but there was a pause in the room. In an instant I heard rushing around and my midwife telling me to quickly flip over. This is not how this should be. I was getting ready for the mountain, the ring of fire, the moment I meet my only son. A prolapsed cord is a rare occurrence that needs immediate attention and a very immediate c-section for my son, who experienced a lack of oxygen, blood flow to the brain, and eventually swelling of the brain or HIE. I could sense the nurses and the midwife’s mind snap into a quick rehearsed reaction. They knew this was a medical emergency, they have practiced this situation before. At 8cm and no epidural, I was screaming and being wheeled quickly to the surgical room. My husband was left behind. In between the chaos, I remember letting out moans and screams from the stronger contractions—then I began to cry. I could see a bright light and a scrubbed-up team that I barely recognized now. In between my screams of pain, I stared at the bright light. I quickly asked myself “Will he be ok? Will I be ok? This contraction hurts!” I asked in tears “where is my husband?” It wasn’t until my midwife powerfully said, with all seriousness in her eyes, “Angie, you are having a c-section. I know this is not the plan…but I AM NOT leaving you.”  I had to let go and let God. As my eyes swelled up and my lips tightened, I nodded my head in understanding, like a little girl trying to be brave. It was time to be a good patient. It was time to trust the team and it was time to trust what happens next. My on-call doctor arrived and quickly performed the surgery in her flip flops. There was no time. I am grateful for every second that was spared.  

Anesthesia was far beyond my plan, I like to feel and have issues with losing that sense of control. My son was described as floppy with multiple Apgar scores of one. After about ten minutes of a bag and mask ventilation he spontaneously started breathing on his own. Before that, my husband already began grieving his possible death. I missed this pivotal moment in the story because of the general anesthesia. I woke up fuzzy back in a different room. My first question was, “Does he get to stay here with me?” “Yes.” And I sighed with relief. I was so happy that I did not register that I never held him or saw him when he was born. I never saw them resuscitating him. I never got to console my husband. They wheeled my bed to where he was so I could at least hold him for a short amount of time. When we did skin to skin, I remember crying and just telling him, “We are ok, we are ok” over and over. He stopped crying and he needed me, I could tell. Hours went by and I thought it was finally over, but they came back in my room to tell me my Phoenix had a seizure, and he would be transferred an hour away to the NICU. At the hospital, they began hypothermic cooling therapy to help with his brain swelling. It was storming so instead of a helicopter the NICU ambulance drove down immediately to take him to the hospital. He cried for hours while they wired him and tried to give him morphine. I was not able to feed him due to the cooling process. He was so inconsolable, the nurses placed him in my arms for a few moments and he immediately stopped crying. The nurse quietly said, “Good job, mama.” I felt a small sense of fulfillment, like I was right where I belonged.

 I sat in my wheelchair and watched in tears as they wheeled him away. The days were long, and my recovery was lonely. We drove back and forth an hour each way every day to see him. I needed to be with my daughter and my son every day so that required a lot of movement for me instead of healing. When we finally brought him home, I became terribly ill and was hospitalized for three days. As I was in the hospital, I was in so much malaise. When they took my blood the lab technician said, “I remember you. You are Phoenix’s mom. That boy is a fighter.” I smiled and closed my eyes. Those few nights without my family were so lonely and I just wanted to heal my body and go home to my babies. I always praise my resilient Summer, who was a one-year-old at the time, and my strong husband for this difficult time in our lives. They are the true underdogs in this story. The days that followed were filled with wonder, worry, and multiple appointments with occupational therapists, neurologists, and pediatricians. I often struggled with questioning myself and wondering if I was keeping track of his progress well enough, or if I was missing something. The worry will always be there, but the ability to remain present with my children took some time. 

Phoenix is now two and a half years old. He was recently released from neurology and occupational therapy. He is so strong, brave, and excels in all his milestones. I am forever grateful for him, the care we received, and having the platform to share my story with other struggling mothers who are stuck in the unknown. 

EMDR Changed My Life 

When we are mothers to a newborn our focus shifts. Our instincts kick in and we become this nurturer and selfless caretaker. We are deep in motherhood. How do we have time to think about what happened during our delivery? He is ok, right? For a little over a year, I cried to myself and had bouts of anxiety, almost blacked out a few times. Silently, I felt I was not allowed to have a reaction; remember he is ok. The sound of surgical tools clanking, beeping machines, and that distinct hospital smell would put me in a trance. I have had panic attacks in inconvenient places. All his cries, every time I was in a hospital, and every thought was not just a vivid memory; I was still there. Trauma does not care if you know there are far worse outcomes. After a lot of research, I signed up to pay out of pocket for a therapist who specialized in Eye-Movement desensitization reprocessing and trauma. I was treated for PTSD. Each session was not easy but every day I threw myself into the arena. Eventually, I would walk in with a big sigh and say, “ok Doc, Let’s do it.” Through EMDR I was not just treated for trauma, but I was educated on neuroplasticity. Our neural networks in our brain can be reorganized and reprocessed. Through this exhausting therapy, I was able to reprocess the past in a healthier way. I felt like I completed a marathon in my head. In return for putting in the work, my thoughts led to me eventually saying “that was awful, stop saying at least and comparing yourself to others.” Thinking of what could have been worse should not be a coping mechanism for big events. What happened was rare, my reaction was normal. After therapy, my brain saw my memories as a movie from the past simply playing and I was not there anymore. I finally saw my son for who he was. A miracle. 

 About The Author

Angela White is a military spouse who graduated from the University of Central Missouri. Her background includes financial services, education, and working for the department of defense. She currently stays home with her two toddlers, Summer and Phoenix, near Destin, Florida where they enjoy many trips to the beach. Occasionally, she assists her active-duty husband on his veteran-based podcast, HeroFront, that encourages fighting the mental health stigma through stories of resilience and success. By being open with her struggles, she continues to help other mothers heal and feel less alone.



This story originally published here: