It had been a long trip, about six or seven hours with two small children. Every vacation or major holiday was spent with my in-laws. My ex-husband and I had just arrived at his parents’ house. I don’t think we had been there long enough to fully settle in and relax before it happened.
When I was eight years old, I was alone with my father when he had a stroke. He was standing at the stove cooking, when suddenly he began to fall. I reached my arms out to catch him, but quickly drew them back in. I watched his head hit the table, the chair, and finally the floor. He was unconscious. I didn’t know at that moment that I would never see him again or talk to him. I didn’t know I would never get to tell him that I was sorry. I didn’t know that I would never get to say goodbye. This one event has been a lasting regret and trauma in my life. The feelings and emotions surrounding this are as raw today as they were then.
I was very young when I got married. I was seventeen and turned eighteen a month later. Three months after we got married, I was pregnant with my first child. I was eighteen years old when he was born. But I lost him. I carried him full term and went through labor and delivery. He died about seven hours later after a surgery that was unable to save his life. I never even got to hold him in my arms.
About six months later I got pregnant with my daughter. Nothing about being pregnant felt the same. The fear of losing another child lingered underneath every joy there was in anticipating her birth.
When she was born, she had jaundice. They let me take her home within a day or so. But I had to bring her back every day for about a week to get her blood tested. As long as her count did not go up, she could come home with me. If it went up, she would have to be re-admitted into the hospital.
I was so filled with overwhelming fear of the possibility of having to leave her in the hospital, or worse, of losing her. I was so scared that I didn’t let my mother or my mother-in-law hold her. I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could. I needed to feel the comfort of her in my arms. I never knew if today would be the last time I would be able to hold her or if I would be separated from her. Neither of them complained. On some unspoken level I think they understood.
On this particular day, when we were making the long familiar trip, my daughter was around two and my third child, a son, was just a few months old.
As soon as we arrived at my in-laws’ home, my husband’s brothers began to play with my daughter. They were chasing her around the house. At some point she was on a bed jumping up and down with them teasing her. At one point she jumped and instead of landing on the bed, she fell onto the floor. I happened to be at the doorway of the bedroom at the time and saw it happen. For a few seconds, she was unconscious.
Such an incredible fear overcame me. I think I had a flashback to the day I saw that same familiar experience of my father being unconscious, and all I could feel was that she was going to die. I started to run all around the house like a crazy person screaming and crying out saying, “Oh my God, Oh my God she is going to die, she is going to die!”
In my fear, I was not able to help my daughter or be there for her. I was in shock! I needed those around me to take over, to care for her. After I became aware that she was fine, I was embarrassed and felt foolish and like a bad mother. I felt like I failed my daughter. All kinds of things went through my head. What if I had been alone with her? What was I thinking?
Everything I have written here is now with hindsight. At the time I had no clue why this was so traumatic for me. I didn’t put the pieces together that would have at least allowed me to have some sense of understanding for my reaction.
This is one of many experiences that I have had in my life without being able to make the connection between my past abuse and losses. Connections that would have brought meaning to the situation. They were just individual unrelated events in my life. This all sounds crazy, but this is what trauma does.
If I could have made these important connections between my present and past, this meaning would have kept me from always being left questioning why, rather than why not? With this type of understanding, rather than being hard on myself, I could have realized that there was no other way I could have possibly experienced these situations.
If I could have made these connections, it would have allowed me to understand my own reactions. Trauma is a vicious cycle. As I look back over my life, I believe I have lived with a tremendous amount of stress. Probably even a type of post-traumatic stress.
But instead of facing it, I have lived needing to appear strong and together so no one around me would see that I was falling a part inside. I have unnecessarily suffered tremendous pain because I was trapped in my present and unable to relate my emotions and reactions to my past.
If I could have been able to make these connections between my past and present, it would not have left me always wondering, “What is wrong with me?”
I never felt anyone’s compassion for me, but I never realized how much this disconnect has caused me to be unable to feel compassion for myself.