THIS POST WILL CONTAIN DOWNTON ABBEY SPOILERS.
I knew five minutes into last night’s episode of the on-PBS-so-it’s-fancy-but-it’s-still-a-soap-opera show Downton Abbey that I should turn it off. Sybil, a character on the show, was about to give birth when she complained of swollen ankles and a headache.
I immediately asked everyone on Twitter (yes, and therefore ruining the show for everyone) if there was a preeclampsia storyline on the show, since I knew a ton of my friends had downloaded it before it ran here in the US, because I was going to need to turn it off if so. But then the good folks at the Preeclampsia Foundation asked if I’d be watching, and I realized that thanks to the popularity of the show, it was going to be a great opportunity to educate more people about this disease, a disease that still, today, kills 76,000 women a year.
So I watched.
I shouldn’t have.
I could have simply stayed online and retweeted all the links that the Preeclampsia Foundation was sharing to support it, without watching the episode. But I couldn’t look away. When the baby was born alive, and Sybil went to sleep, my mother and Charlie both turned to me and said, “See? It worked out!” but I knew that preeclampsia complications can persist until six weeks after delivery, so I knew she wasn’t in the clear.
I was feeling sad, and mildly anxious as I watched, until the moment when Sybil began slapping her forehead about the pain in her head, moments before she had a prolonged seizure and died. That was when the PTSD panic attack set in, when I began shaking and feeling my heart race and my anxiety reach a frenzied state.
Because I remember that. I remember the headache I had when they first admitted me to the hospital, and how I primly turned down any narcotics because I’m in recovery, and how two hours later the pain was so excruciating I could feel it throughout my body, and how I sobbed with the agony of it and begged for morphine. I remember the doctors huddling when the pain grew even worse and they were afraid that I would stop breathing if they gave me any more pain medicine. And of course, more than anything else, I remember the doctors coming in and saying the pregnancy had to end or I would die.
I remember it all, so vividly, and Sybil hitting her forehead caused me to flash back to it all.
I don’t take anything for panic attacks, mostly because I have them so rarely and most of the medications are bad for drug addicts. But I also get in a weird, locked down place where I don’t want to be touched or even have anyone speak to me. My mom tried to comfort me but I didn’t want it, I wanted her away away away.
Eventually I went to bed, but it took hours to sleep. When I woke up this morning, my insides were still roiling with anxiety. I stayed in bed because I felt safe there and tried to read. Eventually, after I read the same page 150 times, I was able to focus on the book and, thankfully, I eventually fell back asleep.
It amazes me, how deeply it still hurts, after all this time. I thought for sure by now I’d be past it, that I’d be okay now. It’s been almost nine years since I lost my sons Nicholas and Zachary to the disease of preeclampsia. But even now, those wounds can be opened in a moment, leaving me right there in the moment feeling it all, again and again and again.
It fucking sucks.
I’m grateful that I have a platform, particularly on Twitter, where I can broadcast huge amounts of information to people. I know many who saw the links to information at the Preeclampsia Foundation (like the symptoms) will need it at some point in their lives. But I need to be better at walking away, even so. I need to remember how vivid the pain still is – even if I believe my sons’ legacy is to educate people. Sometimes I still have to take care of me.
The worst moment? When they stood there around Sybil’s body, and they heard the baby crying in the other room. Because I never heard my sons cry. And that still fucking hurts so much too. I miss them every day. Every single day.