When Trauma has a Happy Ending

The vision of the stark white room with what felt like 400 hundred doctors surrounding the hospital gurney haunted me. The gurney that held my 12 lb infant, I couldn’t see him through the crowd but I could hear his cries from the corner where I sat, sobbing. I can still feel the pads of my fingers running over my eyebrows because there was nothing else for me to do. The sound of doctors hustling, paging seasoned doctors into the room to help. A doctor came to my side and told me they may have to shock his heart if he didn’t get his heart rate down. For 25 minutes I sat and prayed to all that was holy to help my sweet baby.

“Keep going, Courtney. Tell me the rest of the story.” My therapist looked at me, with her eyes glazed over with tears herself, ready to hold space for me. I took a deep breath, “He got his heart rate down on his own. We spent 2 nights in the hospital and he recovered much quicker than the doctors or I had anticipated. He is doing really well.” She reminded me that when we experience trauma we get stuck at the hardest part of the story, that it’s important to keep the story going. She’s so great like that.

For the few weeks that followed my son’s emergency I walked around in a fog. I would start sobbing out of nowhere and the images from that day haunted me. Instead of forcing myself to get my act together, I allowed myself to break down, making space to begin to process what had happened. When people asked how the baby was doing I would tell them that he was doing really well but that I was still processing the events from that day.

This statement made it okay for me to not be okay. It also decreased the chances that someone would say “well at least he’s healthy now” or some other phrase meant to make me feel better but in actuality discounted my experience.

This experience made me think about when birth plans go awry and the things we say like, “You have a healthy baby and a healthy mom and that’s all that matters.” This common expression meant to help a new mother unfortunately dismisses the story. Her story, her trauma that will forever be a part of her.

So what do we say when someone has experienced trauma with a happy ending? Ask them what happened next. Tell them they can tell you the story as many times as they want to, from beginning to end. Ask them what they are doing to process what happened. Remind them that although it ended well, it’s okay to not be okay.