The most amazing thing happened to me on November 28th 2011. I had a baby. Reflecting back on that day, I realize now that it was quite the emotional rollercoaster. There was the initial shock of, “Oh my gosh, I’m in LABOR!”, followed by the flurry of getting to the hospital, notifying family and then actually physically having the baby. Did I mention childbirth really, really hurts? But, enough about that.
Throughout my pregnancy, I prided myself on my laid-back approach towards the whole thing. Aside from the average worries and complaints, pregnancy was a great experience for me. As my due date approached, I kept an open mind, throwing any idea of an actual ‘birth plan’ out the window. The goal was to have a safe delivery, whatever way the doctor saw fit. Luckily, for me and baby, that happened and my son’s birth was the best ending to the most painful and exhilarating experience of my life.
Upon being discharged from the hospital, sleepless nights were followed by sleepless days and we were intoxicated by our overwhelming love for this tiny human. I felt like I was on top of the world! However, about a week after baby arrived, I started to experience some painful headaches and dizzy spells. A couple of days later, I woke up to find that these symptoms were accompanied by complete left-side facial paralysis.
An emotional trip to the emergency room ended with me being diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, a disorder where the nerve that controls the muscles of the face is so damaged that it results in paralysis. I was stunned. The doctors told me that the condition was not terminal and only temporary (thank God), but that it would probably take up to six months to regain function of the facial muscles.
The emphasis that we place on vanity in our culture was enough to make the diagnosis upsetting, but when the reality that I may not be able to smile at my son for SIX MONTHS set in, the waterworks really started to flow. There were a lot of things that I expected to happen (or not) after childbirth, but Bell’s Palsy was not one of them. I quickly realized that, subconsciously, I did have a plan and Bell’s Palsy was NOT part of it.
In the week following my diagnosis, I gave in to my grief. Trying to balance keeping a baby alive and having a pity party for myself was difficult, but fortunately I had a great support system around me who helped with the baby and allowed me to mourn the loss of this subconscious plan I had, where everything post-childbirth would be great.
One of the most frustrating aspects of Bell’s Palsy is that there is virtually nothing the medical community can do to help treat it. The frustration is magnified when you have a proactive personality like I do. I wanted to do something, anything to help expedite my recovery.
Fortunately, one of my dearest friends is a skilled massage therapist and she was able to get my pain under control, nevermind provide me with amazing emotional and spiritual support. I do believe that massage helped me tremendously, both in my grief journey and in my road to recovery from Bell’s Palsy.
It’s now almost six weeks since the initial diagnosis, and I am happy to report that there has been great improvement in the paralysis. I truly believe that my prayers have been answered, as my smile is one of the first things that is coming back. The simple joy of being able to smile at my baby is one of the greatest gifts I could ask for.
As a counselor, I often witness others in grief trying to find the blessings amidst all the chaos that life brings. I am witness to many of ‘plans’ falling apart and the pain that often ensues. Being on the receiving end, as counselors are not exempt, is always an interesting and humbling experience.
In some years, when I am sharing this story with my son, I hope that he will be able to learn something valuable from it. Sure, Bell’s Palsy was not part of my plan, but life isn’t about plans. Life is about growing, learning and blessing others.