Woman walking on the road with an arrow pointing ahead used as symbolism of the authors progress in walking again
Personal Essay

Baby Steps: A Look Back on the Hardest Year of My Life

A Year Out

Today marks the end of the hardest year of my life. The Earth has completed a full spin around the sun since the day that threw my life into a prolonged state of chaos and stress. My memories of that day are still visceral, and I won’t soon forget May 23rd. It feels necessary to document the day as this (me, writing here) wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

Heavily pregnant, I started the morning like almost any other. I got myself dressed and rummaged around our new house looking for things that were still packed in boxes. My almost 2-year-old daughter was getting bored, as would happen in the mornings, so I decided it would be best to visit a park. This would, of course, require me to get her dressed and so we headed upstairs.

I can’t remember the exact scenario that played out, but eventually, she was dressed, albeit upset at some injustice I had levied against her in the process.

“Let’s go downstairs so we can go to the park,” I offered. Still upset, she refused to traverse the stairs herself. So I decided just to carry her down, 8-month pregnant belly and all because it seemed the easier thing to do at the moment.

A Fateful Decision

the author and her two children sitting stairs where she fell a year prior

Halfway down the staircase, she jerked herself sideways, a common occurrence for an unhappy toddler. What happened next was instinct. I corrected to prevent her from falling, but as I did, my foot slipped. I hit the stairs, hard. Sliding down a few more before my body stopped about four steps from the ground floor. Luckily (I theorize as a result of how mothers have evolved to protect their young) my skills to prevent my daughter from falling too had prevailed, and she was none the wiser that anything traumatic had occurred. I also prevented my gestating child from taking on any real force either. My leg proved less fortuitous.

I knew it was bad from the moment I hit the ground. Several deep breathes and multiple expletives later, I realized it was way worse when I attempted to stand, and the sheer amount of pain that pulsed through my nerves told me it was likely a severe injury.

After the paramedics arrived and transported me to the hospital, my medical journey began. The diagnosis was multiple complex fractures around my ankle (and bad timing.) I would require surgery as soon as possible, after giving it a week or so to allow the excessive swelling to go down.

Nothing Would Be Easy Now

My idealized version of becoming a mother of two was instantly shattered. I knew this was a set-up for hard times to come, and I was right. Even in the immediate aftermath, tensions were high with my husband, who was shouldering the burden of just about everything. I tried to make myself as useful as one can be without the sudden ability to walk, but it seemed only to frustrate matters.

I wanted to be in a better headspace. Birth is trying enough as it is, and I knew I was at risk for postpartum depression, particularly based on my circumstances. Even with the very much appreciated help friends and family, I started to feel myself fall into a place of unhappiness. I still hadn’t connected with this baby, and now I felt more at odds than ever.

The surgery was an incredibly unpleasant, raging success. I wouldn’t be able to use my right leg for months. My desire to have an unmedicated birth was stronger than ever, if for nothing else than a sense of control.

on of the scars from the surgery

The next few weeks were pretty miserable. All I wanted for my impending 30th birthday was not to be pregnant anymore. In hindsight, this seems silly as caring for a newborn has its own set of undesirable challenges, but nobody ever said pregnancy brain is logical.

I got my unmedicated birth. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But that’s where stubbornness will lead you sometimes. My son was beautiful and unexpectedly calm. Even though I had to call a nurse every time I wanted to do anything like pick up and nurse the baby or go to the bathroom wearing that gigantic pad diaper, I was content that he was here and I was, therefore, making progress.

Things Didn’t Get Easier, at Least not At First

I’d like to say that things got easier from there, but that would be a lie. Even with being lucky enough to have my own mother fly across the country at a moment’s notice to stay with us, it was a difficult transition. The baby didn’t sleep well (as babies are apt to do), the toddler wanted more attention, and I was often a sobbing mess on the bathroom floor. Working with a counselor helped, however, the fact that I was literally trapped in my own home, in motherhood, left me feeling pretty unhappy most of the time. This would then lead to incredible guilt that I wasn’t really connecting with my new baby. I should be soaking him in, but I all I wanted was to be able to leave my house and be left alone.

author in a boot wearing her new son

The weeks trudged on, and I gleefully awaited each doctor’s appointment as it meant I was one step closer to regaining a part of myself. I went from a soft cast to a hard one but still couldn’t put weight on it. The day of my appointment that I was supposed to be given a walking boot, I was literally teeming with excitement. In my enthusiasm, I neglected to realize the amount of atrophy that occurs when you don’t use a set of muscles for months. To my displeasure, I was not able to “walk” out of the office with the boot but instead took several weeks of practice to start limping without a walker.

Saying Goodbye to Roxy

In the midst of all of this chaos, our older dog’s health was declining at an accelerated rate. My husband’s valid point that we needed to come to terms with the fact that she wasn’t going to get better was overshadowed by my insistence that I have more time to decide (and also my refusal to euthanize her while my parents were still in town.) I didn’t want to make an already tainted time ever less enjoyable.

But the fact remained, she was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. It was the first pet I’ve had were I was the one that had to make the call. In the early fall, I gave her the best death that I could, holding her in my arms at our home as she crossed the rainbow bridge because she couldn’t hear or see well anymore and I wanted her to know that I was still with her to the end.

Figuring Out How to Parent, Again

Even after I regained some of my mobility, things were still tough. My husband obviously had to go back to work and taking care of both kids on my own left me overwhelmed and in tears most days. Why couldn’t I just take care of them? Why did everything have to be so unnecessarily difficult? Eventually, we made the decision to put our daughter in daycare full-time, to give me a chance to recover and bond with the baby.

This turned out to be the best decision we would make. Our daughter thrived. She loved her new found friends and stimulating activities. This also allowed me to connect with my son in a way that I craved in his early days. While he was very needy in some regards, in retrospect, it seemed like his way of “forced connection.” In the end, it all worked out okay.

I Feel a bit Robbed

Now that we are nearing his first birthday, I sometimes feel like I missed out on enjoying his babyhood since I was just trying to get through the day a lot of time. It’s somehow comforting though that many other mothers (without traumatic injuries) feel the same too. I don’t know what it is about having multiple children that make it feel like the years become exponentially more fleeting.

As I look back on this year, the one that drew me to writing a means of escape and therapy, I can’t call it a bad year. I mean, I welcomed a beautiful, healthy son into the world so how could it be all bad? However, it was tough, painful, and (for a while) relentless. Even with the additional hardware, I’m still not 100% physically. There is still enough swelling in my right leg that you can see the physical difference in comparison to my left. Sudden movements are still painful, and my physical therapy is ongoing. Mentally, after many talks, bouts of writing, and feelings laid bare, I’m back to a good place.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I bet they never fell down a flight of stairs. Personally, I would have rather just gone to the gym more to improve my strength, but here I am. I can only assume that this year will be better than the last.

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11 Comments

  1. Jon says:

    I am sending mom to you, to ease you through the new transition!

  2. What horrible timing! I broke my leg a couple years ago and it was so hard not being able to walk anywhere without crutches, and I only had them for a few days before they told me it wasn’t bad and I could walk on it. Also both my kids are old enough to mostly take care of themselves. So I can imagine how difficult it was for you!! But I love your outlook and you’re totally right, this next year can only be better!

    1. labmom says:

      If I ever write a memoir, I think the title should be something like “Well, That Was Poor Timing” as it seems to be a reoccurring theme! Thank you for your kind words and yes, this year is already turning out to be a bit “easier”, at least in some aspects.

  3. I think no one knows how to persevere and thrive in difficult circumstances and challenges like moms! It sounds like you’ve had quite the year. I wish you continued positivity and strength in the year ahead.

    1. labmom says:

      Moms certainly have to learn to manage a lot of moving parts at any given time. Thank you for your kind words.

  4. Wow, the past year has truly been a difficult one for you and your family, but you made it through another lap around the sun. Wish you all the best for the next one!

    1. labmom says:

      Thanks so much, Waz. Here’s to a less stressful 365 days!

  5. Erin @ Platings and Pairings says:

    You went through so much in that year! Thank you for sharing this story with us about the challenges that you faced.

    1. labmom says:

      Thanks, Erin. Sometimes it feels like I’m complaining but I’m hoping to help others that might find themselves in similar, difficult situations.

  6. Oh my goodness, the last year threw so much at you. Yet you persevered, and here you are – still the same, yet changed by some truly difficult circumstances. I’m wishing you a much better 12 months ahead!

    1. labmom says:

      Thanks so much, Catherine. The first year with a new baby is always challenging. This was just so much more extra than I ever could have expected.

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