Important: If a similar situation happens to you, please call your doctor immediately, as this could be the sign of a serious medical emergency, including a pregnancy or postpartum stroke.
The labor had been difficult. I’m not sure how so in comparison with other experiences. Nevertheless, we were exhausted (I mean, my wife was). Our son was born at 42 weeks, on the limit. It couldn’t pass the date. Hence the doctors induced the labor. Between the first contractions (which started before the induction appointment) and the actual delivery, it took more or less 48 hours.
At one point, the nurse broke the water, which didn’t help much. It only increased the pain. After trying and not dilating, my wife then opted to receive a hormone injection (oxytocin) and take a local anesthetic (epidural). She stayed on it for 9 hours.
Towards the end, her temperature started to rise. It seemed like she might be having an infection. I began to worry and pray to God. I talked to the doctors, and finally, they decided to go for a C-section. I was relieved; we were relieved. Natural labor was my wife’s choice, but enough was enough. After all that, she had only dilated 4 centimeters, and it required 10 to start pushing the baby.
During the second day in the hospital, it was afternoon. My wife wanted to rest because she couldn’t do it the day before. Our son was born during the night, and between crying from him, others and the busy hospital routine (check-ups, meals), she hadn’t slept much.
She went to rest and did for about 3 hours. As you can imagine, our son started to be hungry. She was breastfeeding, and I decided to wake her up. She sat on the bed, I put the baby in her lap, but there was something strange. She was staring at the baby and me and doing nothing.
“Honey, are you OK?”
She took a long pause and started crying a bit. It was like she was looking at a stranger. Something was off. She couldn’t remember our baby, where she was, myself or even her name. She had started breastfeeding him, but without knowing what she was doing.
It was scary. I was afraid the situation would take longer and what would happen. My first concern was if I should call the doctors. I’m not sure if it was silly to think of that or not, but I was afraid of the implications — would we be able to take our son home? Could they think we were incapable of taking care of him? I don’t know. Maybe there were other serious things to worry about, but that was what first came to mind.
I didn’t call the doctors, looking back I know that I should have, but luckily she came back to herself in about 5 to 10 minutes. What did happen? Was it a case of pregnancy brain?
Apart from the increased belly, swollen face and legs, there are also psychological and mental changes. A postpartum mom may start to forget things, feel less mentally sharp, and have memory lapses — it’s informally called pregnancy brain, mommy brain or momnesia.
A high level of hormones may explain these alterations. “There is 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen marinating the brain during pregnancy,” Louann Brizendine, MD, director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco, tells WebMD. “And these hormones affect all kinds of neurons in the brain. By the time the woman delivers, there are huge surges of oxytocin that cause the uterus to contract and the body to produce milk — and they also affect the brain circuits.”
Despite this condition, it’s important to state — it should not be used to justify and say that pregnant or recent moms are less capable, in work, for example. The changes are temporary, and it doesn’t affect that much. The capacity of the brain is unchanged. It’s simply nature doing its work and making sure babies’ related tasks have more priority than others, like remembering where the car keys are.
Until today we don’t know what really happened; my wife hasn’t experienced anything similar ever since. Perhaps it was indeed pregnancy brain, especially considering she was given (more than the naturally produced) oxytocin while on the epidural. That may have caused even a more significant effect in the brain. In rare cases, amnesia during pregnancy can be indicator of an ischemic stroke, which is very serious and life threatening.
Apart from that, in general, when the person is sleep-deprived, which was the case with my wife, it’s normal to feel less cognitively sharp — my wife thinks that was what happened with her. Nevertheless, it’s hard to confirm.
We never talked to the doctors, but we should have. There is always the risk of something more serious, and it must not be ignored. We are planning to have a second child, and it’s important that we be better prepared if something like this happens again. We know better now.
This post first appeared on Medium.
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