It was my first ultrasound during my very first pregnancy. I was only twenty years old. I naively thought that this day was going to be one of the best days of my life. I was wrong. What I was right about, however, was that this would be one of the most memorable days of my life…even if it was for all the wrong reasons.
I was laying on my back, with the icy cold gel spread out on my stomach. The ultrasound tech was going over every inch of my newly forming fetus, informing me that everything looked great. Then, without me even noticing at first, she paused. That pause was my world crashing down. She quickly slapped a smile on her face and told me she needed to step out to talk to the other doctors.
When she came back in, her tone was noticeably more serious. She said she needed to sit us down and talk to us about our baby. I instantly felt my heartbeat skyrocket, and my stomach sink. She proceeded to tell us that our baby’s stomach hadn’t fully formed. The stomach didn’t form enough skin to close, so the baby’s intestines were on the outside of the body. It is a condition called gastroschisis. My baby would be born with his intestines hanging outside of him.
How was this possible? Why was this happening to my innocent baby? To me? What did I do to deserve this?
The rest of my pregnancy was spent going to weekly doctor appointments and stress tests. I lost count of all the ultrasounds we had done. My very first pregnancy, which I was ecstatic about from the start, was quickly ruined in one fell swoop. My sweet baby boy was born on January 28th, 2014 and spent 10 weeks in the NICU. At one point, he became septic and almost died. To say that this NICU stay was traumatic for all of us would be a huge understatement. I would eventually be diagnosed with PTSD.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that this NICU stay and the PTSD I got from it, would work together and show up in my life as alcoholism. It started innocently, as it always does, with a drink of wine here and there because “dammit I deserve it for what we’re going through”. “Mommy Wine Culture” only perpetuated my drinking. I thought it was cute and quirky to have a bottle of wine a night. I thought I deserved it. My nightly wine habits turned into nightly liquor habits because the wine just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I wanted to forget the NICU. I wanted to forget the horrible things I saw in there. Deep down, I think I wanted to punish myself.
I blamed myself for my body creating my baby the “wrong” way. I felt like I failed him and caused him trauma. I was young with no real support system, so these thoughts occurred to me every single day. I didn’t know any better. I only knew self-hatred and self-blame. The kind of self-hatred that drives you to drink it away.
My drinking habits continued to worsen for the next few years. Along the way I would collect two DUI’s, and a suicide attempt.
Then, one day in November of 2020, amid a global pandemic, I decided enough was enough.
I went to therapy, I attended AA, and I told everyone close to me that I quit drinking. And I did, for good. I thought I deserved alcohol. That it was this magical potion that could cure me and my thoughts. I didn’t know that what I actually deserved was sobriety. My children deserved my sobriety. Our world is obsessed with booze. One of the saddest parts of my addiction was that when I stopped drinking, the most common comment I got was, “I didn’t even know you had a problem!”. That’s how easily alcoholism is accepted. Yes, I did hide my addiction well, but there was also a social norm involved with drinking that kept me complacent. Everybody else was doing shots, blacking out, throwing up, etc. Why couldn’t I? I used to normalize blacking out. Now, I normalize sobriety.
As I write this, I am 601 days sober. My life is incredibly beautiful now. I’ve worked so hard to be in a spot in my life where I no longer hate or blame myself. I know now that what happened to my baby was nobody’s “fault”, and I did everything I was supposed to. There was nothing I could have done better. Instead of looking at our NICU experience as something that broke me, I look at it as something that made us stronger as a family. Through sobriety, I have a completely different outlook on life. Sobriety has given my children and I a new life. I know in my heart that I would not be here had I not put the bottle down. Are there hard days? Absolutely. But those days are much more manageable while sober. My child is absolutely thriving, and for the first time in my life- so am I.