Lauren Wood’s story is nothing short of miraculous. At 24 weeks pregnant, Lauren suffered a stroke. In addition to being the mother of preemie twins (born at 32 weeks), she was initially unable to pick up her babies or change their diapers. Her recovery has been a remarkable journey.
We were honored to sit down with Lauren, who shared her story.
Can you tell us a little about yourself — your background, career, anything you’d like to share?
I got my masters in psychology and had been working at schools for kids with neurological and learning differences ever since I left graduate school.
What kept you busy before motherhood?
I was very focused on my job before becoming a mom. I also spent time doing traveling with family.
You’ve had an incredible journey. Can you tell our readers about the major health crisis you faced while pregnant with twins?
I had an ischemic stroke a year ago while 24 weeks pregnant with twins. I am fortunate to say my twins were unaffected by the stroke, and were born 2 months later. Now, they are 10 ½ months old, healthy, happy and thriving! But my story does not begin there. Back in 1995 when I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor called a Chordoma. To give you a picture, this type of tumor was wrapped around my brain stem, squeezing it causing headaches, snoring, and random acts of vomiting. After 4 years of treatment, which included 3 intensive brain surgeries, 1 implanted shunt, and Proton-beam radiation at Mass General in Boston, I looked like I came out of the danger. Little did I know about the side effects of head trauma (brain surgeries) and radiation. Since then, I have experienced grand mal seizures, nasal speech, double vision, hearing loss, and the latest a stroke.
September 22, 2017 – the day that turned my world upside down. I woke up the same time on Fridays because I go to an AA meeting before work. I am an alcoholic, and sure do thank God I chose to get sober before this day. I am walking into the 6:30 am meeting, hobbling along, thinking in my head, “I am so pregnant – gosh, this is tough”. After the meeting, I head to work, and it was getting harder and harder to walk – still thinking it has to do with me being so big. I work at a special needs school, by the way. Eventually, I am walking with one of my students who have Autism, and my coworker behind me asked, “Lauren, are you ok?”, to which my student replied, “Umm, she’s a little pregnant you know.” I said to the student, “That was a little sassy,” to which my student replied with pure sincerity, “Ms. Lauren, I didn’t want her to think you were fat”. All I could say was Thank you, as my coworker was cracking up behind me. One other coworker thought maybe I had some sort of pinched nerve, so, in my mind, I took that as a reason to go do Prenatal Yoga.
On September 23, I go to the Motherhood Center for a Prenatal Yoga class. Let me just say I was one hot mess! But still, in denial anything was wrong with me – I was just incredibly out of shape, even though I couldn’t put my tennis shoes on normally.
It wasn’t until the next day on September 24 that I called my OBGYN. I had become unable to comfortably get down the stairs and completely unable to tie my hair in a ponytail. I knew something wasn’t right. On the recommendation of the OBGYN on call, I went to the Methodist Annex, where they immediately determined my problem was neurological, put me in an ambulance so that I could get an MRI at Methodist Hospital. Later that night, my OBGYN came from her home to let me know that I had a stroke, and will be having another MRI the next day to determine whether or not the clot had stopped bleeding. If it wasn’t stopping, we would birth my babies at 24 weeks, have immediate brain surgery to stop the clot, and then see what would happen. For the next 24 hours, all I did was pray for the clot to stop.
September 25, my 2nd MRI determined my clot had stopped – Thank God! The doctors decided to keep me for a few more days to monitor my progress. My neurologist had told me I most likely would experience Pseudobulbar Affect (or PBA) because of the area in which my stroke occurred.
Pseudobulbar affect (PBA), or emotional incontinence, is a type of emotional disturbance characterized by uncontrollable episodes of crying and/or laughing, or other emotional displays. PBA occurs secondary to a neurologic disorder or brain injury. Patients may find themselves crying uncontrollably at something that is only moderately sad, being unable to stop themselves for several minutes. Episodes may also be mood-incongruent: a patient may laugh uncontrollably when angry or frustrated, for example. Sometimes, the episodes may switch between emotional states, resulting in the patient crying uncontrollably before dissolving into fits of laughter.
I myself was very familiar with the diagnosis having my background in Psychology. My response, “So I’m gonna be one of that kind of crazies,” probably wasn’t the most professional reaction, but given my situation, I think I can get a break.
But it amazes me now how little I knew about strokes. What experience I did have with strokes was my grandmother having multiple mini ones, drooping on one side of her body, and then everything being fine walking out of the hospital within a few days like nothing had happened. Boy, was I clueless because that wasn’t me. I remember asking the ER doctor when I could tell my supervisor I would be back at work. I will never forget his face – he said to me, “If you were my wife, I would just be happy you are alive and keep you and the babies safe trying to recover.” What I did learn as time went on, strokes are a little like Autism – they have a spectrum of severity. As days progressed, that reality started sinking in. I was unable to walk, could not easily move anything on the left side of my body, and had a hard time swallowing, not to forget, my double vision in my right eye got tremendously worse. And I was hugely pregnant in a hospital bed. Anger started showing it’s face PBA style.
September 27, the doctors discharged me, but not without an attempt from the Rehab doctors trying to convince to stay for two weeks of Inpatient Rehabilitation. Pregnancy hormones are a real thing, people. That on top of being extremely uncomfortable, pissed off, and unable to sleep being monitored every 4 hours – my answer was heck no! I even had my ER doctor coming in asking if he could bring some residents in that afternoon because my case was so fascinating. I said unless you promise my story being on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I’m not waiting – I’m going home.
My stubborn butt learned quickly that home life wasn’t easy at all. By the end of the week, I was back at the hospital being admitted into inpatient for two weeks. Humility sure did kick into full form when you have to have someone watch you take a shower, wipe your ass, and blow your nose when you cry. As a therapist, it was by far the hardest thing for me to accept – having to ask for help.
As months, progressed, it got easier to do. I was reminded what I had learned in AA in the first 3 steps – I can’t, God can, I’ll let him. Giving up control of what was so out of my control. So, off to the races it was. I managed to attend my own baby shower, learned to walk again, feed my children with my affected hand, move my left ankle, walk downstairs backward, and pick up my babies out of their cribs. There are many more achievements as well. OTs and PTs taught me the art of looking outside the box.
My stroke did not stem from my pregnancy. That was something that bothered me when people assumed. My stroke was caused by scar tissue from radiation treatment over 20+ years ago. As my neurologist put it, strokes are like cakes, and my pregnancy was the cherry on top of an already baked cake. But, I had to ask myself why the assumption itched me the wrong way. It made me upset because it felt like people were saying if I didn’t have children, I wouldn’t have had a stroke. Those children were the best decision I ever made in my life, and to say something like that hurt me the wrong way. That is why I make it a mission now to ask before I assume.
I don’t take for granted what has happened to me. In a way, I feel it has shaped who I am today – I got my Masters in Psychology so that I could help others like the people who had helped me along the way. It isn’t surprising that I worked with special needs kids and their families – I too felt “special” in many ways, but “special” to me always meant unique and different!
Throughout my life, I have learned so much, cried many times, laughed at many ridiculous things, and loved even more. And this is just the beginning of a new chapter. Without my family, friends, doctors, OTs/PTs, therapists, nann, and God, I would have been hopeless. In a way, I feel stronger than I ever have before. Don’t get me wrong- I’ve had my down days- grieving threw what felt like a loss. But I learned that the stroke isn’t what defines me. What defines me is my character! Now, having gone through this experience, I am that much more comfortable with myself, that much more able to stand up for myself and others, that much more grateful for every day I have on this earth and what I do have! It’s not what I can’t do, but what I can do differently!
When you learned what had happened, what was the first thing you remember thinking? Feeling?
I was incredibly naive as to what had happened to me. In a way, I’m somewhat grateful for not knowing as much as I know now about strokes because I was pregnant and the stress of the severity of my situation would not have helped either. I can remember feeling hopeful each day in the hospital I heard their heartbeats knowing if they were ok, somehow I’d be okay too. It also gave me a goal– listen to the doctor’s protocol, treat my body with rehab therapies, take my appropriate medicines, keep momma safe and babies will be safe.
How did that impact the remainder of your pregnancy?
If not already considered high-risk pregnancy for having twins, I definitely was categorized extremely high risk, thus my doctor’s appointments were on a weekly basis. However, the babies themselves were doing great and on schedule. They were unaffected by my stroke, which I am forever grateful for.
Tell us a little bit about your recovery. What did you have to do in order to heal and recover?
I have been doing occupational and physical therapy for a year since my stroke. Just recently, I have graduated from the programs so that I may be able to do it on my own at home and in the gym. But it amazes me how I started out unable to walk or move my left side of my body, to now walking with a cane and able to pick up my twins from the floor.
Learning to be a mom can be overwhelming at first under normal circumstances. What was the single biggest challenge you faced after the birth of your babies?
The biggest challenge I faced was not being the mom I envisioned — changing diapers, breastfeeding, carrying my children around, etc. But I came to the realization that no one has their dreams always come true. And these blessings I call my children are the best dreams I ever could have imagined.
So far, what is your favorite part of motherhood?
I absolutely love seeing how my twins are developing into their own personalities. Each one is so very different from the other, but they both know who momma is. Being loved unconditionally is the best.
Looking back, what was your favorite part of your pregnancy journey? Least favorite?
I loved being pregnant because I had no appetite for anything but donuts. It was a terrible diet, but it sure tasted good. My least favorite was being huge in a hospital bed and unable to roll over properly. Overall though, I loved the whole process of being pregnant, and sometimes it can be sad knowing I cannot do it again because of my stroke.
The best pregnancy and/or motherhood advice you’ve received is __________.
Best advice for twins — there is no right or wrong, there’s Just Do It.
Advice you’d give to expecting and new moms?
For me, it was incredibly hard to ask for help. Please don’t be like me. Embrace any help you can get.