Health

Teacher Michelle Har­ris, 39, from Stafford­shire, Eng­land was rev­el­ling in the joy of hav­ing her sec­ond baby when she sud­denly col­lapsed…

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‘My baby was days old… then I had a stroke.’

They say that hav­ing a new baby is ex­haust­ing – and it was – but my hap­pi­ness far out­weighed any tired­ness. My hus­band Stu­art, 34, and I al­ready had a seven-yearold son, Wil­liam, and now we had an­other boy, Ed­ward.

I may have had un­der-eye bags you could spot from outer space and longed for a full night’s sleep, but I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Ex­haus­tion was a small price to pay now that our fam­ily was com­plete.

One evening, when Ed­ward was just 10 days old, Stu­art was chang­ing his nappy while I was in the bath­room brush­ing my teeth. “Nappy’s all done!” Stu­art called. In that mo­ment, some­thing hap­pened – I dropped my tooth­brush and col­lapsed. I tried to call out for help but no sound came.

Stu­art must have heard the thud and ran in. “Michelle!” he gasped.

I tried to speak but I couldn’t. I tried to get up but it was as if my body wouldn’t work.

I was paral­ysed, ly­ing on the floor. Stu­art stood framed in the door­way. He looked ter­ri­fied. Shak­ing, he ran to the phone and called an am­bu­lance.

Min­utes later paramedics ar­rived and I was rushed to hospi­tal, while Stu­art or­gan­ised child­care.

All the way there I couldn’t move or speak. I couldn’t even cry. “My chil­dren,” I kept think­ing, fear crash­ing through me. “My fam­ily...”

At hospi­tal I was taken for tests – a CT scan and MRI scans. All the while I couldn’t move or talk as medics lifted me on and off beds.

Then I was wheeled on to a ward. I no­ticed some words above the ward en­trance: stroke ward.

My ini­tial feel­ing was dis­be­lief. Stroke? Didn’t that hap­pen to older people? I was only 37; a new mother.

Then a con­sul­tant came on to the ward and sat at my side.

“We be­lieve you have had a stroke,” he ex­plained gen­tly.

He gave me a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion: I’d suf­fered a stroke from a large clot on the left side of my brain.

The con­sul­tant had no idea why or how it had hap­pened be­cause the MRI scans gave no in­di­ca­tion. But he did say that it might have been preg­nancy-re­lated.

“Some­times a vein be­comes blocked in the brain be­cause a throm­bus forms in­side it, just as it forms in a leg with deep-vein throm­bo­sis,” he ex­plained. “It tends to hap­pen in the first two weeks af­ter giv­ing birth. It also could have been be­cause af­ter de­liv­er­ing, the mother’s blood ves­sels be­come nar­row and con­strict, restrict­ing the blood flow.”

I tried to nod but I couldn’t move at all. I was so tired that I was drift­ing in and out of con­scious­ness.

A week went by in a blur of tests. Luck­ily I didn’t need surgery and I was trans­ferred to a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion unit for stroke vic­tims. Stu­art brought the chil­dren in ev­ery day.

I was so afraid of my fu­ture but I also felt so guilty. Be­fore my stroke,

I’d been breast­feed­ing Ed­ward at three-hour in­ter­vals. Now that had to stop and Stu­art had to start with a bot­tle. I felt I was fail­ing him.

Wil­liam looked dev­as­tated. He was old enough to see the mas­sive change in me and I could see he was scared see­ing me in the stark hospi­tal set­ting, un­able to talk.

But Ed­ward barely knew me. I’d been away only a few days and al­ready our bond had been sev­ered. I should have been at home, feed­ing him, cud­dling him, rock­ing him to sleep. But I could only hold him now if he was placed in my arms.

We should have been tak­ing lots of fam­ily pho­tos. In­stead I had been torn away from him and now he didn’t know me. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t even do that.

Imade my­self a prom­ise: I would re­cover. No mat­ter how long the process would take and no mat­ter how hard it would be, had to get bet­ter for my sons.

A week af­ter be­ing ad­mit­ted, started re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion but it was harder than I’d ever imag­ined. My day started at 8am. I’d have two hours of in­ten­sive physio, then oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy – help­ing me to pick up a pen or hold a cup. I was grate­ful for even the small­est move­ment.

Then they tried to get me walk­ing. At first I col­lapsed ev­ery time I tried. I couldn’t even stand.

I’d break down in tears. I wanted to speak, to beg the doc­tors to tell me if I’d ever walk again, but even though I could form the words in my head, I couldn’t get them to come out of my would say. Stu­art would stand there too, Ed­ward in his arms.

They stood only a cou­ple of me­tres away. But as I took shaky steps, it seemed as if I was cross­ing a canyon.

Yet as I per­se­vered, I’d reach them, col­laps­ing in ex­hausted hap­pi­ness when I got to them. “Yes!” they’d cry.

Even though I could now move, speech still eluded me. I could think as clearly as ever but I couldn’t seem to form the words or talk.

Af­ter eight long weeks in hospi­tal, I could walk again, pick up a pen and hold a cof­fee cup.

“I just want to talk,” I kept think­ing.

When the boys came in, I’d smile. I’d hug Wil­liam and he’d tell me about his school day. I couldn’t ask ques­tions but I could hear him speak and nod and hug him. Then I’d nuz­zle Ed­ward – who was get­ting so big – but I couldn’t sing or coo to him. He didn’t even re­mem­ber the sound of my voice.

“It will be all right,” Stu­art would prom­ise. Then I’d wave them off, forc­ing a brave smile. But alone at

I wanted to beg doc­tors to tell me if I’d ever walk again… But I was trapped in­side my­self

mouth. I was trapped in­side my­self. It was so frus­trat­ing.

“You will do this,” Stu­art would say, as he held me. But it seemed a life­time away. So, I tried to con­cen­trate on my phys­i­cal re­cov­ery.

Slowly, I took small steps, then larger ones. Stu­art would bring the boys in and I’d set my­self lit­tle goals of walk­ing to­wards them across the room. “Come on, Mummy!” Wil­liam

night I’d cry in my hospi­tal bed. I was miss­ing out on so much – Ed­ward’s first smiles, Wil­liam’s achieve­ments at school. I even missed the mun­dane things I used to take for granted like get­ting the chil­dren’s din­ner ready or watch­ing TV with Stu­art.

How had life sud­denly changed so much? De­spite speech ther­apy ev­ery day, no words came and I won­dered, “Will I ever speak again? Will I ever be able to tell my boys I love them?”

Then one day I was do­ing my speech ther­apy when I man­aged to make a sound.

I jumped – it was a shock to hear my own voice af­ter so long. Then I tried again, and again the sound came out. I con­tin­ued and got louder and louder.

My speech ther­a­pist jumped up and clapped with me. “You’re talk­ing!” she cried.

She looked as shocked as I felt. I hugged her, thrilled. I was mak­ing sounds again – mean­ing­less sounds but sounds all the same.

Over the next cou­ple of weeks, I could make more dif­fi­cult sounds and be­gan say­ing some words, then sen­tences. Two weeks later – a whole three months af­ter my stroke – I was al­lowed to go home. It was amaz­ing be­ing back with my fam­ily. Now Ed­ward is 20 months and I can speak al­most nor­mally again.

Wil­liam is eight and thrilled to have

For three long months I won­dered if I would ever hold my chil­dren or speak again

his mum back. I can carry Ed­ward, go shop­ping and do the house­work, but I still can’t lift my right arm com­pletely. I still have fol­low-up ap­point­ments and luck­ily don’t have any brain dam­age.

For three long months I won­dered if I would ever hold my chil­dren or speak again. It took lots of de­ter­mi­na­tion, but it’s thanks to my chil­dren that I per­se­vered.

At last, I can tell my chil­dren I love them – which I do ev­ery sin­gle day.

What should have been a happy time with my new­born turned into a nightmare

My mind was as sharp as ever but I couldn’t move at all

My child had to be put on top of me so I could hold him

HEALTH

My el­dest, Wil­liam, and hus­band, Stu­art, were very sup­port­ive

I was de­ter­mined to get well for my chil­dren

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