Teacher Michelle Harris, 39, from Staffordshire, England was revelling in the joy of having her second baby when she suddenly collapsed…
‘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
My eldest, William, and husband, Stuart, were very supportive
I was determined to get well for my children