Art Made Nightmare


Disclaimer/spoiler alert: If you watch “Downton Abbey” and have not yet seen the 1/27/13 episode from Season 3, you may want to skip this blog post.

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I adore “Downton Abbey”! It has been a very long while since I’ve been that enthralled with a television drama. We started watching it two years ago this month and, for Valentine’s Day in 2011, my husband bought me seasons 1 and 2 for my gift, and then season 3 for Christmas this year. So wonderful!

However, there is one episode that I do not allow myself to watch, not again – Season 3, episode 4. Sybil, the youngest of the Crawley girls, arrives home with her husband Tom Branson (the former chauffeur) close to giving birth. In her early labor pains, Sybil starts to exhibit signs of pre-eclampsia (swollen ankles, muddled mental state), which are ignored by the stately Harley Street doctor that Lord Grantham prefers over the local Dr. Clarkson. Dr. Clarkson insists in taking measures to protect Sybil from going into full eclampsia but is shouted down. Sybil gives birth to her baby, a girl, but, late in the night, she begins to have headaches and seizures. It is eclampsia and there is nothing to be done. The family stands by helplessly as Sybil slips away, her husband sobbing over her, her newborn girl now motherless.

As brilliantly as the episode was acted, it was too close to the center of fears that plagued my heart and mind during my pregnancy.  Granted, I watched it after Elizabeth was born but it made no difference. I still sobbed and ached and hid my face in Ben’s shoulder. My mother had two pregnancies before she became pregnant with me, and suffered from pre-eclampsia with her first and full-blown eclampsia with her second. She lost both babies, the first (my brother) was stillborn and then Mom had seizures with the second (my sister), the baby born early and passed away from respiratory distress three days later. So, when I was diagnosed as pre-eclamptic, I was terrified. I feared so much something happening to me and leaving Ben and Elizabeth without me or, ever more the worse, something happening to us both and my beloved husband being left all alone. They did weekly blood and urine tests, non-stress tests to monitor Elizabeth twice a week, put me on blood pressure medication, and when my swelling did not decrease, nor did my protein levels, I was put on bed rest a full three weeks early (I was teaching at the time and Elizabeth was originally due to arrive a week after the fall semester ended). I was scheduled to be induced 9 days before Elizabeth’s original due date and, when I went in for it, they put me on magnesium to keep me from going into seizures, pitocin to induce labor, and saline to keep me hydrated. Still, I was afraid. I do not remember much of the day but, when it was announced that a cesarean was going to be necessary to keep Elizabeth’s heart-rate from dropping, I began shaking and didn’t stop until the operation was over.

This episode embodied everything I feared. Art become nightmare indeed. Perhaps, some day, I will find the fortitude with which to watch it again but, until then, the fear is still too fresh, my heart still too tender from it. Again, it was perfectly executed and intensely acted. Just a little too much for me.

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2 thoughts on “Art Made Nightmare

  1. This blog entry immediately caught my attention because of the Downton Abbey mention, and then because it told me something about you. I’m glad all went well with your daughter. I can understand your feelings about watching that particular episode of DA given your family history.

    I took a look around your ‘neighborhood’ here – and I like it very much. Nice blog!

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