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PEPS Helps Couple Heal

The Karmarshalls had no expectations when they started their PEPS journey, but the healing from their rough start in parenthood was definitely easier because of PEPS.


~ by Erika Bigelow, December 2014


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40 weeks of pregnancy had gone swimmingly. Emily Karmarshall and her husband Jonny headed to UW hospital in April with a positive experience under their belts and optimistic expectations about the upcoming introduction to their baby boy, Desmond. And then labor happened.

Somewhere during the process Desmond’s heart rate dropped dramatically and the doctors scrambled for a reason. Desmond was born with his umbilical cord in a knot and wrapped around his neck. He wasn’t breathing but was quickly resuscitated and whisked to the NICU. Emily’s husband followed in his wake, leaving Emily behind, terrified, confused, helpless.

The information that followed didn’t alleviate any of her fears. Since the doctors did not know how long Desmond had been without oxygen, they didn’t know what kind of damage his brain might have sustained.

They recommended a new treatment, placing Desmond on an ice blanket for 72 hours. It would slow down his bodily functions and help prevent swelling and further brain damage. The Karmashalls agreed to the trial and so began the wait.

They stayed by his side for the eight days Desmond remained in the NICU, but weren’t allowed to hold him for the first five. At the end of the week, a neurologist evaluated Desmond’s brain scan and the Karmarshalls received amazing news. Desmond had no brain damage.

They left the hospital feeling relieved and fortunate. Yet, the traumatic week had taken its toll. Both of them felt post-partum depression. Emily had symptoms of PTSD. They felt isolated, disconnected. A nurse at the hospital had suggested the Program for Early Parent Support to Emily in the days following the birth and she remembered that suggestion upon returning home. Two months after Desmond was born, they joined an evening PEPS group.

The group, says Emily, was a much-needed relief. She craved normalcy and even though their birth experience was more traumatic than the other families, they were still dealing with the same daily struggles. The whole group was sleep deprived. All the babies were needy, all the time. The Karmarshalls could relate to the other parents. Plus, like Emily and her husband, most of their group didn’t have family nearby, so they became family to each other. Emily found great solace in their support. The other couples listened, they comforted and they cheered Desmond as he met each milestone.

The group, 8 couples in all, still meets monthly and Emily says they ‘meet’ even more frequently on social media, where they compare notes on sleep training. The Karmarshalls had no expectations when they started their PEPS journey, but the healing from their rough start in parenthood was definitely easier because of that community they created within PEPS.

About the Author

Erika BigelowErika Bigelow lives in Seattle with her husband and three kids. In between diapers, carpooling, lunch packing, laundry doing and occasional showering she engages in a series of futile arguments with her 8-going-on-16 year old daughter.

During the rest of the day she is a Director for the Wallingford Community Council, a Poetry Aloud coordinator at John Stanford Int’l School, a Going Places Editor for Seattle’s Child Magazine and she does a Seattle’s Child segment on Q13 Friday mornings at 8:15 a.m. Erika was in a PEPS Newborn Group when her daughter was born, has co-led two groups and has helped plan four PEPS Annual Luncheons and two PEPSapaloozas.

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