So much for plans. My liver and kidney functions gradually improved, my blood pressure leveled out so I was no longer in constant danger of stroke, but I learned that in addition to the preeclampsia, I had something called Sheehan's syndrome. A lack of oxygen to my brain during childbirth had caused a hormonal imbalance. My body was no longer producing enough cortisol, which plays a vital role in helping to regulate the body's response to stress. My only option was to go on steroids, possibly for the rest of my life. Although the steroids would raise my cortisol levels, this was not a fun option: I began to gain weight on the drug—soon I weighed more than I did when I was pregnant.
The hope was that eventually my brain would start making cortisol again, but it wasn't happening. In addition, I had massive uterine fibroids (some as big as 4 pounds) that didn't shrink after pregnancy the way they normally do.
Each week I had a new doctor's appointment. I had ultrasounds and MRIs of my brain and my uterus. I still felt pretty beat up, but once I got the four-week clearance on my C-section incision, I headed back to the elliptical trainer. My newborn baby, a micro-preemie, had her own set of medications and doctor's appointments. My husband, who had been working from home and the hospital's Wi-Fi area, had to go back to the office, so I got up at 4:30 every morning to get to the gym before he left. But nothing was changing. I felt bad and I looked worse.
Then, to paraphrase Fannie Lou Hamer, I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. Two years before, I had interviewed Charles Brown, a psychologist who directs FPS Performance, a coaching practice in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a story about athletes and peak performance. The previous month, he had sent me a newsletter announcing his return from working with the U.S. national white-water team. It occurred to me that what I wanted—what I needed—was someone who could coach me back from illness the way an elite athlete is brought back to the playing field after a serious injury. I wanted strategies for kicking my illness' ass.
I e-mailed Dr. Charlie with trepidation. "It would be too expensive" was my first thought. I also worried that he wouldn't have time for someone like me. He has worked with Olympic athletes in swimming and track and field. He trains world champion triathletes for the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. To my surprise, he responded right away and we set up a super-reasonable coaching plan: $250 a month.
First, he asked me to sign a coaching agreement. One clause explained that on the rare occasion that one athlete he coaches competes against another, his goal is to maximize each athlete's potential, respect confidentiality, and not provide advantages. This is good, I thought. Should I come up against another preeclamptic new mom with Sheehan's syndrome at, say, a Neiman's sale, Dr. Charlie wouldn't be on the sidelines giving her tips on how to get a cashmere sweater away from me.