Childbirth is the closest a woman will come to death while still living.
A friend told me that. And there have never been truer words spoken.
**Trigger Warning** This post may be difficult to read if you are pregnant, experienced losses, or are thinking of becoming pregnant.
My firstborn’s birth story yielded multiple life lessons. I thought this second go around wouldn’t be quite as surprising or jarring because I had internalized those lessons. Of course, I was wrong.
This whole story can be summed up into one lesson:
Whether you think you can or you can’t … you’re right.
Let’s get into it.
The plan was to check into the hospital over the weekend, receive steroid shots to help my baby’s lungs develop, and calmly take him out via C-section the following Monday once I reached 36 weeks. Easy peasy lemon squeezy and totally controlled.
Let me back up and say we were going to take my son out early because leaving him in my womb to term would be a death sentence for me.
At 20 weeks, we found out that I had an accreta, which had transformed into a bit of an increta.
An accreta is a condition where the baby’s placenta grows into the uterine wall during pregnancy. So, instead of being like a piece of paper attached to a wall with that clear tape brand that can easily detach, the placenta acts more like it was stapled and then superglued to the uterus. Once the placenta does what it’s created to do – detach at birth – it’ll rip out whatever it was attached to on its way out, i.e., the uterus. An increta is a more severe form of an accreta where the placenta grows well into the uterine muscle.
I also had a placenta previa, meaning the exit point for my baby was entirely covered by the placenta, and a vaginal delivery was absolutely off the table. Either way, there was a high risk of me bleeding out if I went into labor. So, Lil Bean’s only option was to come out early.
Except, my little guy had other plans.
What Actually Happened
On my mother’s 70th birthday – the Thursday before the weekend I was supposed to check into the hospital – I had my last prenatal checkup. My mom graciously agreed to drive me (mostly because she wanted to spend time with me since I would be missing her big 70th birthday bash on Saturday due to being admitted to the hospital).
The doctor cleared me to continue with the plan because everything looked stable. They even gave me the go-ahead to attend my mom’s party as long as I checked into the hospital before 10 pm on Saturday so I could receive my first steroid shot.
I was elated. My mom was ecstatic.
Later that evening, I got a text from my older brother that our mom wanted to have a small dinner with just immediate family at his house. I almost didn’t go because I now had to find a fancy maternity dress for the party in less than two days. But I changed my mind, thinking, “I could just do it tomorrow.”
Famous last words.
Well, let’s just say I’m glad I went to dinner and celebrated my mom, even in a small way. Because later that night, after I put my daughter to bed and loaded the dishwasher… I coughed.
It was a normal cough except for the fact that I felt a rather distinct pop and squirt. I thought this was odd because I’m not one of those women who peed a little when I laughed or sneezed as a result of childbirth. So I figured I’d go to the bathroom to check.
When I went to sit down on the toilet, all hell broke loose. A literal gush of bright red blood came shooting down. And it just. Didn’t. Stop.
I was absolutely terrified. I was terrified to sit. I was terrified to stand. I was terrified to move. So I screamed.
My hubby came rushing in with urgency. He knows I’m not a screamer and rarely freak out at anything. As soon as he saw me sitting there like I belonged in a scene out of a Halloween massacre movie, he sprang into action. He told me to call my accreta nurse and let her know we were coming in tonight, then to call my parents and ask them to get to our house ASAP. Then he disappeared.
With trembling hands, I did just that. The accreta nurse picked up on the first ring, thank God. “I’m guessing this isn’t good news,” she greeted. I quickly explained what was happening, and she instructed us to head to the ER at the hospital immediately and she’ll call ahead so the team knows to expect me.
I called my parents to let them know our daughter was sleeping, and we couldn’t wait for them, so to let themselves in. Oh, and if they got the chance, to clean up the blood before our daughter woke up.
My hubby returned with towels and an adult diaper, and within minutes, we were making the 40-minute drive to the hospital.
I didn’t relax until I got the garage notification on my phone that my parents had arrived at our house. My irrational brain couldn’t let go of the idea that in the time we left, my four-year-old daughter would be kidnapped or trapped in the house as it burned down. It was silly because my parents only lived 10 minutes away.
But then I had to grapple with the fact that I was currently and irreversibly bleeding out on the way to the hospital. I prayed until I felt the baby move. And then I prayed for myself. It was the simplest prayer I had ever prayed:
“Lord, help. Just let me live for my babies.”
And that was the mantra in my head for the rest of the car ride.
Once we got to the hospital, everything happened rather quickly. I was wheeled up to a triage room. At first, the medical staff that arrived were not on my accreta team and were trying to assess just how much blood I had lost to gauge our options.
Thankfully, the attending that would’ve performed my C-section on Monday was on call. When he came into the room, he took one look at the adult diaper that I had been wearing (and that the staff had preserved) and said, “That’s way too much.” He turned to me and said, “We’re having a baby tonight and heading to the O.R. now.”
Once that proclamation was made, there was a flurry of activity to get me prepped. I was poked and prodded. I ended up with a million IV lines on both arms (I swear I still look like a coke addict), and someone was shooting the epidural up my spine. My only constant was a nurse named Josh. Whose fingers I’m sure I broke when that needle was
so rudely shoved up inserted into my spine.
By the time my husband was allowed in the O.R., I had come to terms with the fact that I had zero control over this situation. And whether I lived or died was entirely up to God.
Once the blue sheet was up, I found myself looking at the surgical light that hovered above my still-pregnant belly. It was encased in steel so clean and so bright that it effectively functioned as a mirror. I noticed, a little bit too late, that I could see the doctor start to cut into my belly through that mirror. So I turned my head to look at my husband, who was pretty stoic at this point.
He tried to keep my mind off what was happening, but I could feel all the tugging and pulling, and finally, a release of pressure once the baby was out.
I held my breath as I waited for a cry. And once I heard it, I looked back up at the light. Except, I looked too soon. Because in that reflection, I could see my cut and open stomach gushing blood. My immediate thought was, well, that can’t be good. At the same time I had that thought, someone beyond the blue curtain gasped, “Oh sh**t!”
My next thought was I don’t think doctors are supposed to say that when you’re on the operating table. And not two seconds after I had that thought, the anesthesiologist came around the corner and said, “We’re going to take you under now.”
And I went black.
I woke up gagging. I couldn’t breathe, and I needed to cough. But I couldn’t. I tried again … but I still couldn’t breathe. This is how I die, I thought.
I tried flailing my arms to get someone’s, anyone’s attention, but it was like a bad dream where no matter how hard you tried to move, you just couldn’t.
If you’ve never woken up intubated before, it is absolutely terrifying.
Eventually, staff poured into the room, and I heard one of them say, “She’s not supposed to be up yet.” And then I went black.
Sometime later, I woke up gagging again!! I still needed to cough, and I still couldn’t breathe. Medical staff rushed in quicker this time around (although, to be fair, it’s quite possible they arrived sooner than I thought the first time). “It’s only been an hour. I can’t believe she woke up again,” a young man’s voice said.
“Let’s get it out,” someone else said.
Finally, someone tapped my shoulder to focus my attention. They explained they were going to remove the tube that I had no idea was in my throat, and they needed me to calm down because I was restrained (I guess they don’t like it when patients try to rip out the tube themselves in order to breathe).
I tried to calm down as much as I could and gasped once they had the tubing out. They also untied my hands and gave me another sedative that knocked me out for several hours.
Finally, I woke up to find my hubby sitting at my bedside. It was very déjà vu to the first time I gave birth.
He must’ve thought the same thing because he quirked one side of his face into a half smile and asked, “How much do you want to know?”
Everything. I wanted to know everything.
My hubby clinically explained: It was the next evening after I gave birth. I was in ICU. The baby was in NICU, and he, grandma, grandpa, and our daughter had all stopped by to see him. Basically, everyone had seen the baby except me. He needed breathing assistance at first but was now breathing on his own. He still needed to put on weight, finish some testing, and learn to regulate his body temperature.
I asked when I could see him and was told probably not until the next day as I had a slew of tests of my own to pass. But I could start pumping as soon as I was up to it. And because I was so against having the delayed milk and under-producing experience I had with my first, I told them to bring me a pump immediately. It didn’t matter that pumping was the very bane of my existence the first time.
Then my hubby sighed and asked: “Do you want to know what happened to you?”
I hesitated. But knowing my imagination is almost always far worse than reality, I told him to go ahead.
In the O.R., I lost over 4 liters of blood. Considering the human body only holds about 5 liters of blood at any given time (4.5 liters for most women), and you can lose only 2 liters of blood before you die, that was a lot. I had multiple transfusions to keep me alive while the doctors performed life-saving surgeries on me. In the end, I lost my uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix. I was intubated and needed breathing assistance (that part I already figured out).
To clearly see the source of the bleeding, the doctors performed a C-section with a vertical incision this time around. Which also meant I now had two C-section scars and pretty much looked horribly stitched together like a Franken bride.
I didn’t know what to do with that information, so I tucked it away. My main focus was getting out of survival mode long enough to hit all the markers that would allow me to be wheeled up to the NICU to see my baby. When the physio guys came, I was determined to walk as much as my broken body would allow. When the lactation consultants came, I forced myself up so I could pump. I was determined to keep my food down. Anything I needed to do to get out of there and up to NICU, I did. No matter how painful.
Thirty-six hours later, I got the go-ahead to meet my boy.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it broke my heart in pieces to see his very tiny body sitting in what looked like a chicken warmer, hooked up to so many tubes.
I put my face right by his crib and whispered, “Hello, little guy,” and the nurse gasped.
My baby slowly but surely opened his eyes. The nurse explained he hadn’t opened his eyes since he was born, but he must’ve recognized my voice.
I took that with me as they wheeled me away. Even though I felt robbed of meeting my baby immediately and benefitting from skin-to-skin, he still knew me.
Two days later, I was moved out of the ICU into a regular post-partum room, and my baby joined me two days after that.
After we were discharged, I met the doctor that saved my life. He was shocked to see me walking around (although I wouldn’t call what I was doing walking – it was more ambulating slowly and ungracefully … like a walrus), but he was glad I was walking all the same. Me too. It’s not every day you get to meet your heroes.
I’m not going to lie. The weeks that followed were hard. Both my son and I had a lot of healing to do. But what got me this far was the correct mindset … and the right support.
If I bought into the notion that it was an impossible task, our recovery would not be on track – heck, we might not have even made it. But because I gave my brain no other option to believe other than “we are going to make it,” I could overcome things that would’ve waylaid me in the past and come up with solutions to help me through some particularly trying times.
So, if you’re struggling through motherhood, your career, or life in general, it may seem bleak right now. But, getting to the other side will hinge largely on believing you can. It doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself. But you do have to believe you can.
What are some of the things you’re struggling with now? Shoot me an email at email@example.com or leave a comment below. We’re in this together.