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How My Near-Death Birth Experience Changed the Way I Live My Life

Editor’s Note: This post contains sensitive material that may be difficult for some readers.

Newborn gripping mother's finger
Image Source: Thinkstock

It all happened so fast. One second I was happily pregnant with my second baby, confident childbirth would be as swift and as easy as the first, and the next, they’re rushing in a doctor as my 4-year-old looks up at me with eyes clouded in panic.

The moments that followed were a haze, but memory fragments slowly found their way back, each clinging to my mind like magnets to metal. I think back on this day and I can still feel the panic and sense of my own fear. The experience plays like a scary movie in my mind. I want to tell the doctor I’m worried.

Don’t let them send me home. Please, don’t send me home.

It all started right after the glorious moment I brought my baby into the world. After he was laid on my chest, slimy, wrinkly, and shrieking from the surprise of the sudden first breath. After my skin felt his skin for the first time. After I reluctantly handed my baby over to the nurse to be bathed, weighed, poked, and prodded. After I realized my heart was really capable of loving another child.

I told them something wasn’t right. My stomach was cramping worse than any period I’d ever experienced.

“After pains are always worse the second time around, honey,” they assured me.

I told them I was feeling a little lightheaded when I was transferred to my recovery room —  the room I’d later think was going to be the last place I’d ever see. Just white walls and a patterned couch for partners to stay the night and hold the mothers who refused to leave their baby’s side. This is the place where it all began.

As I started to raise myself up off of the bed, I immediately felt things drifting away. I was passing out in what felt like slow motion. My blood pressure was dropping rapidly; panic set in. What was happening? Have I ever passed out before? No, I don’t think I have. This is scary.

In desperation, my mom begged him to do a hysterectomy on her 25-year-old daughter.
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I could hear the nurse leaning over me say, “She won’t stop bleeding. Get the doctor in here now!” And just before passing out, I saw medical staff rush my family out, including my terrified son.

When I woke up, the doctor was telling me my uterus wasn’t contracting the way it should after birth to make the bleeding stop, so she was going to have to do it manually. She mentioned she usually gives patients a strong painkiller like morphine, but she had to do it now.

In went her entire arm until she reached my uterus and began to massage it. Fear kept me from feeling the pain. Confusion kept me from crying. I thought people don’t die after giving birth in the hospital anymore.

I would later realize how wrong I was; you can’t predict who will hemorrhage.

A few hours later, my baby was back in the room with me. The doctor told me my bleeding was now normal and I should be fine to go home on time. I thought I could finally start to relax. I was wrong again.

That night, as I got up to go to the bathroom, I passed a blood clot the size of a melon. Never could I have imagined something that big could come out of me, other than a baby. Again, the doctor assured me the medicine given would stop the bleeding and I’d be fine. Working in the medical field myself, I try to avoid being “that patient,” but in this instance, it could have cost me my life.

I went home on schedule, even after I hemorrhaged and was unstable for several hours. Even though I was still bleeding, I trusted the doctor.

I passed another blood clot at home, this time a little larger than a baseball. The next clot was a little bigger than that. With much persistence from my mom, I called the doctor and asked for a D&C, and he agreed to do it to ease my mind.

But once back in the hospital, I woke up hemorrhaging yet again, with my mom screaming for doctors and nurses to come help. I was slipping again. I heard the doctor mutter to himself, “I just don’t know why she’s bleeding. It won’t stop. I don’t know what to do.” In desperation, my mom begged him to do a hysterectomy.

A hysterectomy on me — her 25-year-old daughter.

Once I awoke again, I found myself still bleeding; still confused.

What if I hadn’t begged for the D&C? Would I just hemorrhage at home until there was nothing left of me? Would my partner be raising our 4-year-old and newborn baby on his own?

And then, more panic set in.

Oh my god, my baby! Who’s been feeding him? Have they been burping him the way I like to burp my babies? Is the formula hurting his belly, and if so, do they know how to bring his knees to his chest and rotate to get the gas out?

I should have been worrying about my new baby this entire time. Why was my body trying to sabotage me?

Hours later, I woke up again in a different room, still bleeding. The doctor was explaining options to make it stop if the medicine didn’t make my uterus contract, including a balloon procedure (What the hell?) and as a last resort, a hysterectomy.

I tried to let it go because my baby was healthy, but there was lingering anger I couldn’t shake that made me feel robbed of the birth experience.
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Two days later, I was still in the hospital, listening to the doctor tell me that I’d lost a “little more” blood than they thought, and I would need not one, but three blood transfusions. (Did he seriously say three?!) Each day there scared me more.

The feeling of someone else’s blood entering your body, mixing with yours to make you well again, is an odd feeling. I felt flushed, and frankly, like shit could hit the fan again at any time.

Turns out, the transfusions did the trick. No hysterectomy needed, though in some ways, I felt like I’d had one. How could I ever mentally prepare myself for pregnancy and childbirth after this? I never want to think about my two sons losing their mother again, or be frantic with worry over why my doctors don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Of course, I tried to let it go and leave the painful memories at the hospital, instead of taking them home with me. After all, my baby was healthy, and I was alive.

But there was a lingering anger I just couldn’t shake. Anger over feeling robbed of my own birth experience. I felt like I was just supposed to accept it and move on. But I couldn’t. In the months that followed, I woke up from the taste of my own sweat after nightmares that weren’t really nightmares — they were memories.

It’s now three years later, and I still get anxiety every time I start my period. I wonder if the blood is too much, if it will stop, and what will happen if it doesn’t. It’s three years later, and yet when my coworker had her baby in the same hospital, I had to take anxiety meds just so I could visit her there.

But I’ve decided to finally step out of the gloom and into the brilliant sun, allowing myself to feel lucky it was me and not my baby who suffered. I allow myself to feel the bitterness slip away the way I slipped in those moments after the hemorrhaging. I allow myself to be grateful I escaped death, instead of feeling angry I almost succumbed to it on what should have been one of the happiest days of my life.

This is how I choose to live; how I choose to take the pain and turn it into something meaningful, and bask in the gratitude I have for every single day.

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