“Can you feel this?” a nurse says to me as she swipes an ice cold washcloth across my back. I nod. “But is it cold?”
“Yes,” I say. She looks perplexed as she confers with the other nurses. “We’re going to have to double the dosage,” she informs me.
I’m sitting in the operating room getting ready for an unplanned C-section. All of the drugs they’ve given me in the past 28 hours start to kick in at the same time. Now I can see my future clearly: they extract a healthy, squirming baby from my overdosed, dead body. Every year on my daughter’s birthday, my husband will wear all black and won’t let her have a party.
“Am I going to die?” I wonder aloud.
There are eight nurses in the room. Most of them are looking at me lovingly, repeating phrases like “Everything’s going to be okay, sweetie.” Except one nurse. She looks like she’s had about enough of me. She puts her hands on my shoulders. “Why do you think you’re going to die?” she asks. I burst into tears.
It all started about a year ago when my husband and I started to talk seriously about having kids. I always knew it was something I wanted to do, but I had more reservations with every passing day. I was so obsessed that I paid to have my genes carrier screened. The results came back showing I was a carrier for nothing, but I wasn’t convinced I was out of the woods. Something unexpected could always go wrong, my anxious mind thought.
Just as I was trying to wrap my mind around the epic dice-roll that is procreating, a new fear lodged its way into my anxious brain: I was going to die giving birth.
It was something I hadn’t even thought about before. I don’t live in the 1800s or in a developing nation; people in the US in 2018 didn’t just die in childbirth. Until one day, a friend of a friend did.
The GoFundMe page was all over social media. It had pictures of her at the baby shower just a week beforehand, alive and well, smiling with her arms around her girlfriends. Her hair was that trendy shade of faded purple that I admired but didn’t have the guts to pull off. She could have been me.
Just an hour after giving birth, she passed away, the GoFundMe stated. They were trying to collect enough money for the father to stay home with his new daughter for at least a year, while also grieving the death of his wife. I couldn’t think of anything sadder.
I think the reason this affected me so greatly was that it gave a name and a face to an otherwise unimaginable problem. Sure, I could read a statistic online stating how extremely unlikely death as a result of childbirth was. But here was someone from that .02%, a real person who’d had a real life. I had a chance to see her face, her baby shower decorations, and a little window into the life she’d lived. A concrete image of one real person overshadows the hundreds of thousands of people who make up the majority of a statistic.
I wondered if it was even worth it. I wanted to have a child, but did I want it so badly that I was willing to (literally) sacrifice my own life?
I deleted Facebook and started seeing a therapist for my anxiety. Later, I read that the friend of a friend also had been a heart transplant recipient, which, while still tragic, at least pointed to a more concrete cause of death. As I reflected on my negative fixation, I figured out that if I was friends with a thousand people on Facebook, and each of them were friends with a thousand people, then I had one million friends of friends alone. So something could seem commonplace by happening to a friend of a friend while really being as rare as “one in a million.”
My drug-addled mind tried describing some version of this to the stern nurse whose hands were on my shoulders.
“What was the complication with this girl?” She asked, pressing the issue in a way that made some of the other nurses raise their eyebrows.
“I think she had a heart transplant,” I slurred.
“Have you had a heart transplant?” she said. “No,” she stated simply. “You haven’t.”
And in just as straightforward of a manner, she ran the cloth across my back again, which felt like nothing this time. They put up a curtain that my husband made the mistake of looking over, and within ten minutes I was holding my slimey, perfect daughter.
By this point, my high had morphed into that of a kid eating pot brownies for the first time. “I’m so sorry,” I said to the nurses as I was both laughing and crying uncontrollably.
“It’s okay,” the stern one said.
“You guys are totally going to make fun of me in the nurses’ lounge later today.”
“We would never do that,” she assured me.
But I know they probably did. And they had every right to.