I Thought 'No One Dies In Childbirth' -- Until I Almost Did
Emergency C-section. Two blood transfusions. Septic shock. Multi-system organ failure. Emergency dialysis, and seven excruciating days away from my newborn son later, I realized how naive I was to think that “nobody dies during childbirth anymore.”
I was admitted to the hospital at 39 weeks gestation.What was supposed to be an exciting time developed into a living nightmare when I spiked a 103 degree fever out of the blue. At around midnight, I started shaking uncontrollably. My doctor rushed in and ordered an EKG stat, because my pulse had skyrocketed to 200. My son began showing signs of fetal distress and his heart rate started declining rapidly.
My doctor quickly ordered an emergency cesarean. I remember shaking while trying to sign paperwork as they were literally running me, in my hospital bed, to the operating room. My husband, Billy, ran the other way to go get scrubbed in, but they never came back to go get him.
Everyone was shouting when we got to the operating room. Instruments clanging, plastic tape unraveling – all of it. The doctor asked “can you feel this?”as she poked me with the scalpel and started my incision. I was silently crying and telling myself not to freak out, but I was alone, and my unborn baby was in serious trouble.
At 1:04 am (so they tell me), I felt the doctor pull my baby out of me. I waited to hear my baby cry. I waited and I waited. That moment never happened for me. There was no crying. There was no baby in sight. I began to panic. I quietly asked, “Is he okay?” Silence was the response I received. I started screaming. “Is my baby alive!?” Finally, someone spoke and they said “They’re working on it.”
I began to hemorrhage. I heard urgency in the voices operating on me. They were barking orders for units of blood. I heard a voice say that my blood pressure was 60/0. I felt myself fading. In this moment, I thought, “My baby is dead, and now I am dying.”
I received two blood transfusions before I was anywhere near stable. Finally, they allowed Billy into the operating room. He describes walking into the operating room for the first time as “a murder scene,” as he had to literally step over puddles of my blood to reach me.
Billy tells me that he was intubated, but baby EJ is alive! They sent a team from Seattle Children’s to transport him by ambulance. EJ required cooling to slow the progression of any possible organ damage. I was told that my newborn baby didn’t breathe for six long minutes.
My sister and Billy went with EJ, and I took my own ambulance ride to the “sister” hospital down the street. When my mom finally arrived, we got a visit from the chaplain. I laughed and said “doesn’t the chaplain only come when you’re dying?”I didn’t understand that I was still in critical condition.
I was woken abruptly by the sound of alarms going off and a bunch of nurses in my room. They threw an oxygen mask on my face and then it all got a little hazy. I sent Billy a text reading: “My lungs are failing, I think they’re going to put me on a respirator.” The last thing I remember is a team of doctors swarming in and pain as they inserted a femoral catheter and performed emergency dialysis.
When I woke up, the doctors told us that along with my lungs failing, my kidneys and liver had also failed. My OB, Eve, showed up and crawled in my hospital bed with me and just held me while we cried together. I asked Billy’s best friends, Eddie and Jack (EJ is named after them), to come in. I begged them to help take care of EJ if I didn’t make it. Soon after, my hospital called Billy and my sister who were still at Seattle Children’s and told them that they needed to get up here quickly to say goodbye to me. The dialysis had saved my life, but I wasn’t out of the woods.
The physical pain I was experiencing was nothing compared to the emotional pain that I was suffering. The first time I saw my son was on FaceTime. I smiled, I cried, and I ached to hold him in my arms. My family sent me countless pictures, but it killed me to know that everyone was meeting my baby before I was.
My sister, Donna, took beautiful pictures of EJ. She enlarged them and hung them on my hospital wall so that I could see him every day. Each time a new hospital worker would come in, they would say, “Your baby is so beautiful, is he here?” and I’d nearly break down crying when I’d have to explain that he was in the NICU at Children’s and that I hadn’t even met him yet.
Over the next few days, my kidney and liver counts slowly started to return to normal. I begged my care team each day to let me leave so I could see my baby, but I was still too sick. Each day I got a little stronger. One day, I was able to walk to the chair and visit with my family on the couch and the next day I was able to go to the bathroom all by myself. The day after that, the nurse told me I could take off my EKG since it had looked stable for awhile. It felt good to get rid of some of those wires.
On August 31st, I took a shower by myself. It felt heavenly! I noticed in the shower that my breasts felt very heavy but I just brushed it off. My friend Giulia came to visit me and she did my makeup. My sister, Jadey, was also there, just hanging out with me. It felt good to have some “girl time.” When Giulia left, I told Jadey about my shower and she excitedly said, “Maybe your milk came in!” When we finally figured out the manual pump, I was able to pump a few ounces of beautiful, amazing breastmilk. My body was finally working! We took the funniest picture of ourselves in that moment and I will treasure that photo forever.
Later on, I was sitting up in the chair when I saw Billy walking into my room. He was carrying something. My baby! I instantly started hyperventilating and uncontrollably bawling my eyes out. He brought me my precious baby boy. When he placed EJ in my arms, I felt a mixture of joy, love, pain, grief, and relief. Everything I had endured over the past week was now worth it. I could barely see through my tears as I held him. I held my precious boy so tight as he curled into me. I felt like he knew that he was finally with his mommy.
I had begged the doctors to let me leave that night, but they said I needed to stay one more. Jadey stayed with me and I hardly slept. Billy and EJ came down the next morning after the appointment with the pediatrician and we all waited anxiously for my care team. Around noon, I finally got clearance to go home. My doctors said that I really should stay there a few more days, but if I promised to see the kidney specialist within 48 hours, I could go. Of course I promised. I would have sold my soul to leave that hospital. When the nurse wheeled me outside, it was like I was seeing the world for the first time. I’ll always remember how wonderful it was to breathe in fresh air.
When I finally got home, I showered and tried to scrub off all the adhesive and bad memories. I closely and delicately examined my new body. I was a different person now. Not only did I have emotional scars, but I now had stretch marks and leaky breasts. I was stitched from hip to hip with IV scars in both wrists, both arms, and I had a large scar on my left groin from a femoral catheter. I had tangible, physical scars on my body to match the ones on my heart. When I got out of the shower, I picked up my tiny baby and I laid him on my chest. I put my head on his head and felt his tiny breaths. I felt like I was “home” again, and everything was going to be okay.
Over time, my scars have faded, but they still remain. On my tough days, I look at EJ and I am reminded of all that we’ve been through and all that we’ve overcome. That “coming home” feeling comes back to me, a reminder that everything will be okay. He brings me peace, and we are miracles.
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