Ten days after I gave birth to my daughter, I suffered from what is called a secondary postpartum hemorrhage. Between my emergency c-section and the hemorrhage, I lost half of my blood volume. It took me six weeks to stop bleeding, three months to let go of the blood anxiety, and eight months to feel like I was fully functioning again. Fourteen months later, I still have an imprint on my back from the epidural that I was on for two days. This is the story of my painless C-section that turned into a horrid hemorrhage.
It is two days before my due date when my water breaks at home on my couch. I had spent the day wondering if I was feeling contractions or not. When we arrive at the hospital, the nurses are ready to send me home because I don’t appear very “labor-like.” But I’m four centimeters dilated and ready for the epidural. We spend a few hours in the labor room putting me in different positions to try and shift my baby’s head down. After some attempts, the heartbeat goes astray. This causes the nurses to rush me to the OR for an emergency C-section.
By the time we get to the next room, the heartbeat returns to normal, and I get sent back to my labor room. My doctor is concerned that the head is “still in Connecticut.” The heartbeat goes astray again. My doctor looks at me, and in a quiet tone, says “We are going to have to have baby the other way.” I look back at her and simply say, “Okay.”
The nurses and doctors spend quite some time getting the OR set up. I remember feeling lonely, wanting someone to talk to me. My husband comes in and is sitting right next to my head while the anesthesiologist is sitting right behind me. I ask if I am going to feel anything; he tells me no, and that I will be on the epidural for two days afterwards. My doctors are talking about what Juniper means, as that is what we are naming our daughter who will appear before our eyes in just moments. The first thing they say when they pull her out is, “Look at that red hair!” I couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t wait to see her. They place her gently with her head on my shoulder as the tears run down my face.
When I call the hospital, I’m told that a hemorrhage from a C-section would be very rare.As I stand, it is like a gallon of blood literally falls out of me.
As they are getting Juniper cleaned up, they are sewing me back together. At one point, my doctor leans over the sheet that is separating us and asks, “Were you trying for a while to have a baby? Because you are covered in endometriosis. I mean covered. It’s amazing you got pregnant.” I respond “No, we tried one time.”
Being stitched up feels like an eternity. When we finally start rolling out of the room, my doctor refers to the IV lines as “spaghetti.” I ask her if I can have some spaghetti. She laughs and tells me that I’ll be on a liquid diet to start. I had no idea what this recovery was going to entail.
My C-section recovery is nothing to complain about. I have no pain. I’m on the epidural for two days and another medication to stop a burning feeling. I get up and walk around in the hospital and get back and forth to the bathroom just fine. I’m sent home with a prescription for Children’s Motrin because I cannot swallow pills, and I have to take so much that I drink it from a shot glass. I make sure to take it easy, as that is what the nurses insisted on.
Ten days pass, and I feel that my bleeding is getting out of control. When I call the hospital, I’m told that having a hemorrhage from a C-section would be very rare. I decide that I need to be checked out anyway. As I stand to get out of the car, it is like a gallon of blood literally falls out of me. Down my leg, onto the ground, everywhere. I cannot explain how this feels; it’s unreal. I walk into the hospital with blood all down my legs. I swear the lady at the desk is terrified by the way she looks at me. They bring a me a wheelchair with the pads covering it to catch the blood. While the nurses wheel me to the elevator, I keep asking what’s going on, but all they can say is “You’re in the right place now. You did the right thing.”
I get upstairs to the triage room, where a nurse tries to get me cleaned up and attempts to measure the amount of blood I am losing. It’s everywhere. A doctor checks me and says that we need to get my uterus contracting again. This requires putting me on pitocin through a cold IV. He also gives me two pills through my butt in order to get into my system faster. The good news is that these medications work to slow the bleeding; the bad news is the effect they have on me. I shake uncontrollably for nearly two hours. They cover me in warm blankets thinking that the medications gave me a fever.
Once the shaking subsides, I go for an ultrasound to make sure the doctors removed everything inside of my uterus. It comes back clear, so in the morning, the doctors need to repair the damage done. First things first, a blood transfusion, since I had lost half of my blood volume. Second, an EKG because of a high heart rate. Third, a series of tests for my blood pressure. And lastly, three different antibiotics to treat for possible infection.
I head home two days later, the day before my birthday. I have a checkup with my regular doctor. She lays it out for me like this:
We don’t know why this happened.
We scraped your uterus clean during the c-section.
You are going to have clots, that is normal.
Your uterus just isn’t cooperative and it stopped contracting.
MAYBE breast feeding would have kept it contracting, but we don’t know for sure.
We don’t know for sure if you an infection, it’s just a precaution.
You did not do this to yourself. You are not on bed rest. You need to be up and moving around. Don’t walk the mall or anything, but you should be moving.
It is not going to happen again because it’s been two weeks, and you are further along in your six-week recovery.
I am assured that everything is okay, and yet my newfound blood anxiety won’t let me believe it. I freak out at the sight of blood and fear this happening again.
I talk to an old friend of mine who is a labor and delivery nurse. She explains to me exactly how the uterus works and repairs, which is something no doctor has ever explained during this process. I need to understand the science behind all of this. I am never diagnosed with postpartum depression or anxiety. I never fear anything about my baby, just about my own body. All I want is to take care of my baby. I want to clean the house, go out with friends, go shopping, go out to eat, and shower. I want to wake up in the morning. I want to run a mile, do yoga, and climb a mountain. I want so much, but I feel stuck.
Postpartum recovery is a lengthy process for any type of birth. I believe the added blood loss made the recovery even longer for me. Here I am, a year later, and I am finally doing yoga, climbing mountains, running a mile, living my life without taking naps or iron pills. My daughter is beautiful, wonderful, and an amazing sleeper. My husband is loving, caring, and hilarious.
I wouldn’t change a thing about my birth story. Every piece is important to who I am today. It’s part of my daughter’s story, too, her entrance into this beautiful world. The weight that I carry on my back from my journey of having a baby is the true imprint. From pregnancy to labor to an emergency c-section to a secondary postpartum hemorrhage to getting my body back. My body carries the physical scars, but what has been imprinted on my mind will be with me forever too.