In the United States, over 700 women a year die of complications related to pregnancy, and two-thirds of those deaths are preventable. I did not know that more women die in the United States from pregnancy complications than any other developed country until I almost became a statistic myself.
Life is often a series of circumstances beyond your control. The day you almost bleed to death is not a day you forget. It is also a day that takes some time to come to accept. In 2016, I was pregnant with my second child. Since I had a C-section with my first child, the doctor suggested I have a C-section with my second child. We scheduled the C-section for November 9, 2016. That morning everything went as planned on our way to the hospital. We arrived early, and we were ready to meet baby number two.
At 7:04 am, the doctor yelled out, “It’s a girl!” We did not know the sex until that point, and we were thrilled to have a little sister for our first daughter. We named her Adalind. Our baby girl was perfectly healthy at eight and a half pounds, and my recovery began.
After arriving at my private room, my primary recovery nurse greeted me. She asked where my pain level was. I explained that it felt more intense than I remembered with my first C-section. I had my blood pressure taken, and she said they would be bringing Adalind to me shortly. I watched TV as we waited and I chatted with my husband. As time went on, I began telling my husband that the pain was becoming more intense and that it felt much worse than it did with my first C-section. My husband was supportive and trying to help, but he could not do much to alleviate my pain.
When the nurse came in again, she asked how I was feeling and where my pain was on a scale of 1 to 10. I said I was probably at a 10, perhaps more. I explained that I had a high tolerance for pain, but this was becoming unbearable. She continued to express that every C-section was different and that since this was my second C-section, it was typical for the pain to be more intense. She checked my uterus and said it was contracting as expected. She left and said she would be back soon to check on me again. I wanted to trust her, but I felt something telling me that this was not normal.
When they brought Adalind to us, it was magnificent. Adalind latched on like a pro and was ready to breastfeed. Compared to my first time breastfeeding, this was a breeze. Adalind latched on quickly and was drinking breast milk right away. It took about twenty minutes for her to breastfeed. I was still in pain, but I will savor those twenty minutes for the rest of my life.
Once Adalind finished breastfeeding, they took her back to the newborn room. I started talking to my husband, and that is when the unthinkable happened. I hunched over in the bed. The cramping became swift and severe. I felt as if my insides were pulling apart from my body. Immediately after, my bed became soaked with blood. Absolute terror went through my mind. I became disoriented and horrified. My husband immediately started doing everything he could to find a nurse or a doctor, someone to help. My primary nurse came rushing in. She looked scared and confused. This frightened me even more. She ran out, and soon I had nearly ten or so nurses in my room. It felt as if I was on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It became an out of body experience at this point. The pain continued, and the blood continued to flow out of me and soak the bed.
Suddenly in the commotion, I heard a voice say, “Hi, I’m Gabby, the head nurse.” She held my hand and said, “I am going to take care of you. I need to get inside of you and what I am going to do is going to hurt.” My husband was holding my hand. Gabby then proceeded to put her hand inside of me to see if my uterus was contracting. I began screaming in pain. It was so intense I began to bite my husband’s arm in between the screams. He kept telling me, “You can do this. I’m here. I love you. You can do this.” His words rang hollow as I was in the worst pain I had ever experienced. Looking down, I could see Gabby’s arm inside of me. When she pulled it out, her arm was soaked in blood. She then told me, “I need to push down on your stomach now. I am trying to force your uterus to start contracting.” At this point, I thought I was going to pass out from the pain.
Gabby then said to my primary nurse, “How did you not notice her uterus was not contracting? She is hemorrhaging badly.” Now I was in a full panic. Gabby yelled, “We need a doctor in here ASAP!”
A few minutes passed, but those are a few minutes of agony and fear I will never forget. The thoughts that raced into my mind in between the pain were fluid and fast-paced. One idea would enter, and another would interrupt it just as fast:
“I might die today. Holy shit is this actually happening? This hurts so much. Do any of these people know what the hell they are doing?”
Pictures of my family and friends came through in waves. The room was becoming warmer. The pain was agonizing. People, time, moments, the past, the future, memories, and the pain all blurred into one another.
Within minutes, my doctor came in. I cannot express to you how relieved I was to see him. You know on Christmas morning when a child spots that one gift they wanted the most with a huge red bow on it? That is how I felt when I saw him! I knew he had years of experience, and I trusted him fully with my life. He looked into my eyes, held my hand, and said, “Do not worry; I am going to take care of you. I have to put you back under anesthesia. When you wake up, everything will be fine. But it has to happen right now.”
They told my husband he could wait for me right outside. I did not have time to process it all. I said to my husband, “I love you.” He said the same. We kissed, and he let go of my hand. I said a prayer and then was I out.
When I woke up, I remember thinking, “Wow, I woke up! I am still here! I made it! Thank you, everyone! Thank you, God!” I remember my husband said, “Hey, how do you feel? It’s so good to see you awake.” The pain was gone, but I was not sure if it was because of the anesthesia or something else. I felt an enormous sigh of relief mixed with worry, wondering if everything was “fixed.” I remember I was utterly exhausted.
My doctor came to see me soon afterward. He told me that the surgery went well, and he was able to stop the bleeding. He warned me that I had lost a significant amount of blood. He let me know my C-section recovery would now be much different, but that I should be OK. He told us that I would pass large blood clots but that anything more substantial than a golf ball he wanted to see. That meant collecting it and placing it in a bag for him or the head nurse to examine. Lastly, he let me know that I would need a blood transfusion.
The blood transfusion took about eight hours. They attached me to a life-saving machine for eight hours, receiving blood from strangers. Strangers that helped save my life. Strangers that are now a part of me and made me physically complete again. My view on donating blood changed drastically that day.
My relationship with my husband also changed that day. When you nearly lose your time with someone, time suddenly becomes of the essence. He also had to help me do everything as I could not do much on my own. When I passed a significant and concerning blood clot, and there was no nurse nearby to retrieve it, he gloved up and went into the toilet to grab it. In his words, “I wanted to grab it before it changed or someone would flush it down the toilet by accident.” To say this ordeal brought us closer would be an understatement. Those wedding vows took on their intended meaning during my recovery.
Seeing my daughters once it was all over was sobering. I would be able to go home to my girls, but I also nearly lost my time with them as well. It was too much to take in at that moment.
After a few days, I went home, but I was severely restricted on what I could do. I was limited to the bed and the couch. I was an emotional wreck for some time after this experience. I did not want to discuss it for several weeks. I questioned everything and went through feelings of shock, happiness, anger, and despair, often experiencing all of these emotions in one day. Once I felt comfortable enough to talk about it, speaking to friends and family became therapeutic.
So how does almost dying change you? I learned how to pray that day. It makes you less stressed about the little things. I learned how to relax. Not just to sit on my couch and do nothing, but how to sit in a quiet room and breathe intently. How to stop for a minute and just take in, instead of giving out. I consistently look at the positive now. Naturally, I still worry and get upset, but I quickly stop and assess. Count your blessings is not just a phrase for me anymore.
I came to find out later that the nurse assigned to me had only been out of nursing school for six months. It was her first experience with a uterus that was not contracting properly. I want to thank the head nurse Gabby that saved my life. She took total control of the situation and was the first line of defense in protecting my life. I would not be here without her. I would also like to thank my doctor for saving my life. For making me feel at ease. For delivering two of my greatest blessings. For holding my hand and saying, “You will be OK.”
I started this post by sharing that life is often a series of circumstances beyond your control. When in a life and death situation, you learn this lesson hard and fast. There was so much that day I could not control. It changed me more than anything I have experienced until this point. My husband learned that lesson this day as well. You have to let go and trust the process. It is something that we are still working on today.
Did you know that the United States’ maternal mortality rate continues to rise? It has been rising since 1990. This is my story, and I am grateful to be here. Ladies, make sure you advocate for yourself and speak up when you know something is not right. You know your body best, and if you do not advocate for yourself, who will?