700 to 800 US women die each year during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth. I was almost one of them. I lost about 4 liters of blood on the operating table. (Estimates are an adult body has 4.5-6 liters, depending on weight.) My twin sister said that when the doctor came out to announce I had a healthy daughter, she was literally dripping in blood. It looked like a murder scene.
It was not supposed to be my daughter’s birthday. It was July, and she wasn’t due until late August. I am a single parent, intentionally, so can confidently say that nearly dying was never part of my birth plan – though I doubt it would be for anyone. I’ll also tell you that I never made it to birth classes or created a birth plan. Hell, I had just let my twin sister know at dinner the evening before she was on tap to keep me company during the birth.
One night in July, I woke about 2am with upper back pain that wouldn’t go away. Eventually, I started vomiting, possibly from the pain. I called my sister asking casually at 2am if I should be worried, then called the doctor while my sister was en route to take me to the ER. My doctor was off, but her replacement would come by later in the morning.
The ER doctors told me I was having contractions but not dilating. They said there was nothing they could do. They were going to send me home. My sister refused. She told them I was going to stay until they could identify the issue and stop the pain and vomiting.
Eventually they gave me an epidural. They warned, however, that they might have to give me another. I didn’t care. I remember sitting holding a pillow or two. I remember a small prick. And then I remember this release catching hold of my body and singing their praises because all of a sudden, the pain stopped. I felt normal again. I could breathe.
A few minutes later, while checking vitals, the nurse shouted something, and three people jumped on the gurney with me, with a dozen more running us down the hall. They’d lost my daughter’s vitals. I’ve never before or since experienced that level of fear.
I remember the 15+ people rushing me to the room. I remember hearing they had lost her vitals. And I remember being upset enough that I couldn’t calm down to breathe, while the anesthesiologist kept telling me I had to calm down. Soon I was knocked completely out. I was not present at my daughter’s birth.
Though I gave birth shortly after 9am, I don’t remember the rest of that day. I’ve heard stories. And I have some (unflattering) pics. But I am told that less than 5 minutes after the nurse hit the panic button, my daughter was born. Her family name is “Diedle Demonia Cruella Hooey Ribet Andrina Thomasina.” Diedle for short. But, rest assured, none of those names actually appear on her birth certificate.
I was in surgery for over 4 hours. Neither my OB nor her partnering doctor were present at the birth. The attending doctor (possibly a trainee) made a vertical incision. In their rush to get to my daughter, they ripped a fibroid. Which feeds on blood. And that was what cost me about 4000 cc of blood. Throughout the surgery, I was given a massive transfusion (5 liters of blood, 4 bags of plasma, and 3 bags of platelets). My siblings like to tell me that means that I’m no longer a blood relative, that they’re more closely related to my Diedle.
I was in the hospital for just under a week. Despite not eating more than ice chips for 5 days, barfing most of them, and barely passing the “gas test,” I was discharged. My doctor claimed the vomiting was how I managed pain, and having given birth, my fibroids must have been deteriorating and causing pain. She refused to consider alternatives.
For the next six weeks, instead of the swelling going down, I grew puffier. My calves alone were 50cm around. (And on the TMI front, I hadn’t pooped in weeks.) I was vomiting daily, sometimes multiple times. I’d have flashes of “labor pain” where for 4-5 hours, all I could do was sit and do what most resembles labor breathing. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t care for my baby girl. After a while, I’d vomit massive volumes of bile. My family was trying to keep me hydrated and nourished, but I declined any social visitors. A former boss and one of my BFFs were the only two who ignored me and came anyway. One brought a laundry basket of alcohol. The other soup and other yummy dishes, and helped put away baby shower gifts still sitting on the dining room table.
Through all of this, my OB and internal medicine doctors weren’t concerned. They’d document my increasingly puffy self, and tell me it’ll eventually go down. I asked them to check for intestinal blockage time and again. My doctors refused. My skin was tight. It hurt to touch. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand. I slept for months on my living room chair with a footstool. My baby occasionally napped on my chest. I loved to hold her – I still do. She was the easiest, most low maintenance baby.
At one point, I asked my OB if I could have more kids. Her response? “Of course.” Oh, I said. My sister thought I might die if I tried again. “Well. You’d probably deliver at 26 weeks. Heart, lungs, and brains may not be fully developed. You might die. The baby might be special needs. But you can have one.”
My body got used to this new “system” and calmed down for a bit. But the day my daughter turned seven months, the pain, labor breathing, and vomiting started again. I drove my daughter to daycare and felt so crappy that I opened the door to the center, put her carrier down and turned and walked away without a word. When they came out, I couldn’t stand up any longer.
My OB and internal medicine doctors didn’t have room to see me, so I saw another doctor. She ordered an x-ray and noticed something was off. She thought maybe it was kidney stones. But she would need a scan to be sure. Unfortunately, she consulted with my OB, who told her it was probably my fibroids deteriorating again. She instructed me to go home, take my pain meds, anti-nausea if needed, and go back to bed. The new doctor was hesitant, but my OB outranked her on my care. She told me if I didn’t feel better in the morning, to call her again.
At 2am, I woke up my sister (who had come to take care of my daughter and me). We bundled everyone up, and drove to the hospital about 30 minutes away. I walked in, and I said, “I’m in pain. One doctor thinks its kidney stones. One thinks it is fibroids. But I’m not giving any personal info until the pain stops.”
I must have looked like hell because they didn’t question or require the intake forms until I was being seen. They took the needed scans and reported both doctors were wrong. Instead, I had a blocked intestine. Evidently, when all of my innards were returned post-c-section, they left my intestine kinked like a garden hose. I was scheduled for surgery later that day.
A few hours later, my OB called my cell and arrogantly asked me if I was feeling better. I told her I was, because I was on heavy drugs at the hospital. I told her to clear her calendar. While they were in there for the intestine, she needed to do a hysterectomy (which is the best and final way to rid yourself of fibroids). Remember, she hadn’t been present at the birth of my daughter, so I still believed she’d give good care.
A few hours later, I lost more than a foot of my intestine and had a partial hysterectomy, because she apparently didn’t get everything she was supposed to. The medical report from that surgery alone is over 800 pages long. Needless to say, I switched doctors.
When I consulted my new OB (who was not involved) and asked her what may have happened, her explanation was that the doctor made a mistake, panicked; made another mistake, panicked; etc. God bless training hospitals.
My story is not all too uncommon, unfortunately. I am one of the lucky ones. I don’t remember my birth experience. I didn’t realize how sick I really was. I didn’t understand until months later how much they screwed up. I was blissfully unaware how close I was to death.
For me, the hardest thing for me was that – although she was born on an early Thursday morning – I wasn’t allowed to meet my daughter until Sunday afternoon. And, then, only with other adult supervision. But I did get to meet her. And I’m still here to raise her.