Have you ever had anything tramatic happen to you? I mean catastrophic and nearly life ending? If so, did it change you?
I use to love hearing birth stories before having children of my own. The way new mothers would go on in vivid detail about the car ride, the intensifying contractions, the pain, and then the maternal gratification that seemed to change that woman forever.
Birth stories were inspiring, raw, and beautiful. I couldn’t wait to experience my own. Then I did and now when someone wants to share their birth story- I dread it. Because typically when that women is nearing the end of her story, she turns to me with a eager smile and says: “What’s yours?”
With my heartbeating fast and my breathing rapid, I rush through it. Six years later and my birth story still incites fear.
My husband and I had been married 7 years before we actually began trying for a family. We had no issues with fertility, we just married young and preferred to finish college first. Perhaps start a career and even travel a little. Then we were transitioning through our second nursing degree when my heart began to yearn for a family. The feeling was mutual so our little family began.
The first trimester was a breeze. In fact, since I was still finishing up college I was more focused on exams then feeling nauseous. We found out we were having a girl and before I knew it I was nearing the end of the second trimester. This is when I started to instinctively feel like something was wrong. My fingers and feet were swelling which is typically normal but not to this size. Then the edema worked its way into my calves and even my face. I tried to push down my fear and look forward to when I soon would hold our baby girl. Yet, deep down I knew something wasn’t right so I scheduled an earlier appointment with my OB.
Early Warning Signs
I remember that visit so well, I had worried myself into a restless sleep the night before. However, by the time I sat waiting in the little room at the OB’s Doctors office I had convinced myself I was overreacting. I was just a nervous expectant new mom. The nurse came in and took my blood pressure then sent me to the bathroom with a empty urine specimen cup. I slid the plastic cup with the orange lid into the small metal chamber in the wall between the bathroom and the area where the medical staff worked. Then I cheerfully returned to my room, convinced everything was fine.
No sooner was I sitting in my cloth gown when my OB swiftly entered the room with a tight face. She skipped over the pleasantries and started right in, “You have protein in your urine, a little is normal in pregnancy but you have more than a little. Your blood pressure is up, I want you to head over to the hospital, I’ll meet you there in a little bit.” That was it then she rushed out the door. My face fell and I wanted to cry. The nurse returned to the room softly conveying my instructions but I barely heard them through my racing thoughts.
What was going on?
Being a recent grad from my second nursing degree, I already knew our fate.
The three top symptoms:
- Swelling that progresses into the legs and face
- High Blood Pressure
- Protien in the urine
- Signs of kidney problems
- Severe headaches
- Changes in vision, including temporary loss of vision, blurred vision or light sensitivity
- Upper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs on the right side
- Nausea or vomiting
- Decreased urine output
- Decreased levels of platelets in your blood (thrombocytopenia)
- Impaired liver function
- Shortness of breath, caused by fluid in your lungs
I spent that day in the hospital. The joy and excitement of experiencing my first pregnancy was now tainted with fear and apprehension. I worked tirelessly to keep my mind clear and focused on the positive, after all this was over I would get to hold my baby.
It wasn’t easy, after I was discharged my third trimester changed to this:
- Blood Pressure medicine
- Monitor my blood pressure and keeping a log of random checks
- Monitoring myself for headaches, nausea or any of the other above listed symptoms
Every headache or high blood pressure reading required a check in at the OB office. I endured three separate hospital stays each one with an increased dose of my blood pressure medicine, labetolol. I soon was taken off of work and instructed on bed rest.
I remeber one of my last hospital admissions all too well….
I was home and it was evening. I was in full nesting mode but couldn’t move from the couch because of the nature of my condition. My husband was nearing the end of his shift at the medical facility we both worked at. My bladder felt like it was being used as a trampoline and I had to use the bathroom every hour. The pressure built up so I began my trip to the bathroom. I stood up and the room just spinned while my mouth began filling with saliva as severe nausea took over. My head was throbbing with an immense aching pain and I was fearful of losing consciousness. I immediately sat back down, called my place of work and told the first person that answered to tell my husband to come home immediately.
I hung up and took my blood pressure…
I took several deep slow cleansing breaths through my nose, closed my eyes, and prayerfully concentrated on lowering my heart rate.
I rechecked my blood pressure:
I turned and laid on my left side, a body position that improves blood flow through the heart by getting the baby off the aorta and can sometimes lower blood pressure. I debated calling an ambulance but worried the pressence of an alarming ambulance and what it holds would make this all too real causing me to panic. If anxiety ensued my blood pressure would further rise. I decided to wait for my husband and prayed that his calming demeanor would soon be here to take us carefully to the hospital.
It was just me and God.
In all of this I feared mostly for my baby. Sure I cared for myself but every choice I made was in careful consideration of how it would effect this precious little life. I remember praying….
God, please take care of her.
Our place of employment was 15 minutes from where we lived but I swear my husband was at my feet in less than 5 minutes. He took one look at me, took my blood pressure, then picked me up and swooped me into the car.
The hospital was roughly 5 minutes from our house. I was in a room on the OB ward in no time. It turned into another overnight stay, a change in blood pressure medication, labs for liver and kidney function testing, and 24 hour fetal monitoring.
I was 35 weeks pregnant and just praying with all my soul my baby would be ok.
And I was told she was, in fact my blood pressure came down and as long as my liver and kidney function were normal I could return home in the morning. My OB was out of town but at this point the plan was to make it to 36 weeks and induce. I had exhausted all of my blood pressure medicine options. Everyone agreed we were not sure if my blood pressure was going to be able to remain stable for that much longer. I was told my liver and kidney functions were well enough for us to return home until my induction date in a few days.
My induction day came quickly, I literally practiced hypnobirthing techniques for 3 solids days. I played a hypnobirthing CD while I slept and we made it through without issue.
Induction day was here and I was so ready…I was on the edge of my seat worried for her health and well being.
My husband and I arrived to the birthing ward at our scheduled time. I was taken to my room, my OB came in with a smile, “Let’s work on getting this baby out.” I gave a nervous thin smile and waited for the next step. My OB inserted a cervidil suppository to soften my cervix. A nurse came in and began to attempt an IV for a slow drip of pitocin.
She missed the first time and then retracted her needle from under my skin. Without a second thought she quickly reinserted the used needle into a different spot in my lower left arm. I saw the flash thankful she found the spot. I held my tongue about reusing the needle and breaching infection control standards. If any damage occurred, it was already done.
Then we waited…and waited.
Four hours in and absolutely nothing changed besides some mild cramping. The pitocin was increased by 2 micrograms every two hours and still nothing.
Then my OB came in and suggested we break my water so I went along with it.
I vividly remember how the tool to break my water was set up. It was a long plastic stick with a hook at the end. It came in a sealed plastic package. The nurse opened the package half way then stuck the closed part in the hospital dresser drawer. She left the handle (open part) exposed for the OB to grab when she came in.
This was considered a sterile procedure and the standards of such meant clearing a bed side table. Disinfecting that table, draping it, and then setting up a sterile field. I know I should of spoke up but I am an extremely nice person. I go out of my way not to be a nuisance to people so much so that I literally put us at risk.
I was different then I sincerely trusted the motives of all people especially health care professionals. After all, they went to nursing school or medical school, subscribed to a high ethical and moral standard just like me right?
I allowed my water to be broken and the pitocin to be increased at a steady rate. Besides the increasing intensity of contractions no actual progress was made.
I bounced on a birthing ball. My husband infused my room with lavender oil scents. I listened and prayerfully meditated to my hypnobirthing CD several times. If I was well enough to walk the halls I would have.
Finally, after 16 hours of various interventions and being maxed out on pitocin I gave in to allowing myself to take stadol for “pain.” Which was odd because I didn’t feel like I was having any but the idea was that maybe it would help me “relax.”
Nope. Still nothing.
At this point my OB came in and stated she briefly saw something on the fetal monitor indicating the baby may have had some distress. She was ok now but what did I want to do going forward?
In the meantime my blood pressure climbed back up and was staying there. That is when I gave into the idea of a C-section.
I was surgically prepped and taken into the operating room. My husband was asked to wait outside while they gave me a spinal and drapped me. This was a frightening experience, my arms were literally tied down with straps.
Next my OB carefully spoke up and cautiously began:
”Sarah, remember a few days earlier when we took your liver and kidney labs? If your protein level was below 500 you could go home?
She paused and besides a hmmm I remaind quiet waiting for the rest.
“There was a mix up in the lab and the machine wasn’t calibrated properly. This was discovered sometime today so they retested your sample. Your protein level was actually over 5,000.” She held her breath waiting for my answer.
I didn’t give one.
I had lost my respect for her. I was strapped down to a table, paralyzed from right below my chest down, entirely vulnerable and without the presence of my husband. The fact that she planned to divulge this sensitive information during this time was done out of no concern for my well-being. I saw through her veiled attempt in veracity, she was carefully trying to protect herself or the hospital from malpractice.
I was so afraid I couldn’t breath.
My husband was brought in and as soon as he saw my face he asked what was wrong. We know each other so well now that we can literally communicate by looks and facial expressions. Mine said, “Will talk later.”
During The C-section
The C-section began and while my husband held my hand I looked up into the hub of the surgical room light. In the reflection I could see two blue masked figures holding scalpels over my lower pelvic region. I could see my open abdomen and the white blood covered flesh of an organ-my uterus.
As much as I wanted to keep my mental faculties intact my mind began to break a little.
Seeing my body this way shook me in ways I can’t describe. This was not the birth story I envisioned for myself.
A single tear rolled down my cheek.
Then an immense about of pressure then relief and my precious little baby girl was out.
Her soft newborn “mew” is still the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. She came out a dainty 5.2 pounds of pure sweetness. I couldn’t wait to hold her. After another moment of immense pressure my insides were pushed back into my abdomen and I was sewn up. Then we were all back in our room.
My nurse checked my fundus height to ensure my uterus was indeed going down. If not, it could be a sign of too much bleeding. All was good though so my parents came to visit then my father and mother in law. Over an hour later I was exhausted, my mind felt like it was swimming in murky water, I just wanted to sleep. Everyone left the room and then my nurse came back.
She poked her head in and asked if everything was ok. I felt more than weak, I felt lethargic like I had an invisible anchor around my body and it was pulling me into the depths of the ocean. My husband said, “I think we are ok.” The nurse started for the door. I thought back to my last fundus check and it had been way over an hour ago, if not two.
Something wasn’t right and then I felt it. A hot sticky firm spraying sensation on the inside of my thigh.
I was hemorrhaging.
I tried to speak but at this point I was barely conscious and physically unable. One last effort towards my survival and I let out a swollen animalistic moan. Through slitted eyes I could see my nurse stop and look back at me then the door.
She looks at me then the door again.
My eyes closed, I tried to muster up the strength to open them so I could plead with her to check me.
My mind broke a little more.
I felt the hot liquid form a pool between my legs and I could feel it spreading behind my back.
I was going to die.
”Dear Heavenly Father please I am not ready. I want to be with my husband and my new baby, please save me.”
I heard my husband say, “Maybe come check her real quick.”
I hear feet walk towards the bed as I willed my eyes open. Through slits I peered out at her as she lifted the sheet and then she stopped in her tracks. She set her face, a practiced ability seasoned medical professionals pick up after years of seeing the worst but not wanting to frightening their patients.
I could hear her hit a button behind me on the wall and then she straddled me while the room filled with people in blue scrubs. She pressed both hands down hard upon my fundus. A searing pain bolted deep across my lower pelvis and then everything went black.
Have you ever stubbed your toe so hard the entire nailbed lifted? The nail doesn’t come off but has been loosened. The nail itself is being held down by the stringy connective tissue still rooted within the nailbed.
This is what my entire body, my entire mind, and even my spirit felt like. As though all of me had been hit so hard I was loosely holding on to whatever was left. My soul once interconnected within every cell of my body had been yanked and was now disjointed.
I could hear mumbled voices and someone say, “She should be in the ICU.” Then another voice, “They are full.” Someone else, “Then she is a one on one, no one leaves her side.”
I wish I could say things improved from here but instead I learned that I had developed septicemia, another life threatening infection of the blood. Undoubtedly caused by that dirty contraption that was used to break my water. I also developed cellulitis in my left lower arm where the used IV needle had been started.
Even worse, my baby girl was taken to the special care nursery as she too was showing signs of septicemia
Overcoming The Odds
At some point I felt as though I was a living example of Murphy’s law, whatever could go wrong did. I have very little memory of what happened after the next several days. In time, we both recovered my baby girl sooner then I. In fact, my recovery was slow. The vein in my left arm collapsed and died off. I stayed on blood pressure medicine for over a week after. I developed a severe case of fungal mastitis that lasted for several months. My liver enzymes did not return to normal for another six months.
To say this was a life changing experience is no exaggeration. I had survived pre-eclampsia and the post surgical complications. I felt broken in so many ways but I was determined to not have lasting effects. I became my own advocate, I submerged myself in medical conditions and holistic preventative healing.
At 7 months post baby, I got the clear to start exercising so I took up running. It has been a long road with this just being the beginning of my journey through body, mind, and spiritual healing. This experience may have started to change me but I decided to allow it to change me into something better. I knew after I healed all of me I would use my story to help others. It has been six years since that fateful day and I am ready.
I am ready to share my story. I am ready to share my path of healing. I am ready to encourage others in a healthy lifestyle.
Are you ready?