When my husband Dylan and I found out we were having a baby after having a miscarriage weeks earlier, we were ecstatic. Planning, enjoying our oldest son, and taking in the pregnancy, we didn’t understand my mounting fears and anxiety as the due date crept closer. I began having a reoccurring dream of dying on the table. This anxiety only worsened as we passed the point of the possibility of vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) delivery, and I began preparing for another cesarean section.
The morning of, we arrived happy and nervous. I began to come to terms with this inexplicable feeling of my own demise hovering around me. A black cloud on a happy day. I asked, nervous and embarrassed, that Dylan take a video of me telling our boys I love them and other such “last words.” Then the moment arrived, my nurse, Cari, wheeled me to the OR for my routine C-section. None of us were aware of how our lives would be affected.
The C-section itself is still blurry for me. As I try to recall moments, the only ones I remember are of Dylan proudly watching as Ollie was born and not being able to open my eyes. As soon as Ollie was delivered, I knew what was happening in the room, but I couldn’t see, speak, or breathe. I kept trying to inhale or open my eyes. I felt someone place Ollie on me, and I willed—begged—my eyes to obey me. I know now that Cari noticed—she checked for my response to her knuckles, but I have no idea what happened to lead me to the PACU. I just remember this unquenchable thirst—I thought I would start screaming if I couldn’t get water. Cari obliged with the water sponge and ice chips—still not good enough.
RELATED: To the Mom With the Traumatic Birth Experience
I held Ollie as they monitored me and gave me what they could for my thirst. Then a shift happened, and I started to shake uncontrollably. I was so cold. Panic began to set in, but I looked to Dylan holding Ollie and asked that someone make him sit down. I told him he needed to eat something. The team began working on me: pushing on my abdomen where my C-section incision was to measure my blood loss. I was in disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). I began crying out as they pushed on my incision, again and again, to keep weighing my blood loss. I was inverted and I looked at the monitor to see that my blood pressure was 30/50. As I remembered this detail afterward, I thought I must have been mistaken or maybe the monitor wasn’t on correctly. There was no way I could have been lucid at that point. But I was.
I was also mentally in two places at once. Witnessing my own event, awake for it all, and holding on with growing urgency to not close my eyes. I was having a conversation with myself, a spirit, or God—whatever you want to conceptualize it as—being told that I had a choice to make. I could close my eyes and go, or I could stay. Honestly, I was having a hard time deciding. It hasn’t been an easy life for me. My trophy case is filled with lackluster, resilience-building events. I was tired. Then, I imagined never getting to see my boys grow up or them never getting to know me as a person and as a mom. I decided to stay.
During this inner dialogue with existence, I was witnessing it all as I was inverted, as they tried to stop the bleeding, as they discussed whether I should be taken back to the OR. Finally, a balloon was inserted to staunch the bleeding. I had to grip the bedrails and lift my pelvis up for them to put a bedpan under my hips. It was the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. Finally, finally, it was done. I could rest.
Afterward, I was told I had experienced an amniotic fluid embolism (AFE). This is a rare occurrence that is two-fold. First, the body has an allergic reaction as amniotic fluid and fetal material enters the bloodstream. Amniotic fluid and fetal material are present during normal births as well and do not always cause a reaction like this. Second, the heart and lungs go into failure and the patient goes into DIC. Currently, published rates from studies on survivability are inconsistent and range from 20-60 percent.
RELATED: A Traumatic Birth Almost Killed Us, But it Couldn’t Weaken My Love For My Baby
Researching what happened to me has led me to a passion for maternal healthcare. I began advocacy work shortly after and continue today. However, my soul was in two places at once and I struggled with suicidal ideation. I felt like I just wanted the rest and peace we are promised after death. I wouldn’t have to feel guilty that I survived and continued to take up space I wasn’t special enough to hold.
During COVID, I was privileged and able to slow down with my kids. I took care of myself more by finding purpose and peace in everyday tasks for them and myself. I still struggle with imposter syndrome, and I still have bad days—even weeks—where I struggle with daily chores and getting out of my sweats, but I decided to stay. And I’m so grateful every day that I get to hear my boys’ laughter, I get to feel the sunshine, I get to smell coffee every morning . . . I get to be here.