In 2014, I welcomed a beautiful little girl into the world. But I almost didn’t get to see her grow up.
After several years of trying, my husband and I were thrilled when I became pregnant. But it wasn’t an easy pregnancy. First there were the many subchorionic hematomas that plagued me. I worried constantly that I was miscarrying. I had more ultrasounds than I could count, all of them confirming that my baby was, in fact, perfect. But I just wouldn’t stop bleeding. Then there was the placenta previa. Then the fact that baby girl decided to be breech until the very last moment. With all these challenges, I still hit my due date and had no signs of impending labor. We scheduled an induction.
Imagine my surprise as I sat down in the car on the way home from that last doctor’s appointment, the one where we scheduled the induction, just to feel my water break. We knew labor would be slow, so instead of heading right to the hospital, we went home. My husband had been slow cooking a pork shoulder all day, and damn if I wasn’t going to get some.
After calling the doctor to confirm the plan, we settled in to eat, watch a movie or two, and head to the hospital before midnight. I have no memory of what we watched, but I can confirm that the pork was, indeed, worth delaying our trip to the hospital. Especially as Thursday blurred into Friday, and contractions failed to start as my daughter was still face up, poorly positioned for a natural birth. Pitocin was administered and I laid on a peanut-shaped ball, trying to convince her to flip herself over. About 21 hours after my water broke, I caved and took the epidural. About 10 hours after that I started to push.
While I pushed, the doctors kept encouraging me — I had the power, I had the energy, I could do this. The only problem was that no one had realized just how large my daughter was going to be. It took only one look by the most seasoned professional on the floor — who actually laughed a little — to convince everyone there was no way she was going to fit. Then, her heart rate dropped.
It’s amazing how fast an emergency C-section happens. You see it in the movies, you hear about it from your friends, but in literally two minutes I went from being in a delivery room trying to push my baby out to laying on a table in an operating room having people prepare to cut me open and retrieve that little baby.
This is where everything started to go wrong. The block didn’t work. We had warned the anesthesiologists that I have a poor reaction to most medications, but they either thought we were exaggerating or thought they had it beat. They were wrong. I felt every single second of that C-section. No, I don’t mean I felt pulling. I felt the scalpel, I felt myself being torn apart, and I felt them pull that baby from me. I felt it when they said my placenta was a little “stuck” and they pulled it, forcibly, from me. But all of that pain faded as I met my little girl. She was, as predicted, huge. Over nine pounds and 22 inches long. But that was OK. I had her. And I got stitched back together — feeling it, but not really feeling it because I was in baby euphoria — and wheeled into recovery.
My husband and I spent a few precious hours with our new family member before I sent him home to sleep. The entire ordeal had lasted over 40 hours, and neither of us had slept. His phone dead, he went home to sleep, shower, change, charge his phone, take care of the dog, and return the next day.
An hour or two later, I started feeling pain unlike any other. A nurse assigned to me was monitoring everything carefully, but it was still some time before she and I both realized that my stomach was rising. I was filling up with blood from the inside.
Things became a major blur from there. I was handed my phone and told to call someone. My husband didn’t answer, my best friend didn’t answer. I panicked and then called her husband. They have a key to our house and I knew they could get my husband. They immediately got in their car, drove to my house, broke in, and woke up my husband. He was at the hospital less than 40 minutes after my call. I was also told to call my parents. That was maybe the scariest thing I have ever been instructed to do. That, to me, implied that I might not make it through this. I was calling to say goodbye and tell them I loved them.
As I was being wheeled into my next emergency surgery of the night, I remember thinking I’d never seen so many people in one room. My husband arrived. We cried. He signed paperwork giving the doctors the right to do whatever it took to save my life. He threw out all the students and yelled that the only people who were to touch me should be senior members of the staff. They listened.
Someone grabbed my left arm. They were putting in an arterial line, they said. A doctor opened my legs, an attempt to see if they could staunch the bleeding. The last thing I heard was splashing as my blood poured out of my body onto the linoleum floor of the operating room. Then, nothing.
I woke up about 20 hours later. My daughter had been born on Friday. Someone told me it was now Sunday. There was still a tube down my throat, and I’d been woken up so that I could help them remove it by coughing. I remember fighting them, struggling, tears streaming down my face. The tube removed, doctors started talking to me about what had happened. To this day, I have no idea what they said. I was busy looking at my arm. My left one was a mess of puncture marks, but there was no needle in it. Instead, the arterial line that I so vividly remembered being placed in my left arm was now in my right. The loss of blood volume had caused collapse and they’d had to scramble.
Eventually, I was clued in about what had happened — I was in the ICU, I still had the epidural needle in my back, plus a catheter in my urethra, multiple IVs in my arms, and the arterial line in my right wrist — just in case. They had taken me to interventional radiology where they had, in essence, pumped my uterine artery full of battlefield foam to stop me from bleeding out. They had replaced my blood volume — more than once. I was swollen with fluids, trapped in a bed, and not allowed to see my baby.
I hit rock bottom when my husband Skyped me while feeding her a bottle. She was perfect. The model baby of the nursery. The one the nurses were using to teach new parents how to bathe, swaddle, and care for their child. They were doing everything with her. Everything I should be doing. But I wasn’t allowed to leave and be with her. It was horrible, traumatizing. But at least I was alive.
I left the hospital six days after I arrived, against medical advice. They wanted to keep me another day or two. I had a ton of pain from the trapped air in my shoulder and an overwhelming desire to be in my own home, away from the smell of the hospital and the memories of what had happened there. They let me go.
Despite some retained placenta that took another couple of minor procedures to remove, everything seemed OK. I had survived a placenta accreta. Apparently I had had several risk factors, but we never put all of them together to realize what a major risk it was for me. Once we had the facts, it all made sense.
My husband and I agreed we were done. The blessing of this baby and of me being here to care for her were too great. We wouldn’t take the risk again. However, even the best of intentions sometimes fail, as was the case for us. We are now over the shock of being pregnant again, and embracing the arrival of our second daughter — via a planned C-section with all the precautions possible to keep both of us safe. The good folks at Brigham and Women’s kept me alive the first time with absolutely no idea how bad it was going to be. This time, we have all the information and a plan. So, game on.
Jenn Orlinski is a New York-to-Boston transplant who has learned to love New England football but won’t give up the Yankees. She spends most of her time convincing her family to stop at random historical sites, particularly those associated with the War of 1812. A full-time working mom to one daughter with another on the way, she regularly tosses a coin to see if today’s the day for a clean house, dinner on the table, or laundry getting done. It’s never all three.