I was less than a week away from a scheduled induction when my baby decided not to wait any longer to be born. On July 31 at 3 a.m., just 15 minutes after I took a sleeping pill prescribed to me for insomnia, my water broke.
The date of my labor was only the beginning of a string of unexpected events. Our baby, whom the sonogram said was a boy, had been due on August 7. Both my husband and my son have August birthdays, and since I’ve always gone up to, or past, my due date, we had every reason to believe we’d have another August birthday to celebrate. My husband had visions of “Boys’ Birthday Bash” weekends, complete with camping trips and fishing expeditions.
But fate, funny thing that it is, had different plans and decided that our baby should arrive just one day shy of August. And if that wasn’t enough, we had another surprise awaiting us. As the nurses cheered for our “Daniel” to leave my womb, out popped Natalie instead!
The shock of having a daughter, rather than the son we had bonded with for so many months, had barely sunk in when the nurse/midwife gave us our next surprise. “Wow, I don’t see any membranes at all,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
After massaging my uterus and reaching inside of me for a while, she said that the membranes would probably come out on their own later and told me not to worry. My epidural was removed, and I treated myself to a decent dinner.
A few hours later, my doctor arrived with tools that did not look very inviting. A metal “dish”, lots of gauze, and very sharp looking metal instruments screamed “look out!” when he entered the room. He told me that he would need to examine me because he couldn’t find any membranes in the afterbirth.
The “exam” turned into about a half-hour of sheer torture. The membranes were literally glued to my insides, and the scraping and pulling was causing me sheer and utter pain. I had one nurse on each side of me, holding my hands, wiping my tears, and brushing the sweat from my brow. I’ll never forget the one on my right. The one with the “Jesus Loves You” necklace who was very near delivery herself. The comfort of those two nurses was the only thing keeping me sane.
I tried to stifle my screams since I knew my husband and son were in the hallway. Finally, I began to hemorrhage and was told I would need emergency surgery.
Fear began to grip me, and I asked my doctor with half a laugh, “I’m not going to die or anything, am I?” He wasn’t laughing.
“Well, there are always risks, but we’ll do the best we can,” was all the assurance that he could offer me.
Because I had just eaten, I was informed that I was at a greater risk of asphyxiation from the surgery and would need to have general anesthesia and a breathing tube placed in my throat to protect me. And, best of all, my stomach would be suctioned to help prevent the food from coming up during surgery. This was not what I wanted to hear after having no sleep for almost 48 hours, delivering a child while on a sleeping pill, and being shocked to discover we had bonded with the wrong sex.
As they prepared me for surgery, the memory of the song “Lightning Crashes” entered my mind. The haunting melody is about a woman who delivers a child. The angel opens the child’s eyes, but soon “confusion sets in” and the angel closes the mother’s eyes. In the video, a small metal bowl is filled with bloody clothes, much like the bowl in front of me. The mother dies in the end from her complications.
My husband had heard this song on his way home from work shortly before my delivery. He had called me to tell me how sad the song had made him and how he didn’t know what he would do if something like that happened to me. Little did we know how prophetic his fears were. As they wheeled me into surgery, the song was playing in both our minds.
Before I was put under anesthesia, my doctor held my hand and prayed with me, and I turned my whole being over to God. Then I was out.
When I awoke, the happiness I felt over being alive was quickly replaced with severe nausea. I was too weak to even open my eyes, and could barely respond to the distant voices that were speaking to me. As they wheeled me back to my room, I heard my little boy whisper, “Mommy?” in his tiny, concerned voice as I passed him in the hallway. Yet, I was powerless to comfort him, and that hurt more than anything else I’d been through.
My husband went home with our son when he knew I was o.k. and my doctor visited me in my room a few hours later. It was in the wee hours of the morning, and he’d come to tell me how sorry he was for all I’d been through. He was near tears as he held my hand and said, “I’m so sorry I had to do that to you.” He prayed over me once again, and I fell back into a deep sleep.
The next day I learned that I’d lost a lot of blood. The nurses came to see me and told me how worried they’d been, how they’d been praying for me outside of the operating room. “I was really scared,” my midwife said, “when they called for blood.”
In the end, they decided I didn’t need the blood and stopped the surgery. There was a fine line between scraping too much and scraping too little, and my doctor decided it was best to stop then. “I’ve never seen anything like this in the 25 years I’ve been doing medicine,” he told me.
I wish I could say that this was the end of my troubles, but in reality, I wasn’t even close to being well. In the days and weeks that followed, I would be faced with severe complications and illness that would put my husband and myself to the ultimate test.
It would be more than a day before I could walk, or even speak, after the emergency surgery that followed the birth of my daughter. After the second day, however, I finally ventured out of my bed and began to feel as if I would one day become a normal, functioning human being once again. When the walls began spinning around me, I knew I’d better not rush things and headed straight back to my bed.
Most of my time was spent resting and getting to know the baby that I’d hardly seen the first few days of my stay. I was so happy to be able to hold her in my arms and bond with her.
Finally, the big day arrived and I could go home. The IV antibiotics were removed from my arm, my baby was discharged from the nursery, and I was signing my own discharge papers on my hospital bed. While I read the words on the paper, though, I began seeing spots before my eyes. I asked the nurse if this was normal, and she assured me that it was probably due to my anemia (from the blood loss during my surgery) and it was OK.
But before long, the tiny spots turned into huge purple splotches, and I could no longer see anything else. I became extremely nauseated, my body was shaking, and I felt as if I would faint. The nurse rushed out of the room and came back in with a blood pressure monitor. My blood pressure was spiking.
“Well, you’re not going home today,” she said, and rushed back out to call my doctor. The baby was readmitted to the nursery, and my doctor came to inform me that I would need a blood transfusion. He said my symptoms were due to the anemia, and the blood transfusion would help get me back to normal.
The Long Wait
I waited until 1:00 in the morning before I was finally transfused, and during the several hours I waited, I kept experiencing similar “spells.” Unfortunately, the nurse on duty, who was most appropriately named “Nausea” (I’m not making that up!), was not the sympathetic type. She told me it was probably just my hormones and it was “normal.”
I’d had two babies prior to this one. I knew what normal was, and what was happening to me was far from normal. Thankfully, she was relieved with a kinder nurse when the transfusion took place. I didn’t realize just how lucky I really was until I began feeling even worse – more sick to my stomach, dizzier, and shakier than ever before. I felt as if I would have a seizure if my body were to shake any more than it was already.
And I felt hot. Very, very hot. The nurse took my temperature – 102.5. By then it was around 3 a.m., and the nurse phoned my doctor at home. He ordered more IV antibiotics for me and I was left to ride out the storm the rest of the night. I never felt more alone.
My husband was home with our son (we were less one child as our daughter was vacationing at my mother’s two-and-a-half hours away), and thus, he couldn’t come to the hospital. But, he kept me company by phone until he was too exhausted to talk any longer. I needed him to be strong and rested for me, so I let him go back to sleep.
While I ran a cold cloth over my head time and again in the dark room, I thought for sure there was something wrong with me that the doctors just couldn’t figure out and I would be dead by morning. I actually envisioned my obituary, but no one else seemed to be all that concerned with the fact I had a raging fever and uncontrollable spells.
“I’ve already phoned your doctor,” the nurse told me when I asked her to please find out what was wrong with me. That was the only answer she had, and it wasn’t the one I was looking for. I wanted someone to tell me why I was having the symptoms that were taking over me.
The next morning, my doctor came to tell me that I’d had experienced a “reaction” to the blood transfusion and that was why I’d been so sick. He said everything should be fine from then on out, and I could go home if I wanted to. Home was exactly where I wanted to be far away from all of the IV’s, needles, and thermometers.
I slowly gained strength at home, but it was an uphill battle. I still felt dizzy and saw spots from time to time, despite the transfusion. Something still didn’t feel quite right, but I was assured in a check-up that everything was fine.
My family and I took our first venture out of the house (other than to the doctor’s office) to the grocery store, and I was thrilled! I’d never been so happy to go grocery shopping. I convinced myself that I was getting better and all of my sick days were behind me.
More Trouble Ahead
Walking down the cereal aisle, though, I began to feel as if another baby was on its way out of me. I could barely walk to the bathroom and nearly fainted when I saw a huge, tennis ball sized clot of leftover membranes come out.
After all I’d been through, there were still membranes that had been left. I know it was not from a lack of effort on my doctor’s part. He’d spent triple the time in surgery with me than he would in a normal D & C, and he had to walk a fine line of scraping too little (and leaving leftover membranes) or scraping too much (and scarring my uterus). Not to mention that I had been bleeding profusely and he had done his best to spare me from needing a blood transfusion.
I went to my doctor’s office and they discovered that my uterus was twice the size that it should’ve been and I had developed an infection from the membranes. They gave me antibiotics, medication to make my uterus contract, and painkillers since the uterine medication would cause painful cramping.
I dutifully took my medicines, but after taking a second dose of the painkiller (a medicine I’d taken previously without any problems whatsoever), I started to feel seriously ill. If I thought all of the episodes in the hospital were bad, I was in for a big surprise. This was sheer and utter torture.
I’d heard of bad drug trips, and this certainly felt like one. I developed tremors, sweat profusely, was on the verge of vomiting, had endless diarrhea, was near fainting and felt delirious. I stayed on my couch all night long, riding out the symptoms. I thought if I could just make it until the medicine wore off, I’d be OK.
Nothing Left to Give
But my body had had enough. The next day, I felt as if I’d been through a war. I could barely move and slept for hours and hours. By that evening, I tried to walk to the bathroom, but my legs gave out on me. My husband had to walk me to the bathroom and back.
I phoned my doctor and they told me to wait a good 24-hours for the drugs to leave my system. In the meantime, I couldn’t eat or drink because I couldn’t keep anything down. That posed a dilemma for me because I needed to take my antibiotics to fight the infection that was raging in me.
24-hours passed, and I was no better. My husband carried me down the stairs and I forced myself to eat something. I knew, though, that my stomach was not up to digesting harsh antibiotics. I ended up receiving an injection of antibiotics at the doctor’s office and went back home to sleep.
All of these setbacks did not bode well for my husband, either. Every time he tried to go back to his job, which he’d just started at, he’d need to come home and take care of me. He so lovingly cared for me, the baby, and our other children, all the while cooking and cleaning and tending to mindless things like making sure our daughter had all of her school supplies ready for the start of the school year.
After the antibiotic injection, I finally began to recover for good, though my stomach paid a heavy price for all the medications I’d been on. To this day, I can no longer enjoy the foods I love like pizza or ice cream. I’d never had a problem with any dairy before, but now my stomach is just not the same. I wince every time I drive by our local ice cream parlor remembering how delicious their cones are!
But, I have a newfound respect for life. This is probably compounded even more so by the fact that in the midst of my crisis, I learned that an old friend of mine died unexpectedly from a heart aneurysm just eight days after giving birth to twin girls. She had her girls the day after I had my daughter and had been right down the hall from me in the hospital, and I never knew it. Only when I read her obituary, did I learn of her delivery, and her death. She was just 33-years-young and left behind her husband, 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
Here I had envisioned my own obituary, but found hers instead. The irony of it all still haunts me. Though I’ve recovered, her death is a painful reminder of how short this life is. For some reason, I was allowed to stay, and she was the one who was chosen to leave instead. I can’t help but feel guilty for that, almost as if the angel of death accidentally claimed the wrong person when he took my friend.
Maybe it’s survivor’s guilt.I don’t know. But I’m more determined than ever now to enjoy every moment I have on this earth. For myself, for my family, and for the memory of my friend, I will never take life for granted ever again.