At about 4:30 AM on Friday, December 10, 2004, my water broke. The first thing that came to my mind was “Oh no! I’m not ready for this! This can’t be happening already! ” I woke my husband up and told him what had happened. I thought maybe, by some chance, this was all just a false alarm. But we paged the doctor anyway. When he called back, we informed him that my water had apparently broken. Much to my dismay, he told us to meet him at the hospital. I hadn’t even packed the hospital bag yet, which my husband had warned me many times to do. Somehow, and I don’t remember any of this, we threw a hospital bag together in a big rush and off we went to the hospital. I experienced mild trepidation about getting the epidural, but I was not obsessed about it. So when the time came to get it, I just told myself it had to be done to spare me the intense pain from which I wanted to be spared. The labor and delivery went fine, but immediately after my doctor delivered my baby girl into my arms, he had a look on his face that I’ll never forget……………………………
My placenta would not come out.
After waiting an hour, the doctor proceeded to try to manually manipulate it out. Even the epidural couldn’t help with the pain from what he was doing. So they moved me to the OR where they proceeded to administer painkillers through my IV drip, all the while trying to manipulate the placenta out by hand (yes, a hand all the way up you know what) and then by a long suction device similar to the procedure for a dilatation and curettage (D&C). I was trying not to scream, but a few times couldn’t help it. The doctor finally gave up. He told me he’d schedule an MRI for me the next day, before doing anything further to determine the exact problem. He explained that one of two things was the problem. Either my large fibroids (and I had quite a few) were preventing the placenta’s movement out or this was a case of placenta accreta, which is a rare complication where the placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus. I had a sinking feeling it was the latter and way more serious of the 2 possibilities.
Turns out, they couldn’t squeeze me in on Saturday, so they put me down for Sunday. In the meantime, I was only allowed to eat ice cubes. I had to get a blood test at least a couple times a day for the next five days. Evidently, the technician on duty on Sunday was not the one who usually handles abdominal MRIs. Basically, he was not familiar with the appropriate protocol, so the entire 45 minutes of my being in the MRI — hooked up to the IV drip and morphine, bleeding from the episiotomy and peeing uncontrollably every time I stood up — was for nothing. I couldn’t believe I had to go through the same exercise the following day. The doctor told me that I may have to undergo surgery to get my uterus removed if the MRI proves my doctor’s fears of placenta accreta. In this situation, the placenta cannot just be cut off, the entire uterus would have to go too. In preparation for the possibility of surgery, the doctor was not comfortable with my low blood count, so he insisted I receive 2 units of blood. That sent me into a panic because that would mean I’d get someone else’s blood. Because I feared I could get AIDS from a blood transfusion, before going into any surgery, I would’ve preferred to store my own blood. That is what I’d done for my dermoid cyst removal back in 2001. But this time, I wasn’t prepared. I refused the blood, which only angered the doctor. I finally gave in, but only after several crying episodes where not only was I afraid I wouldn’t make it through all this, but that I’d lose my uterus. A part of me would be gone forever. I would never be able to have kids again.
That night, the nurse came in to attach a catheter to my other arm for the blood transfusion. She wasn’t as good as the nurse who inserted the other catheter. Because my left arm already had a catheter for the IV drip and antibiotics, they had to find a way to insert one into my right arm. The clearly visible vein was way over-used by the nurses taking my blood daily. So the nurse went for my wrist…..and missed. Then she went for my hand……. and missed. By that time, I was delirious. They had to get someone else to try, and luckily, she succeeded in inserting it into a vein that you can barely see at all. Fortunately, I have no fear of needles or I never would’ve survived all this (and my IVF cycles, for that matter).
Next morning came. Inside, I was a wreck. I was starving. I was still on a diet of ice cubes. But I maintained my composure the best I could. This time, the regular MRI technician was on duty. With difficulty, I slowly got out of my wheelchair and onto the MRI platform. I was in the MRI for about 90 minutes this time, trying to stay as still and as calm as possible throughout the entire procedure, following the technician’s instructions on when to breathe and when to hold my breath. Fortunately, I am not a claustrophobic or they probably would’ve had to knock me out just to get me into the MRI. It was nothing like the CT Scan that was performed on me years ago, which uncovered the fact that I had a dermoid cyst rather than cancer.
That afternoon, the doctor performed the surgery on me to try again, this time with the aid of general anesthesia, to remove the placenta. The doctor warned that I could hemorrhage on the table, and if that occurs, I would need additional units of blood and an emergency hysterectomy would need to be performed. At that point, I was tired of being upset, tired of all the procedures – the MRIs, the catheters, the bleeding, the inadvertent peeing, the daily blood work, the temperature readings, and my lousy diet of ice cubes. I was numb. I went into the operation trying not to think about anything but surviving so I can go back home with my husband and daughter. I was praying I would come out alive. The anesthesiologist administered the anesthesia and by the time I counted to 3, I passed out. When I came to, it was 2-3 hours later and I was in the recovery room. The surgery itself took 2-3 hours. I was extremely groggy and experiencing throbbing pain in my abdomen. Not sure if the hysterectomy had occurred or not, the first thing I did was feel for stitches. And there they were. They had had to remove my uterus. I felt so, so sad at that point. The doctor then appeared and explained what had happened. I had hemorrhaged and needed 4 units of blood. At that point, fear of getting someone else’s blood was no longer that big a deal. What was done, was done. The fact of the matter was I could no longer have another child.
Though I can’t say what living in hell is like (and I hope I NEVER do), I don’t know any other way of expressing how I felt during that miserable week. I lost track of how many rooms I had to stay in….there was the delivery room, a few hours in a recovery room, followed by a room in the maternity ward, then one night that felt like an eternity in what to me was like hell (that’s where I nearly cracked) in the recovery wing of regular surgery patients (where the nurse in charge was — pardon me for saying this, but – a bitch), and I was finally moved to another room in the maternity ward where I stayed the last 3 nights. For the most part, the nurses in the Maternity section were truly sympathetic and helpful. These nurses were definitely a step higher than the nurses in the recovery wing with respect to sensitivity to the new mother. I can recall the first nurse that helped me was like Florence Nightingale….an exemplary nurse. And the last nurse was truly sympathetic for me and helped me as best she could. I regret not writing down their names at the time so I could thank them after I went home. All the nurses in-between, however, were not particularly sympathetic, kind or caring, despite the evidence written all over my face at how miserable I was feeling. They appeared to be all about just doing their job, callous probably from dealing with patients day in and day out. No one was particularly pro-active about stopping for even a minute to ask me how I was feeling that day, lend an ear, see if I needed anything. My stay in the recovery wing was hellish not only because I couldn’t see my baby while I was there but also because it was nearly impossible to get a nurse whenever I needed one. What was the call button for, if no one ever responded to it? I had to get my husband to search for one each time I needed something. Needless to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, it makes all the difference in the world when nurses are warm and caring both during and after delivery, checking on you frequently and anticipating your needs during your stay at the hospital.
Mind you, my diet was restricted to delicious ice cubes for most of my time at the hospital. I think it was during my last 3 days that I graduated to fluids (e.g., juice, tea, salty beef or chicken broth and jello) and on the last day, I was allowed to eat a couple of delicious hospital meals! All this time, I was trying not to “shoot myself” with morphine. I was rigged up to the morphine drip and all I had to do was push the button to get some. If it weren’t for the moments where the gas movements hurt so much it felt like sulfuric acid was burning a hole slowly through my abdominal wall (it was such a searing pain), I never would’ve needed the morphine past the first night. I hate having to depend on medicine! Antibiotics, though, are different. They’re needed to ward off infection. The nurses gave me a bunch of Percocet to take for pain, but I never touched a single one. To this day, I’m not even sure if the searing pain that felt like a hole was being burned into my abdomen was caused by gas. The whole experience made me all the more anxious because I didn’t know what was causing this pain and how long this would go on for.
To this day I cannot understand why they always had to come in during the middle of the night to take my temperature and sometimes blood. I’d be sleeping and they’d come and wake me up. Didn’t they understand how important sleep is to a new mother? I was never able to get a block of 5 hours of sleep during that dreadful week in the hospital. At that time, I had no idea the lack of adequate deep sleep and constant interruptions by hospital staff would set me up for PPD. Hospital staff should be instructed to allow a new mother to get at least 5 hours of sleep at a time.
All this time, I had to keep my chin up the best I could, knowing that I had a newborn to try and breastfeed. Despite my brave attempts, I wasn’t very successful. With the help of the lactation consultant that would come by once a day, I was able to successfully get the baby to latch on and suckle for a little bit. I was surprised that I was so willing to let a stranger come to the room, grab my boob and manage to get my daughter to latch on. It felt great to be successful those couple of times, but it was to be short lived. I couldn’t keep this up with all the procedures I had to undergo. I definitely couldn’t do any breastfeeding the time I was not even in the maternity ward. By the time we left the hospital, my daughter was already suffering from what they called “nipple confusion.” I’d already lost precious bonding opportunity with everything I had to go through at the hospital. Failing at breastfeeding would be a second failure of my one and only childbirth experience. And I hadn’t even left the hospital at that point. After leaving the hospital, I gave breastfeeding my best shot for as long as I could manage it, despite my weakness, sleep deprivation and iron deficiency from all the blood I had lost in the surgery.
I will never forget how, during the seven long, tortuous days at the hospital, my husband was by my side the entire time, sitting/sleeping in a chair next to me. He barely took care of himself during this time, all grimy, unchanged and unshaved. Though, he did venture to go home to check on the house, not to mention make sure Bunny had enough hay and water, once every other day. Along the way, some nurses felt so bad for him that they tried to accommodate him the best they could. When I was stuck in the room from hell in the Recovery Wing, he wasn’t allowed to stay in my room, but the maternity ward was kind enough to find a room for him to stay in.
It’s interesting how the pain from labor does not keep most women from having more children. It seems that women have selective memory with regard to their childbirth experiences. I would say that it’s our desire to have, and love of, children far outweighing the dread one fears of labor pains. Despite my PPD experience, if I still had my uterus, I’d want to have one more child. If the placenta accreta hadn’t occurred, I would’ve proceeded with another IVF cycle, regardless of the fact that I’d be at least 42 years old when having the baby.
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Now that you have an actual story from someone who survived a not-so-pleasant–to say the least–birth experience (not to mention how tough it was for me to get pregnant), my next blog post will be my gripe on why there seems to be the prevailing notion that pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum are all smooth, easy and blissful experiences.