“As I was put under, I remember thinking, ‘Well this is it. Either I wake up, or I don’t.’”

My husband and I were pregnant within months of being married. Like most first-time moms, we did not know what to expect and followed everything the OBGYN suggested, including genetic testing. When the doctor called with results, I immediately knew something was wrong.  I had raised Alpha Fetoprotein (AFP), which is a fetal serum protein that can cause things like Spina Bifida and low birth weight. I was sent to a Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) doctor for further testing. We were relieved that everything looked great on ultrasounds and that it appeared that the initial testing had resulted in a false positive.

 Despite the false alarm, I was still put into the category of “high risk” and continued to see the MFM regularly to monitor the baby’s growth through ultrasounds. The remainder of the pregnancy went smoothly until delivery. Since my pregnancy was “high risk” I was not allowed to go past my due date, I was induced, and I was in labor for 19 hours before the doctors decided I needed an emergency c-section. It was not the birth plan I had in mind, and I was already plotting for a VBAC (vaginal birth after a c-section) whenever we had another child. 

I waited the recommended time between pregnancies in order to enhance my chances of a VBAC.  When we decided we wanted to expand our family, we were lucky enough to get pregnant right away.  But since this was not my first rodeo with pregnancy, I declined the genetic testing this time around.  It added so much stress during the first pregnancy that I could not do it again, and the doctors assured us most defects found in the testing would also be seen on an ultrasound. 

At my 20-week ultrasound, everything looked great except for the placenta. I had complete placenta previa, which meant the placenta was covering my cervix and the baby had no way out. If the placenta didn’t move, I’d definitely need a c-section [CONSIDER LINKING TO BELLY BIRTH BOX: https://zmxi8qkpspv1qjhu-44323209372.shopifypreview.com/products/belly-birth-box]. I was hopeful though as 90% of women see their placenta move by the time of delivery. A follow-up ultrasound somewhere around the 25-week mark revealed that the placenta had not budged at all. Devastation was the only word to describe how I felt that day. The idea of a VBAC (my dream birth plan) was now fleeting. 

The next morning after the ultrasound, the doctor called. My heart sank. The placenta previa was much riskier than I ever imagined. I was at risk for hemorrhaging at any point during the pregnancy.  As you move into your third trimester, the uterus thins and can more easily trigger bleeding of the placenta. The degree of your placenta previa dictates the risk. I had a complete previa, placing me into the highest risk category. If you hemorrhage during pregnancy there is a chance you will bleed out because the placenta is a large source of blood and hard to control. I was told I must deliver by 37 weeks to reduce risks to the baby and myself. 

The next step was the MFM, where it was confirmed that not only did I have complete placenta previa but I was high risk for accreta, a condition where the placenta embeds itself into surrounding organs such as the uterus or bladder. A diagnosis of accreta places delivery even earlier usually between 34-36 weeks. 

The doctor sat down with me and her first question was “Do you want more children?” I was completely taken aback. She went on to state that I now had a 50/50 chance of a hysterectomy with the additional diagnosis. Additionally, I could no longer work at our local hospital as a speech language pathologist because walking around the hospital all day increased my risk for early hemorrhage. 

Before my next MFM appointment, my regular OBGYN called to explain that she had conferenced with her whole team (eight doctors) and everyone agreed I was too high risk to deliver at our hospital.  Part of the problem was that I was pregnant during the winter and I live in an area with frequent heavy snowfall. The team of OBGYNs logic was that if I bled (life threatening for me), I–or one of the specialists–would not make it to the hospital in time.  It’s worth mentioning that bleeding before the scheduled c-section is very common with placenta previa. 

My in-laws just so happened to live near the big hospital I needed, so together we hatched a plan to move me downstate to my in-laws with our 2-year-old daughter (my husband would visit on weekends). My mom would soon follow to help take care of our toddler and keep my spirits bright as I was slowly sinking into a hole of despair. 

 When I was 33 weeks pregnant, I woke up with a bad bleed. Every doctor that had treated me encouraged me to call 911 if hemorrhaging occurred. The ambulance arrived within minutes and shuttled me to the hospital where I was given steroids to help develop the baby’s lungs and medicine to try and stop contractions.  Every health professional that came in noted their goal was to get the baby to 34 weeks gestation.  I stayed in the hospital for a week just waiting to see if I would bleed more.  The waiting game was mentally challenging.  As one doctor described, it’s like sitting under a sword and waiting for it to fall.  After a week of complete stability, I was sent home on bed rest.

I made it to 35 weeks and 1 day before the next big bleed, which was much worse than the last one.  I could feel stronger contractions and was passing golf sized blood clots. My husband took me to the hospital.  When we arrived, it was determined I was already dilating and had to deliver immediately.  During the two hours I was prepped for the c-section, my labor increased, and the size of the clots increased. 

Although literally nothing was going according to plan at this point, I still held out hope I could have an epidural to be awake for the birth of my little girl.  Afterall, I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it through surgery.  The anesthesiologist immediately shot down that idea.  I required general anesthesia due to my possible accreta and my husband could not go into the OR with me.  I also required a vertical (more visible) incision due to the possibility of a hysterectomy.  

The OR was cold, and I was prepped as much as possible while awake in order to decrease the amount of time the baby would be exposed to the anesthesia.  In the absence of my husband, nurses held my hands and tried to encourage me.  Four extra IVs were stuck in me in case I needed blood transfusions.  The OR was filled with at least 15 doctors and multiple specialty teams.  As I was finally put under, I remember looking at the big OR light on the ceiling and thinking “Well this is it. I either wake up or I don’t.” 

My C-section was at 11 am. When I woke up it was dark outside, and my mom was sitting next to me. I was told I was in the ICU.  I could barely talk from being intubated but whispered to my mom “Is the baby ok?” She assured me the baby was stable in the NICU and on breathing support.  I laid there silently holding my mom’s hand. It was all the strength I had.  I groggily figured out things couldn’t have gone well if I was in the ICU.

My thoughts were soon confirmed when the doctor arrived and said that I had lost almost all my blood; 4.8 L to be exact (most people have about 5.5 L). He observed that I had lost even more than that before surgery as I was passing golf size blood clots. Most people would die from that sort of blood loss in surgery, but when you are pregnant you have slightly more blood.  

The next news was devastating and is still hard to process today. Once in surgery, the doctors confirmed I had accreta and that the placenta had in fact invaded my uterus. The doctors attempted to separate the placenta and uterus, but that led to extreme hemorrhaging. The lifesaving decision was made to perform a hysterectomy. Here I was at 30 years old with no more chances to become pregnant. I am deeply saddened that I no longer have the part of my body that carried my precious children.

That night my ICU nurse and husband wheeled me to meet the baby.  I had not prepared myself to see my her hooked up to so many machines. According to the NICU nurse, she was stable. We decided to name our daughter Elliana or “Elli” for short. Her name means God delivers. We felt her name was perfect for all we had been through and survived. 

I stayed in the hospital for 5 days.  Because I had lost such enormous amounts of blood, I was warned by the doctors my body was in shock and may not produce breastmilk.  I was so determined to make this work. I pumped religiously and after 3 or 4 days my milk came in slowly! Finally, something went the way I had envisioned. I wanted to help my baby thrive as much as she could in the NICU after feeling like my body had failed her completely. 

After two exhausting weeks of juggling visits to her and finding time to devote to my two-year-old, we brought our little miracle home. Because of sheer determination, Elliana has since become a breastfeeding champ. I have slowly begun to recover both mentally and physically and I thank God every day that I am alive. 

Throughout my entire journey into motherhood, I have learned that nothing goes according to plan. I am also learning to feel proud of my c-sections.  I have battle scars and strength I didn’t know existed.  I am no less of a mother for having c-sections despite the stigma I sometimes feel when saying I had c-sections. My faith and strength have grown because of the trials I have faced, and I am blessed to be alive with two beautiful girls. My adventure in motherhood has only just begun. 

Megan – Mom of 2 – Michigan, USA
Reprinted by permission from Moments with Mothers.

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