AFE Survivor, Annie L

Mar 6, 2024 | AFE Stories, AFE Survivor

In May 2021, I was 39 weeks pregnant and admitted into the labor and delivery room. My labor was progressing as normal. It had been a relatively easy pregnancy, with minimal symptoms and no complications. Definitely no warning signs leading up to the moment that was about to enfold.

Suddenly I told my husband that I was not feeling well, and he called for the nurse. When the nurse arrived just minutes later, I was rolled over on my side in a fetal position and unresponsive. She immediately hit the staff assist button. When the head nurse arrived they pushed me into the operating room and called a code blue. My husband left alone in the labor and delivery room with flashing blue lights and witnessing a rush of doctors flooding into the OR with no answers on what was happening. He was confused and in shock. I had gone into cardiac arrest.

The doctors performed an emergency c-section and were able to deliver my daughter within 6 minutes. I was having seizures and the IV in my hand infiltrated my skin. After 14 units of blood transfusions and 17 minutes, i finally had a heartbeat again. I had a DIC and the doctors performed a hysterectomy on me to stop the bleeding. I was intubated and in the ICU for the next 10 days. My daughter, Emily, was in the NICU for 5 days. I suffered a subdural hematoma and don’t remember approximately one month prior and two months after my AFE.

It is most difficult to not remember the birth of my own daughter. Perhaps it’s our body’s way of protecting us. This story is the story my husband told me and repeated numerous times at length in agony, a story he would rather forget. Sometimes I think I have memories, but I’m unclear if they are real memories or implanted memories from stories I have been told. The IV infiltration in my left hand resulted in two subsequent surgeries post AFE – one for debridement of the dead tissue and another for a skin graft. I went to occupational therapy for the next few months multiple times per week to regain use of my hand. My husband drove me to multiple follow up appointments with various specialists – neurologist,cardiologist, etc. My family was displaced from my home for 2 months as I was unable to climb the stairs. We stayed at my mother in law’s house with a rotating team of postpartum doulas to take care of both me and my newborn daughter.

I joined the AFE support group and listened to stories from various recent AFE survivor sisters. I was unable to personally share my story. Maybe it was because it didn’t feel like my story as I don’t remember it. It was a story told about me, but not for me to tell. Maybe it was because after hearing stories of infant loss and of the long term health implications from AFE on both mother and baby I oddly found myself to actually be one of the lucky ones, and felt unworthy to be part of the support group. After all what did I really have to grieve about? Yes I had a hysterectomy, but I never intended to have another child – unlike some other survivors that are now struggling from infant loss and inability to conceive again. Yes what I went through was horrible, but I was a lucky one.

I spent a lot of time waiting for the other shoe to drop, but am now letting go of the survivors guilt. This conflict between self pity and being lucky had me teetering back and forth, and it’s only now almost 3 years after my AFE am I finally ready to share my story. As AFE survivors, holidays, AFE awareness day, and birthdays always seem to bring up such a complex set of emotions. I always have to remind myself that we can feel grateful that we’re still here to celebrate, while also sad. Acknowledging and accepting my emotions without judging myself for them or forcing myself to only feel gratitude, really helped me move forward.

I hope my story helps spread awareness about AFE and if you’re reading this as a fellow AFE survivor, please know that you’re not alone and healing takes time.

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