I was exactly 29 weeks pregnant and at work around 10am when I suddenly started bleeding profusely. I started panicking that I had a miscarriage and lost our baby. One of my coworkers rushed me to the hospital where my husband met us at the door.
I had a placental abruption (when the placenta pulls away from the wall of the uterus) resulting in a large 8cm hematoma. They gave me medicine to stop the contractions and steroids to help my son’s lungs prepare for a possible premature birth. Four days after being admitted, when I was 29.5 weeks pregnant, his heart rate kept dropping and they decided it was time for a c-section. My son was born at 4:08 am weighing 2 lb 15 oz and was rushed off to the NICU before I could see him. The surgery seemed to have gone well and I was sent back to my room for recovery where I promptly fell asleep since I hadn’t slept at all the night before.
About 3 hours post-op alarm bells started going off and a large group of doctors and nurses rushed into the room. I was pale and unresponsive with low blood pressure and high heartbeat. They realized I was bleeding internally so they rushed me to the OR for an emergency hysterectomy but the bleeding was not coming from my uterus. They looked around but could not locate the source of the bleeding. They were giving me an incredible amount of donor blood but had a hard time keeping up with the rate of loss. My organs started shutting down and my lungs filled with fluid (pulmonary edema). They brought me out of surgery and continued to monitor me but the DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation) continued so I was intubated, paralyzed and sedated.
A doctor later told me I had one foot firmly in the grave but the doctors were not ready to let me go. They knew I had had an amniotic fluid embolism that caused the DIC but they were unsure how to treat it. She told me they had a brainstorming session and one doctor said, “I read in a medical journal recently that if you inject gel into the uterine arteries, sometimes it stops the bleeding”. The others said, “We might as well try it; she’s going to die anyway.” And it seemed to work as the bleeding slowly subsided.
I woke up from sedation late Wednesday afternoon, not remembering anything since my c-section early Monday morning. I couldn’t speak because I was still intubated so I asked for pen and paper and wrote “what happened?” My husband and friend didn’t realize that I had no memory of the last 4 days. My recovery from there was slow and painful. My kidneys were not functioning so I was put on dialysis several times a week. I had terrible headaches during dialysis. Severe pain in the right side of my chest and abdomen meant I couldn’t get around easily and didn’t sleep well. For the first week of recovery every time I tried to eat something I threw up so in all I went about 2 weeks without eating solid food and even then ate very little for the next few weeks after that. I was weak and exhausted.
For several days after I woke up I was not in good enough health to visit the NICU to see my son and he was not strong enough to come see me in ICU. On Saturday evening, 5.5 days after my son was born, my ICU nurse shook me awake and showed me her iPad. She had coordinated a video call with a NICU nurse so I could see my sweet little boy for the first time. I told another ICU night shift nurse that I felt so grungy and smelly and she offered to give me a sponge bath and wash my hair with dry shampoo. Then she went and got her personal Bath & Body Works lotion from her locker and helped me apply it so I could feel like a clean, normal human being again. These acts of kindness above and beyond their job description continue to touch me deeply to this day.
In all, I spent almost a month in the hospital. I had to continue dialysis treatments for another month after that until my kidneys started functioning again. My son only had minor issues in the beginning and spent most of his 2 months in the hospital just learning to eat and growing. We were actually able to bring him home 2 weeks before his due date!
I struggled a lot the first year after my AFE. I had to return to work only 2 weeks after my son came home from the hospital and I was still physically recovering. I barely had energy to make it through my 8-hour workday and then my son would go to sleep for the night 15-30 minutes after I came home so we didn’t get to spend much time together. It felt like it took a solid 6 months to form a strong bond with him since his first two months of life were in the hospital with a constant rotation of caregivers and I could not be there for more than a couple hours at a time.
In hindsight, I was definitely battling depression but the thought of having to find a therapist and make time for the appointments was overwhelming. I really wish I would have reached out and gotten help but God sustained me through that season and about a year after my AFE I started to feel the fog lift. I found the AFE Foundation’s survivor support group about 6 months later and it helped me immensely in the healing process. My birth experience was incredibly traumatic and I felt like no one could truly understand the horror, pain and grief until I heard all those other women’s stories and knew I was not alone. I’m thankful for the work the AFE foundation is doing to end AFE!