Hello, my name is Melanie from the UK, and I was 39 when I suffered from AFE with my fourth child in October 2006.
Pre-Pregnancy & During Pregnancy
I had two text book births with my first two daughters in Sep 91 and December 92. My son’s birth in February ’94 was more complicated, needing a C Section as he was not growing properly. He was born at 36 weeks and I reacted badly to the spinal. I could not see him for 3 days as I blacked out every time I tried to sit up and he was in special care two floors down. We both made a quick recovery though. With my fourth pregnancy I suffered from Grade 4 Placenta Previa and was I terrified, I tiptoed around for 5 months.
Experience of AFE
My husband and I went to hospital for the planned C Section first thing on 26th October 2006. My specialist told me that because of the placenta issue, I was going to be last (3rd) on the list. We were so disappointed, but it turned out to be a life saving decision.
My daughter was born after an uneventful C Section weighing 6lbs. In recovery my parents brought our other children in and we had some time together. I started shaking uncontrollably about 20 minutes after surgery. It went on for about an hour, the nurses said it was probably a reaction to the anesthetic. My family left for a little while to let me and Madeleine settle when I noticed silver flecks in my vision. I started to feel ‘odd’ and mentioned it to the nurse. She gave me a paracetamol and took my temperature which was 40c. I remember it felt like the room was getting dark and then spent most of the next hour fading in and out of consciousness. My blood pressure was not able to be read by the BP machine as it was so low and so they had to find a manual version, it read 46/23, my pulse was taccy. I remember coming to and seeing my specialist which gave me great comfort. I was terrified the children would walk into the room and see me in a state and remember asking the nurse to make sure they stayed outside. I remember them saying I needed more surgery and being rushed down the corridor – seeing the lights flash over my head, it felt too surreal to be frightening. (If I had been the first C Section then the operating room would have been busy, as it was I could be opened up again within minutes of the decision being made.) I developed DIC and needed 28 units of blood. I was in surgery for 6 hours and had a uterine balloon fitted. They made a vertical incision and reopened the horizontal incision and still could not find the source of the bleeding. I bought my hospital notes and whilst in surgery for the second time someone had written ‘AFE???’ on it.
The next thing I remember is being extubated. It was one of the few times I was truly terrified. I felt as though someone had poured tar down my throat and in my nose, every time I tried to breath I choked. I had been in a medically induced coma for 3 days. The time I spent in ICU was a pretty drug induced haze. I remember hearing everything, but although I knew my eyes were open I couldn’t see or more or speak. James fought to bring Madeleine in to see me and I remember feeling her being put next to me. The midwife took the baby’s foot out of her babygro and put it in my hand. It was the most wonderful thing I ever held.
I moved out of ICU and slowly worked my way up to the normal ward. I left hospital after 10 days.
It was thought I might have developed Sheehans Syndrome as I was unable to breastfeed. After a series of brain scans, it was confirmed that I was fine and had had a ‘very lucky escape’.
I definitely have memory problems, less now than in the first few months after her birth when I would completely blank on very simple words. I hope I can recover my word loss now, it’s something I find frustrating but manageable.
Experience Returning Home
I couldn’t wait to come home, we fought to get out of hospital earlier than they wanted. As soon as I got home though I felt utter panic. Although AFE had been explained to me I felt so anxious that I might start hemorrhaging again. Initially I missed the security of the hospital, but it didn’t take long before I started to recover. On the first night home my incision split and I now have a very unsightly stomach (small price to pay for my life).
Medications/ Side Effects
I was put on two different drugs to try and help milk production which was thought safe to try for 6 weeks. Sadly I had to change to bottles after the drugs failed.
My family were wonderful and really helped me. My husband answered my questions time and time again, filling in gaps in my memory. My hospital and consultant were incredible. They were there for me and couldn’t have been more helpful and considerate. Finding other AFE survivors is a huge source of comfort. The feeling you are not alone counts for a lot.
This was always going to be my last baby so worries about a future pregnancy have not ever been an issue.
I believe I survived because of a number key events. My consultant placed me last on the list, so the theatre was ready when I needed it in an emergency. I asked him to ‘cut my tubes’ while he was there as we were not going to have any more children. During the C Section he said that he didn’t think it was a good idea and didn’t do it. Afterwards he said if he had it would have been like ‘turning on two taps’ and as I developed DIC the bleeding would definitely had become unmanageable. Also, as importantly it took 28 strangers to save my life. Since needing the blood I have worked for the Blood Service to highlight the need for more donors. I’m eternally grateful to those that donated. My story has appeared in the National Press and also a Pregnancy Magazine. I had a lot of interest in the story being published, but would only ever let it be published if it promoted the need for blood donors as its main feature.
Emotionally it still hits me but my overriding feeling is that of indescribably gratitude that I am alive. I am truly grateful every day and certainly don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’ anymore!
I also manage the AFE Foundation interactive map and help families connect with one another. For more information about the map or to connect with me, email me at email@example.com.