It wasn’t until I returned home from the hospital after suffering a delayed postpartum hemorrhage that I realized, “Holy sh*t, I could have died!”
It was a sobering Saturday morning. I awoke to the sound of my middle daughter calling out my name, “Mommy. Mommy.” The blue volume light on the baby monitor cascading up and down, up and down. I sprung out of bed and dashed to her room. My goal was to calm her down before she woke up both her new baby sister snuggled soundly in her bassinet and her older sister snuggled soundly in her top bunk.
I snuck into the room and lay next to her on the bottom bunk. On my way there, I felt an unexpected gush of blood. “That’s weird,” I thought.
At this point in my postpartum recovery, I was still bleeding slightly, which is considered normal. I did notice the day before that my bleeding became a little heavier. The postpartum guideline is always if you are soaking more than one sanitary pad an hour, call your doctor. Well, it was heavier, but not that heavy.
As I lay next to Violet’s bunk, the “gush” was clearly not stopping. I reached down to feel my pajama pants. Even in the dimly lit bedroom, I saw my hand covered in blood. I whispered to my daughter, “I will be back to check on you real quick sweetheart.” “Ok mommy,” she responded sweetly.
I darted back to our master bathroom to reveal a fully saturated pad. The bleeding continued. There was A LOT of blood. As I was sitting there, it was like a faucet suddenly turned on. I frantically called for my husband. He drowsily stumbled into the bathroom and I showed him the situation. His hands cupped his face as he stammered, “Oh my God. Who should I call? Who should I call?”
It was 6 a.m., so our instinct was to call 911. There was no way this was a “normal” amount of blood. He dialed frantically and kept asking me if I was ok. He was worried I was going to pass out.
The paramedics arrived and took my vital signs. At that point, I was still stable. But, the bleeding continued. My husband was unimpressed with the response of the paramedics. The sense of urgency was lacking. The only thing I can chalk it up to was the lack of visibility. They could not see just how much blood I was losing in that moment.
That, or they could have been distracted by my sexy postpartum leopard granny panties. They were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of said panties before they escorted me to the ambulance. Yes, the team of six highly trained paramedics and firefighters may not have been overly empathetic, but they were surely prompt. They had arrived at our house before I had the chance to slip on some damn pants.
All the commotion woke up Lucy as well. When the paramedics got to the house, my husband scurried around to get the girls settled. He sat them down on the couch and entranced them with an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
MY FIRST RIDE IN AN AMBULANCE
Our home resides on a pretty steep hill. They could not get the gurney into the house. So, they helped walk me out to the ambulance rather than wheeling me out. This exit proved to be less alarming for our children. My little girls did not have to see me in a state of emergency.
Luckily, our hospital is less than five miles from our house. The paramedic in the back of the ambulance kept questioning me and asking how much I was bleeding. I could not adequately convey just how much was continuing to flow. It was difficult for me to quantify. It was not until we reached the emergency room that he realized the sheer amount. My bleeding soaked through the ambulance gurney mattress and left a sizable pool of blood.
WHAT WAS YOUR BLOOD COUNT?
Upon my arrival, the team of nurses helped me get undressed and cleaned up. Well, cleaned up as best they could. The postpartum hemorrhage was not stopping anytime soon. They set me up with a couple of different IV’s to pump various treatments into me. All of their efforts were, of course, to compensate for the amount of blood exiting my body. My blood count continued to drop further and further. I was not too familiar with hemoglobin levels until going through this event.
Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying pigment in the blood, the predominant protein in the red blood cells. Typical ranges for hemoglobin depend on a person’s age and gender. The average hemoglobin for adult males is 14-18 gm/dl; grams (gm) per deciliter (dl) of whole blood, a deciliter being 100 milliliters. The average for adult women is 12-16 gm/dl.
I was already slightly anemic throughout this third pregnancy. But, due to the continuous bleeding, I was on a rapid decline, 10, 9, 7, finally slipping down to 6. When you catch all of the medical professionals furrowing their brows in concern, you know it’s bad.
UNDERSTANDING MY BLOOD PRESSURE
In conjunction with the drop in my hemoglobin came a severe drop in my blood pressure as well. I confess I do not always know where my blood pressure resides nor do I know what the numbers mean. When they take my blood pressure at various doctors appointments, they just tell me what it is, and I ask, “Is that good?”
So, for those of you like me, who may not know how those numbers translate, here it is for you. According to WebMD, “A blood pressure reading appears as two numbers. The first and higher of the two is a measure of systolic pressure, or the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and fills them with blood. The second number measures diastolic pressure, or the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 (systolic/diastolic).”
As I lay there bleeding, my blood pressure took a sudden and sharp downward spiral. The machines I was hooked up to began to beep rapidly. All of a sudden it was like a massive wave washed over me. I grabbed hold of the railing on the hospital bed, thinking it would anchor me. But, holding on did not relieve the terrible feeling. I felt dizzy and lightheaded. I was totally disoriented. It was like I was free falling and wanted to reach out and grab something to get me to stop.
At this point, I was by myself. My mom was en route to the hospital. My husband, still bound to the house with our three kiddos, called her to let her know what was going on with me.
That was when my blood pressure first dipped. The nurses rushed in and injected me with various medicines. To restore blood flow to my head, they lowered the front of my hospital bed, so my feet were elevated. The team acted fast, and in a matter of minutes, the wave subsided.
ORDER THE BLOOD
It was at that point that I heard the nurses asking the resident doctor if they should order a bag of blood for a transfusion. They were not seeing improvement with my bleeding or my blood levels and wanted to be properly prepared.
I have to say, all of the emergency room staff were ah-mazing! They all worked tirelessly to restore my health. They did their very best to keep me as comfortable as possible and reacted to each hurdle with great care and empathy.
MOMS ARE STRONG
When my mom arrived, she exuded positivity and encouragement in the wake of this scary postpartum hemorrhage. It was not until my blood pressure dropped for the second time, and she witnessed the barrage of nurses and doctors race into my room, that her eyes began to well up with tears. This time, my blood pressure dipped to an all-time low of 83/31. Yikes! They managed to stabilize me once again, but it took them a lot longer the second time around.
My mom is one tough cookie, but seeing your child in pain is one of the worst feelings in the world. She managed to compose herself quickly because she did not want to worry me. But, again, that is tough to do when you are forced to see your loved one suffering.
After that incident, she immediately called my husband to update him on my status. She advised him to come to the ER as soon as possible. My in-laws swiftly showed up to our house to relieve him and take care of our girlies. Thank goodness we have family in town.
WHAT IS GOING ON?
The next and most crucial step was to determine why the HELL I was bleeding so much. Why was I suffering a postpartum hemorrhage? They waited until my blood pressure was stable again and then wheeled me off for a comprehensive ultrasound.
I winced in discomfort as the technician pushed down on my stomach to gather the images. My nurse stayed with me throughout the exam, and when he glimpsed my pained face, he reached down, lovingly grabbed my hand and said, “squeeze as hard as you need sweetie.”
The emergency room doctor informed my OB-GYN as to what was happening. When I returned from the ultrasound, they let me know she was on her way. It was then that my husband arrived. I think the postpartum hemorrhage, and the amount of blood I was losing, was way more intense than he had anticipated.
Often, when you see the person you love placed in such a scary situation, your feelings inevitably pour out of your eyeballs! It is especially emotional because you feel helpless. He wanted to swoop in and make this all go away, but he couldn’t.
TIME TO TAKE ACTION
By the time my OB-GYN arrived, they had already given me two bags of blood. My doctor proceeded to inform me of my options. After reviewing the ultrasound results, they discovered I had a piece of afterbirth remaining inside my uterus. They needed to go in to remove it. This course of action would, hopefully, stop the bleeding. They could not determine if it was a clot or a retained piece of placenta, but my uterus was contracting and trying to expel the remnant from my body. However, my uterus is apparently LAZY and while making unsuccessful attempts to contract a blood vessel burst. This burst blood vessel resulted in profuse bleeding. Of course, to suffer a delayed postpartum hemorrhage is a very rare occurrence. Slacker uterus!
According to March of Dimes, “a postpartum hemorrhage (also called PPH) is when a woman has heavy bleeding after giving birth. It’s a serious but rare condition. It usually happens within one day of giving birth, but it can happen up to 12 weeks after having a baby. About 1 to 5 in 100 women who have a baby (1 to 5 percent) have PPH. PPH can cause a severe drop in blood pressure. If not treated quickly, this can lead to shock and death. Shock is when your body organs don’t get enough blood flow.”
So, I just happened to be one of the lucky 1-5%! Yeah for me.
The first step was to perform a dilation and curettage (D&C). A D&C is a procedure to remove tissue from inside your uterus. If that did not work, the second attempt would be to perform a uterine fibroid embolization (UFE). The last resort, a hysterectomy.
SCREW YOU UTERUS!
I was trying to stay strong during this ordeal, but at this point of exhaustion, I told my OB-GYN, “Do whatever you need to do. I trust you.” By now, I was OVER bleeding! “Please, make it stop. Please make it stop” I pleaded in my head.
I signed the necessary paperwork for the procedure, which included signing off on all of the warnings regarding the risks of anesthesia and my full understanding of a hysterectomy (if it came to that point while I was under).
I said my final goodbyes and was hurriedly whisked away by the staff. As they wheeled me through the hallways and into the operating room, I was hopeful that the postpartum hemorrhage would finally come to a positive resolution.
OFF TO SLEEP
The entire operating team did their best to put my mind at ease. All words spoken were positive and reassuring. They collectively lifted me onto the operating table, and the anesthesiologist introduced himself with a warm, welcoming smile. Before I knew it, I felt the cool mask surround my nose and mouth. I inhaled and exhaled slowly as my mind wandered. My eyelids grew heavier and heavier as I finally drifted off to sleep.
*Stay tuned for the continuation of my postpartum hemorrhage scare. I will discuss both my mental and physical recovery. I had intended this post to be the final installment in a blog series I started back in January titled, Why Do Events Happen in Threes? But, it took me months to wrap my brain around my experience, and then put into the precise words what I was feeling in that nerve-wracking moment in time. I put my story out there for anyone who may benefit, learn, or identify with it.
Until I faced this nightmare, I was unaware and uneducated about this particular aspect of maternal health. Globally, 830 women die from childbirth or pregnancy-related complications each year. Unfortunately, most deaths occurred in low-resource settings. What is so disheartening is that most deaths are preventable.
Did you or someone you know experience complications due to childbirth?