This story first appeared on Let's Really Listen
A Mother’s Day Gift
May 9, 1995. The day I almost died. The day my daughter was born. A woman dying in childbirth in the 1990’s is almost unheard of, an anomaly. Imagine my husband’s shock when the doctors told him they did not know if I would live. I was equally stunned when the next day; I woke in intensive care with several doctors hovering over my bed. My last, blurry memory was the doctor saying the procedure was simple and should only take twenty minutes. My last vision was my older daughter holding my new baby as they wheeled me to the operating room. Images floated like a movie dream sequence.
We moved to rural Minnesota from Boulder, Colorado seven years ago with no plans to add to our family. When I discovered I was pregnant, I interviewed all the doctors available, settling for a team close to home. It was a little scary because my previous pregnancies had been complicated. Our first baby, now twelve years old, was born after eight weeks of premature labor and two-hour delivery. Our second died of cord strangulation. This pregnancy already had all the signs of a long ordeal.
I woke with that telltale feeling, called morning sickness, which for me lasted twenty-four hours a day, five months of the nine. Vomiting twelve times a day, unable to eat, smell or look at anything closely resembling food, I lost weight, At three months, after losing twelve pounds in ten days, I dragged myself to my doctor for help. I finally got relief from vitamin injections allowing me to eat again and get out of bed without the world spinning around me. Food began to taste good and my baby and I started growing again.
At twenty-five weeks, almost fully recovered from my marathon bouts of morning sickness, I was feeling good. Then the contractions began. At this point the baby’s chance of survival were extremely low so I was ordered to complete bed rest. Highly medicated and under close supervision, I worked from my bed: computer, telephone, and fax machine at hand. The contractions continued, my medication dosages increased, and my husband and I began researching information about premature babies. The cause of the contractions would remain a mystery until delivery. Inching closer to my due date, the urgency to maintain the pregnancy subsided. Finally, miraculously, we were just ten days away from the original due date.
On the first contraction my uterus ruptured, creating pain greater than anything I had ever experienced. Fortunately, my husband was at his office only minutes away and the hospital was close. By the sixth contraction I was pushing, and my husband was trying to get me into the car. By the eighth contraction the emergency room staff was trying to get me out of the car – despite the fact that my feet were firmly planted on the dashboard and I was convinced my baby would be born in the car. They yanked me out and got me into the elevator just in time for the baby’s head to crown. Minutes later, on the twelfth contraction she was born. For one split second I remember thinking, “Wow, it’s over—that was really fast.” Suddenly I realized our baby was not breathing. “What’s happening, what’s happening?” I cried hysterically from my bed, “Is she breathing? What’s wrong? Why isn't she making any noise?” The doctors and nurses were too busy trying to resuscitate the flaccid, blue baby to answer. After several agonizingly long minutes, she responded. Quietly at first, then working up to a stronger cry, she was breathing, but she was still floppy. They let me look at her beautiful little face for a moment, then whisked her away for additional medical care. I was stunned at the speed of the delivery and checked the clock for perspective. It was 4:45, the first contraction hit at 4:10. Wow! A little while later, a nurse came in to tell us our little baby was doing well and we could relax.
An hour later, I began shaking uncontrollably; warm blankets did not help. I was still bleeding and nothing seemed to stop the heavy flow. The doctor was getting frustrated with me and told me to stop resisting their efforts to massage my uterus. With each palpitation I could feel the blood pooling and gushing inside me. The pain was incredible. Everything was covered in blood. My slippers were soaked and the nurses kept replacing the blood filled chucks and blankets. Two hours later, the visibly concerned nurse urged the doctor to check me again. Two and one half hours after delivery, my blood pressure dropped severely, and my veins were on the verge of collapse, and the doctor decided to take me to the operating room for exploratory surgery. She told my husband and me that it would be a simple, twenty minute procedure. At 7:15 p.m., I was wheeled away and my husband, who had yet to eat, decided to go out while I was in surgery.
Hospital staff were waiting for him at the door as he returned (this is before cell phones) and rushed him to the operating area. My doctors explained that I was in serious condition; they could not find the source of the bleeding and they were not sure I would live. My hemoglobin had dropped dangerously low and they needed his permission to do a hysterectomy to try to stop the bleeding. He consented to the surgery and went to the nursery to wait with our baby. Minutes ticked into hours as he sat holding our precious daughter. Rocking with her, the hours passed and he wondered if she would grow up without knowing her mother. Finally, at 1:15 a.m., the doctors came to tell him when they lifted out my bladder they found the rupture in my uterus – it was shredded. The hysterectomy had stopped the hemorrhaging but I was still in critical condition.
I regained consciousness in intensive care, confused. The crowd hovering over me included three doctors, two anesthesiologists and two nurses. The anesthesia started to pull me back under while one doctor tried to explain that they had been forced to do a hysterectomy. I drifted back to sleep thinking, “Isn't it a little early to talk about birth control?” It was several days before I could comprehend what had happened. On Mother’s Day, over a week later, my baby and I went home. Although the healing process was slow, we have all fully recovered.
The birth of our second daughter brought us the unexpected, incredible gift of the awareness of our fragile existence. Shannon will be nineteen this May and her simple presence reminds us daily to cherish each moment.
Authors Note: I chose to put this story on my "Listening" blog as a call to action...although this happened 18 years ago, one of the things I remember clearly as my life was slipping away was that the doctor would not listen to me and kept blaming me for not cooperating when I complained of the pain, nor would she listen to the nurse who finally got her attention when she carried a chuck (a large blue plastic tarp-like fabric) filled with the blood that I had just lost...that finally got her attention. My recovery lasted close to six months as a result of the doctor's inattentiveness and unwillingness to listen, resulting in my massive blood loss. Doctors please listen to your patients, patients, please advocate on your own behalf and listen to your own body so you can accurately represent your situation. Everyone - listen to each other! Who knows whose life you may save...it could be your own...
Kathy Stutzman lives in Austin, Minnesota and celebrated her youngest's eighteenth birthday and subsequent graduation in June of 2013. Their family loves to travel, bike, play games and sit around the campfire and tell stories. Kathy is a writer, facilitator and world citizen who has chosen to live life to its fullest since her near death experience. Other blogs that Kathy writes include: onehundreddaysofgiving.blogspot.com and mamacarusocooks.blogspot.com and csksghana.blogspot.com To contact Kathy visit her kathystutzman.blogspot.com, @KathyStutzman or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org - What are you going to do today to live life to its fullest?