I survived postpartum hemorrhage--barely.
I gave birth to twins via cesarean just before midnight on a Thursday in December. I had been adamant about not wanting a C-section throughout the entire pregnancy, so despite being warned by all of the doctors in my practice that a twin delivery was more likely to end in the surgery, I wasn’t really emotionally prepared when it happened.
My first night in the hospital is mostly a blur--a mix of exhaustion from the labor and fogginess from the drugs. But I remember a male doctorcoming in to examine me, and that he pulled out a couple ofmedium-sized blood clots. I don’t remember his name or hisface, but I do remember feeling a dulled sense of alarm, andhis instructions: If this happens again, call for the doctor immediately.
The rest of my recovery was without incident, and my time inthe hospital was spent learning how to change a diaper, figuring out how to breastfeed, and pushing myself to get up andmove. When my husband and I brought the babies home on Monday, it was one of the only times in my life I can truly say Ifelt equal parts joy and terror: joy at having created these twoperfect little lives and terror at the thought of somehow doingsomething wrong. I hear this is fairly common for new parents.
At home, the bleeding didn’t stop, but I’d been told that thatwas normal, so I thought nothing of it. My feet and lower legswere more swollen than they’d been for the entire pregnancy;but again, swollen feet are common, so I just waited patiently for the swelling to go down. And besides, we were busy gettingto know our babies, receiving visitors, and basking in the giddy joy of being parents.
On Saturday morning, nine days after giving birth, I got out ofbed and as I stood up, I felt a gush of blood between my legs. I quickly made my way to the bathroom, where I was horrified to see four baseball-sized clots soaked the pads I’d been wearing. I vaguely remembered seeing something in my discharge instructions about calling the doctor if I started passing large clots, so I called my husband for help and immediately called the answering service.
In the 45 minutes between when I calledand when the doctor called me back, I had soaked through three sets of pads. I told her what was happening, and she said,“Come to the ER right away.”
So we left our newborns with my mother and rushed back to the hospital, an eerie reliving of our trip just over a week ago. This time, though, instead of chattering with anticipation and excitement, our car ride was silent, heavy with our fear. I left a pool of blood in the seat of the car—I keep meaning to track the driver down to apologize.
In the ER, my blood pressure was dangerously low, so we were immediately ushered back to a bed. From there, my memory is comprised of a series of still-life moments. Joking with the nursing staff about how we loved the hospital so much we couldn’t stay away. My husband going next door to help the disabled patient and his caretaker connect to the Wi-Fi. Me, crying out for my husband to stay there, to not pull the curtain back despite my screams as the doctor examined me – I didn’t want him to see her hands come away soaked in my blood. And through it all, trying to handle myself with aplomb while sitting in an ever-widening pool of blood.
The moment that is etched in my memory is this: I am holding my husband’s hand, listening to the doctors on the other side of the curtain navigating the logistics of operating room privileges and blood type, when the edges of my vision start to fade. I look at my husband and say, “I think I’m going to pass out.” And then, as if from a distance, I see him tear the curtain back and yell for help. I fall further toward the black, until the only thing I can see is his face—always so kind, and calm, and in control—a mask of panic. He, who never cries, has tears in his eyes as he says, “You have to stay here, okay? You have to stay here.” I promise to try, but it feels as if I’m underwater.
That is the moment I can still relive if I close my eyes. That’s the moment I thought I was going to die. I was too far gone to feel fear, but I did feel an overriding sense of regret. What a shame, I thought, that we’ll never get to raise those beautiful children together. What a shame that my children, whom I already love so much, will never know their mother. A nurse came and elevated my feet above my head. And slowly the room came back into focus.
From there, I was rushed to the operating room where the doctor explained that they were about to put me under and to count backward from ten. I awoke in recovery to the news that the procedure had gone well, and that I’d needed four units of blood to replace all that I’d lost. When I looked it up later, I was shaken to realize that they had replaced nearly half of my blood volume. Before it happened to me, I had never heard the term “postpartum hemorrhage”. That seemed like the kind of thing that happened somewhere else, where women didn’t have access to quality maternal care. But it is far more common that one would expect.
In the time since it happened, I’ve learned new information about how doctors treat Black women that has colored my birth and postpartum experience. Was the doctor careful enough? Did she see me as a human being? I don’t know if I could have done anything differently to prevent what happened to me, but I hope that by sharing my story, others might be more prepared. And more than anything, I now feel gratitude. For every moment I get to spend with my husband, every moment spent watching our twins grow, I am exceedingly grateful.