Back in October- I had the honor of speaking at the 2017 Hope for Accreta Conference in Ohio. It really was an honor because I was asked to share my survivor story with a room full of women who also lived through such a traumatizing experience and each have their own survivor story to tell.
The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world and the majority of our pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. This has to change and I want to share my voice and encourage others to share theirs, so that we can educate our country’s women and stop unnecessary maternal death.
Preparing for this speaking event was particularly difficult for me. To be honest- when I got the email inviting me to speak at this conference, my gut reaction was to turn it down.
I don’t usually talk about myself.
I hate talking about myself.
I give a lot of speeches and I do a lot of writing, but it’s all about my daughter.
I tell her story and not mine.
I don’t like what I went through and I don’t like what my family went through.
I don’t like thinking about it, let alone sharing it, but I decided do it with this group because I wanted to set an example for all of us- that no matter how we feel about it- something terrible happened to us and because of those terrible things- we all we have stories to tell.
These stories matter because they will educate other women and just maybe- lives will be saved because we’ve told our stories.
Education is the key to preventing other women from potentially fatal placenta accretas and percretas caused by future pregnancies after multiple C-sections. I was unaware that it could be life-threatening when I decided to have a fourth child after three C-sections. I want every woman to be armed with the correct information, before they elect C-sections when wanting several children. Many cases of Placenta Accreta and Placenta Percreta can be prevented.
So I told everyone what I hate to talk about and almost never talk about-
which is what happened to me 5 years ago and I’m going to share it with you here.
Here we go-
In December 2017 I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child. My due date was September 2, 2012.
Although I’d like to be able to say that it was smooth sailing from the moment I learned I was pregnant, I can’t. There were immediate signs of a problem.
I started spotting right away, but I had spotted during all of my pregnancies thus far, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
That’s me, always the optimist, sometimes to a fault. There was no pain or cramping—just bleeding. When there’s no pain, it’s difficult to actually believe something is amiss.
My first ultrasound was when I was about four weeks pregnant, after which I had an appointment to see the OB, the newest doctor in the practice.
My ultrasound showed the embryo had implanted extremely low, and that it could be on the scar tissue.
The doctor was aware of my bleeding, but she didn’t seem all that concerned, nor did she put me on bed rest.
“Pelvic rest,” she ordered. “And take it easy.”
You all know what that means, right?
In case you don’t- it means no sex.
When the bleeding continued for fifteen more days, I went for a second sonogram. The technician told me it seemed possible that I would end up with placenta previa. The doctor agreed, but she said it was too early to know for sure. She wanted to check my hCG levels, so I went for a blood test and then went home. Three days later, I was back for another hCG blood test and received the results on New Year’s Eve.
My hCG level had not changed.
The level was exactly the same as it was three days before. In general, hCG levels will double every 72 hours, reaching its peak in the first 8 to 11 weeks of pregnancy. The level then declines for the remainder of the pregnancy.
The doctor told me that if, in fact, I was still pregnant, it was likely I would miscarry, and I should go back for more blood work in 3 days.
“I’d say it was an unsuccessful pregnancy,” she said.
At this point, I was only five weeks pregnant, and it was too early to detect a heartbeat.
This news was pretty hard to take and I was told to accept it.
I couldn’t help but wonder if I was still pregnant, and I did my best to hide my anxiety from my kids.
When I had a new hCG level test a few days later, my positivity paid off. My level was right where it was supposed to be, and I was still pregnant. A few weeks later, still bleeding, I saw my child’s heartbeat on the sonogram.
On January 28th, I started to bleed again and continued to bleed all during the month of February. I went for regular sonograms, all of which showed the same thing: the embryo had implanted low on my scar tissue. Still, I was just told to take it easy—and since no one gave me anything more specific, I told myself I was doing exactly what I was instructed to do.
At the end of February, the bleeding slowed and then it stopped entirely for three weeks. I was elated! I was sure everything had resolved itself, and all I felt was a tremendous sense of relief. We’d finally made it through the rough days of the pregnancy, and now the baby and I were both fine. As it turned out, I could not have been more wrong.
I returned to work and my normal activities, adhering to the doctor’s vague order of pelvic rest.
Two weeks later, at 4 am, as I rolled over and sat up, I knew with certainty that the fluid I felt was a pool of blood. I’d had two previous miscarriages. Although this didn’t feel exactly the same, I was positive I was losing the baby.
Fast forward a few hours and a lot blood loss and stress, a sonogram was scheduled to determine if the baby was still alive, but I had to wait for almost two hours before the technicians arrived for the morning shift to do the test
It seemed like a lifetime. Finally, at 7 a.m., I had the sonogram, and it turned out the baby was fine. Everyone, including me, was surprised.
Given the amount of blood I’d lost, it was a miracle the baby was okay.
At that moment, I knew this baby was strong.
I vowed right then and there to do everything possible to bring a healthy baby into this world.
I spent two nights in the hospital after that first hemorrhage. Before I left, the doctor told me that, at the very least, I had 100% placenta previa. Now I was instructed to be on modified bed rest- this meant still no sex (honestly, who could even think of that at this point), plus no heavy lifting and not vacuuming.
That’s all she said.
I obeyed the modified bed rest order:
I didn’t do things like vacuuming or scrubbing the shower, and no- there was no sex going on in my house.
About 2 weeks later, my husband had to go away for one night for work. I was fine and was not bleeding and I went to bed around 11 p.m. Two hours later, a familiar feeling of wetness awakened me. Oh no. How could this be? Not again! Please, not again!
I stood up so I could grab the phone and as I did, I felt like every ounce of blood in my body was gushing out of me.
I looked at the clock; it was 1 a.m. The image of that clock still burns in my memory.
Frantically, I grabbed the phone. It was almost dead. I remembered my youngest son playing with the phone earlier in the day. He’d left it off the charger, and I just hoped it would work long enough for me to call for help.
I walked towards the bathroom while dialing my in-laws. My father-in-law answered, and I was in the middle of telling him I needed an ambulance to go to the hospital when the phone died.
I wasn’t sure he’d heard me at all because the phone was practically dead when I called him. I could only hope he’d understood.
I couldn’t yell for help.
Only my sons were in the house, and they’re heavy sleepers.
Pure fear was pounding through me; blood was running out of me like a rushing river. I didn’t know what to do. I felt so out of control. I felt as if I would collapse, so I grabbed a towel and put it on my head, and I was just in time. My legs buckled beneath me. I collapsed to the floor.
I remember lying there, trying to stay awake and feeling so weak.
I couldn’t lift my head.
Each heartbeat forcefully pushed more blood out of me.
How could there be any blood left in me? I’m going to pass out and die right here on the bathroom floor.
My oldest son will get up at 6 a.m., come into the bathroom as he always does, and find me dead in a pool of blood.
That was my last thought before I went into shock and passed out.
That thought will also haunt me forever.
When I woke up, my mother-in-law and an EMT were standing over me.
Luckily, my father-in-law had heard me when he answered the phone. He immediately called 911 and my parents, and then he and my mother-in-law sped to my house.
The ambulance came, and I was rushed to the hospital. My mother-in-law followed in her car, and my father-in-law stayed at the house with the boys. She stayed at the hospital until my parents arrived and then she went back to my house.
My mother-in-law—who gets queasy at the sight of blood—cleaned the bathroom. She told me later that our bathroom looked like a murder scene. From the marble to the towels, our bathroom is all white, but not after that night.
The kids never woke up during all that commotion. The next morning they came downstairs as usual. My father-in-law simply told them that Mommy had an early appointment with the doctor. All was well in their world. They were perfectly accepting and asked no questions.
My world, however, was another story.
I remember vomiting in the ambulance as it raced to the hospital. The EMTs were desperately trying to get an IV in my arm, but the bumps and potholes in the road made it impossible. When we finally arrived at our little country hospital, the doors flew open, and my father was standing right there, along with one of the midwives and one of the doctors in my group.
I kept trying to call my husband John, but couldn’t get an answer.
After I was admitted, the hospital staff hooked me up to an IV. It was about four o’clock in the morning. The bleeding hadn’t slowed, and I was extremely weak.
But what about the baby? How is the baby?
I needed an ultrasound to determine the health of the baby, but the ultrasound technicians wouldn’t arrive at work for another two hours. My blood pressure was dangerously low. They tested my hematocrit, which was also extremely low and kept going down.
I was told I needed a blood transfusion. I’d never had a blood transfusion and was scared to death. But I had no choice. I was given what would turn out to be the first of many transfusions.
Meanwhile, no one had been able to contact my husband.
Finally, just after 6 a.m., an ultrasound technician arrived. For the first time, my positivity was shaken. I’ve been bleeding for hours. How can this baby possibly survive? There’s no way I could still be pregnant.
Although we feared the worst, to everyone’s surprise, the baby was still alive.
“I want to warn you that if you don’t stop bleeding, we’ll have to deliver the baby,” the midwife cautioned. “And the baby won’t survive at 19 weeks.” Everyone was convinced that would be the case, but I wouldn’t listen. I didn’t believe it. I have to recover. I need to get to thirty weeks. The doctor told me that I need to get to 30 weeks.
I just kept on hoping and praying that everything would be okay.
The bleeding slowed and I remained in the hospital for about a week and a half, being transfused on and off, but it felt like a lifetime.
I was miserable.
The nurses were wonderful, and the food wasn’t even that bad, but I missed being home with my children.
Then came some glorious news!
“We’re sending you home, and we have to trust you that you will be on complete bed rest. You should get up and shower only every other day,” she admonished. I just looked at her.
“Use a bedpan,” she continued.
“You cannot under any circumstances go down the stairs. Either you stay upstairs or down, but you cannot go up and down the stairs.”
It drove me crazy. I hate not being in control of everything, especially my own body. The bottom line is that I was in denial. I had so much guilt for not being able to be a full participant in my boys’ lives: I couldn’t make their breakfasts or prepare their lunches as I normally did each morning, or play outside with them in the afternoon. I was imprisoned upstairs in our bedroom. I was also told I could not return to that hospital when the next hemorrhage happened.
I needed to be in a hospital with a trauma center and a Level 4 NICU because my baby would most certainly be born extremely premature. The doctors from the practice who delivered my first three children told me they were releasing my care to a fetal maternal doctor who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
The first available appointment with this doctor was not for two weeks. I was ordered to stay in bed until then, with the exception of an appointment for a special type of sonogram that was scheduled for Tuesday at another hospital.
I finally went home! I got to read to my children before bed and sleep in my own bedroom. The next morning, John drove me to the sonogram.
The sonogram confirmed that I had 100% placenta previa, but it also confirmed something else—we were having a girl!
Because I’d only had boys, I’d been convinced we were having another boy.
Suddenly, the baby was no longer an “it.” The “it” was now a human being. And a baby girl at that.
I was ecstatic and my husband was stunned. The doctor patiently waited for John and me to calm down. “Now I have to tell you something else,” she said.
Oh no … here it comes. Bad news. There’s bound to be some bad news.
“The baby is growing perfectly,” she told us. Then she continued,
“But this is the second worst case of placenta previa I have seen in my twenty years of practicing. If you make it to 27 weeks, you should have a party.
There’s no way your uterus will make it past that.”
This was an aha moment. I’d done a little research on premature babies—those born from thirty weeks on, not twenty-seven weeks. The seriousness of the situation kicked in at that moment.
Our baby would be born before twenty-seven weeks.
The doctor spoke sternly. “It’s amazing to me that you’re still pregnant.”
You must listen,” she said. “This is serious. Very serious.
You will have another hemorrhage.”
She wrote out a note that I was to give to the EMTs when I had the next hemorrhage. Once again, the seriousness of my pregnancy came crashing down on me. The room spun. I had been in denial all along:
I’d had three successful pregnancies. Bad things do not happen to me. I’m a very optimistic person who believes I can do anything I set my mind to. Even with the hemorrhages and blood transfusions, the severity of my condition never quite sank in until that moment.
With tears streaming down my face already, she dropped a bomb on us.
“I must advise you to terminate the pregnancy due to the risk to your life,” she said.
She went on to explain—as the other maternal fetal specialist had—that she sees only high-risk cases and mine was one of the worst she’d ever seen. She continued, “You will need to have surgery, a c-section, to deliver the baby. Since you’ve been hemorrhaging throughout your pregnancy so far, you’ll probably be hemorrhaging during surgery.
John and I were both speechless. We glanced at one another, knowing that evening we’d be having the most serious conversation we’d ever had in our 8 years of marriage.
But the doctor didn’t stop there. She continued to lecture us about the risks to our baby girl. “Your baby will be premature; most likely a micro preemie.” That was the first time I’d ever heard the term micro preemie.
“Micro preemies can have serious medical problems. Many do not survive,” she told us. She went on to describe the possible immediate complications our baby might have to endure and she went into detail about each and every one.
“One more thing,” the doctor cautioned. “You will probably need to have a hysterectomy. “More than likely, the baby has grown through the scar tissue in your uterus. We can’t determine that with any type of test.”
“This is most definitely a case of Placenta Accreta or Placenta Percreta, but I cannot confirm my suspicions until delivery.” On our way out, I scheduled an appointment for two weeks later—one that I wouldn’t keep.
Not only was I depressed due to my bed rest, but I was filled with fear. Every time I rolled over, I worried that I would either kill my baby or die. The bleeding intensified with every move I made.
3 days short of my twenty-third week, I hemorrhaged again. I woke up at exactly the same time as I did during the last hemorrhage: It was 1 a.m. I felt the familiar wetness of the pool of blood beneath me. I grabbed the phone next to my bed—my father-in-law had purchased new phones for us—and I called John’s cell phone since he was on the couch downstairs. He didn’t answer, so I got up and began walking to the bathroom and screaming downstairs to him.
Then I lost all control of my body and dropped to the floor.
John came bounding up the stairs. He’d never seen me like this.
Blood was everywhere. With blood still gushing on the floor, I started vomiting. John quickly came to his senses, grabbed the phone, dialed 911, and then dialed his parents. He put towels all around me.
I’m doing to die. This is it. This time I’m going to die, and I don’t even have enough energy to say a single word to John. And I never got to say goodbye to the boys.
I passed out.
Not too long later I arrived at the major medical center with the Trauma Center and Level 4 NICU. I had read that steroid shots help the baby’s lungs and brain to develop faster, and if administered to a mother before a premature birth, the steroids can dramatically increase the chances for a successful outcome at birth. I begged for the shots, but they refused. “We do not administer steroid shots until a baby has reached 24 weeks gestation because most babies born before 24 weeks do not make it,” one doctor admonished. I pleaded with him, and he finally relented—at least a bit. “If you can remain pregnant for three more days, we’ll give you the steroid shots.” (Those 3 days would bring me to twenty-three weeks.)
I knew that was exactly what I had to do, what I would do.
Eight hours later, I was finally stable—and felt slightly alive again—thanks to continuous blood transfusions. I was moved to the maternity ward where I was, of course, confined to my bed. At this point, staying pregnant was the only thing I had to focus on. I was depressed, I wanted no visitors, and I cried uncontrollably.
On Sunday morning I woke up and I’d made it! I was 23 weeks pregnant! I began asking each and every nurse and doctor (and probably the cleaning staff) to get me that steroid shot. The first of the consecutive shots was administered that day.
I’m finally doing something to help my daughter.
Once again I felt remorse as I thought about the conditions under which my daughter’s life was beginning. Instead of the normal warm, relaxing womb, she was constantly traumatized, which elevated her heart rate. She was living inside a mommy who was continuously upset and stressed. But by getting those shots, I could help her—and I did!
I was finally starting to feel better—both physically and emotionally and allowed myself some visitors, who were not my kids. I had my kids visit whenever they could.
At 11 p.m., the bleeding worsened. I assumed I wouldn’t hemorrhage again because the bleeding was steady, and nothing like the explosive nature of the hemorrhages I’d had in the past- that seemingly came out of nowhere. A nurse came into my room with a doctor. They told me they were moving me to Labor and Delivery as a precautionary measure.
I can’t be going into labor. I have to stay pregnant. I managed to stay pregnant through all the hemorrhages, and I’ll stay pregnant through this. I was frightened, and I was also in denial. An easier place to be than my reality, denial had become my best friend.
With tears in her eyes, the nurse walked next to my bed as I was wheeled to Labor and Delivery.
She wished me luck, gave me a hug, and went back to the maternity ward, leaving me in the care of nurses I’d never seen before.
Any normal, sane woman would call her husband when she was moved to Labor and Delivery. But I was not normal—or sane—and I did not call John.
I was not ready to deliver my baby. I was in denial once again. I just waited.
As my contractions started, I was given a magnesium drip to slow my labor, but it seemed to have no effect. Once they started coming more frequently, the pain became almost unbearable and the bleeding intensified.
Around 4 a.m., I started to hemorrhage and was told the baby had to be delivered immediately. I refused.
I can’t have this baby yet; I need to get this baby to 24 weeks. I begged and pleaded with every doctor and nurse who was within earshot.
Finally, a doctor I’d never met said, “You will bleed to death in ten minutes if we do not deliver you now. Call your husband.”
With my contractions less than one minute apart and blood all over the delivery room floor, I called John from the hospital phone. I told him I loved him, and that the baby was being delivered right away. My mom was sleeping at our house, and I told John not to wake her. I dialed my parents’ phone number to talk to my dad. “I’m going into surgery and having the baby,” was all I said, and then I hung up.
Then I did something that still brings chills to my spine. I called my cell phone and left a message for my three boys. I’d been told I might not wake up, so I knew I had to say goodbye to them just in case I didn’t.
As I was finishing my message- someone grabbed the phone out of my hand, and I was rushed into the operating room.
I didn’t know if I would come out alive. The hemorrhaging got much worse, and my contractions started coming in full force about ten seconds apart. I screamed in agony with each strong spasm as my insides felt like they were being doused with burning acid. The NICU team had been called and they appeared alongside the surgeons and nurses. It seemed like a madhouse. People were running in all directions. They hadn’t put an IV back in my arm, and they couldn’t get a vein. “We have to go through an artery,” I heard someone yell. I felt someone tie me down.
“Don’t move!” shrieked the nurse as someone dug into my wrist. The pain was so intense; it was all I could do to keep from passing out.
A surgeon rushed in and started shouting just as a huge contraction racked my body. He shouted for the nurses to go and get as many coolers of blood as they could find.
I had the sensation of boiling liquid streaming out of me, as if a pipe had burst, creating a scalding flood. Whatever was happening to me was so indescribably torturous that I thought I was being burned alive. Oh my God. I’m not going to make it. John will get here, and I’ll be dead. Will the baby survive?
“We have to go vertical!
Put her out now! Put her out now!”
A mask was placed over my face.
In the course of a few seconds, my mind raced. Will I wake up? And then there was darkness.
After over 30 units of blood, a hysterectomy, and after having my placenta surgically separated from both my bowels and bladder, I remained asleep for many hours and did not get to meet my daughter for days- but I survived.
That is my story- that leads into my daughter’s story. She was born at 23 weeks gestation, weighing just 1 pound and 4 ounces and she was not even as long as a ruler.
After 121 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and countless medical procedures, medications, X-Rays, feeding and breathing assistance- she came home.
But that is another story for another day. Today is about sharing what’s difficult with hopes that it can save someone else’s life.
For more information on my experience with high-risk pregnancy and premature birth, please see www.fromhopetojoy.com and for more information on the Hope for Accreta Foundation, please visit http://www.hopeforaccreta.org.
Before you go- I have some news!
I have a children’s book coming out in early spring and I also started a new business aimed at advocating for and spreading awareness about maternal and neonatal health.
Stay tuned and check back soon!
Thank you for your continued support as I pursue my passion of advocacy through education 🙂