Whether the act of childbirth is easy or not, motherhood is a miracle. The birth story of my first son is my greatest gift: the trauma and the pain gave way to a beauty I could never have imagined.
I began the process of labor induction in the afternoon of Saturday, February 11th, 2017. It was a slow process: my body did not respond to the medicine for almost a full day. By Sunday evening, I was still only dilated 2 centimeters but had begun having frequent, strong contractions and was given an epidural to help with the pain.
During the next few hours, my placenta tore away from my uterine wall (a rare occurrence called “placental abruption”) and the trauma triggered Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), which occurs when all of the blood’s clotting factors rush to one spot (the abruption). When DIC is present, the blood loses its ability to clot, essentially becoming the consistency of water. Aplacental abruption is always severe and occurs in less than 1% of pregnancies; meanwhile, DIC occurs in only 10% of placental abruptions. When abruption occurs, the chance of the baby dying is between 20% and 40%. Likewise, the maternal death rate increases sevenfold – even without the presence of DIC. Because of its rarity, few data are available on the impact to maternal mortality if DIC presents itself after a placental abruption (but it certainly doesn’t improve anything).
At 12:03 am on Monday, February 13th, 2017, my baby boy, Jake, was born. His one-minute APGAR score, the measure of a newborn’s well-being, was an unpromising two out of ten. Preferable APGAR scores are at least seven; a score of less than four indicates that immediate, life-saving measures need to be taken. Jake had blood in his lungs but the nurses were prepared and quickly resuscitated him. Within five minutes, Jake’s second APGAR score was a healthy seven. The nurse wheeled him over to me so I could see his perfect body: ten fingers, ten toes, breathing, crying, alive. He was beautiful.
I used to wish that moment was better – that I was so at peace after seeing my son’s face that I was no longer terrified for my own life. That there was a great moment of awe in which the world became quiet and still; and my blood left my body a little slower out of respect for my meeting this tiny being I had created. But I know now that what happened next was always meant for me. It took me a long time to accept it as my story, one I wouldn’t want any other way.
After meeting his son, my husband (Jeff) watched as the doctor studied my uterus in his hands. He knew something must be very wrong. My breathing became shallow, and I whispered to the doctor standing above me that I was scared. A mask was placed over my mouth as Jeff stroked my hair, and I soon drifted off to sleep from the anesthesia. The last thing Jeff heard as they escorted him out of the operating room was the team discussing how to stop my bleeding. He walked quietly to the waiting room, where my family was waiting. In shock, he didn’t quite understand what was happening – but the look on his face confirmed their fears. My mom is an experienced nurse and knew how common it is for mothers who have an abruption and DIC to bleed to death. As the blood bank team ran with coolers of blood up the stairs and past my family (the fastest route to me), her worst nightmare seemed to be coming true.
My family sought the power of prayer to help me: they sent out requests to prayer warriors all over the country. They gathered around my hospital bed, linking hands and praying for me to wake up. For months after I came home, I received cards and messages from people I didn’t know who prayed for me and Jake.
I woke up thirteen hours after Jake was born to see the tired, worried face of my father. He calmly told me that the amount of fluid put into my body had caused my lungs to fill and go into respiratory failure. A ventilator was breathing for me, painfully strapped to my face. Although it saved my life, the ventilator was by far the worst part of the entire experience. I felt like I was suffocating. My hands were strapped to the hospital bed so I couldn’t instinctively pull the tube out of my throat and try to breathe on my own. It was excruciating. While my sister sat beside me and brushed my hair, softly singing and praying, I prayed to God to keep me asleep until it was over or let it all stop. I was vaguely aware of my baby’s existence; waiting on a different floor of the hospital to be held by his mom for the first time.
When I finally took my healthy baby home and placed him in the swing Jeff had set up for him so many months ago, I cried until I had no tears left. We lived. Jake has a mom. God gave us the gift of time together – a fact I’ll never forget as long as I live.
I had a village supporting me in my recovery: I slept most of the day for the first few weeks, not changing one single diaper until Jake was two weeks old. My husband helped me use the breast pump when I couldn’t get out of bed to do it myself, and our family members took turns watching Jake and I while we slept. Friends and relatives we hadn’t seen in years brought us meals and traveled from out of town to see us. I never understood human connection until then: all at once, it was the most painful and most beautiful time in my life. I felt love pouring in from all over – even the blood in my veins came from people I would never know.
Today, I have two sons: Jake is three years old and Tommy turned 9 months old on May 1st, 2020. People always tell me I am brave for having another baby after barely surviving Jake’s birth, but I don’t see it that way. I knew God was calling me to have another baby. Just like I was meant to be here with Jake, I was meant to have Tommy, too. I don’t have to understand it to know it is right. This is the real miracle of life: true bravery isn’t in the physical act of doing the thing that scares us, it’s in the belief that we’re following the path God has set for us and trusting in His plan fully.