A Strong Start to Pregnancy
I started off my third pregnancy with a lot of confidence. My second pregnancy had gone beautifully. I had no nausea or morning sickness. I felt healthy and energetic throughout. It was a shockingly short and easy labor, delivering my >10 lb. baby in a few pushes only 15 mins. after arriving at the hospital. (My first delivery was NOT this easy, but the hours pushing my first baby out clearly paved the way for subsequent births.) Stunned after this whirlwind birth, I distinctly remember thinking… well, I could do THAT again.
Here I was again, 2 years later. A lot of the same things could be said about this pregnancy. No nausea or morning sickness, feeling fairly healthy, and a rapid delivery with just a few pushes. However, there were some twists and turns that definitely shook my confidence, even putting me in the category of women who may have easily died in childbirth 100 years ago.
The first event that really shook my confidence was a significant bleed early in my second trimester. I was devastated, as I was sure I was having a miscarriage. My doctor could still hear a heartbeat (praise the Lord!) but the bleeding continued for about a month. It was the most emotionally distracted month of my life. We learned from an ultrasound that I had a subchorionic hematoma, which is essentially a blood clot between the uterus and the placenta. (We also learned our sweet baby was a girl!)
I was dying to know WHY this had happened. I was feeling so healthy. It just didn’t make sense to me. I asked everyone I encountered and got no clear answers.
Amazingly, when I had my one-month follow-up ultrasound the radiologist was unable to find any sign of the subchorionic hematoma. She was so surprised she called a colleague in to look for it as well. Nothing. Apparently it had completely resolved. (Again, praise the Lord!) I believe my strong pregnancy diet and nutritional balancing helped with that too.
Pregnancy Worries in the Home Stretch
Once the bleeding stopped, I was feeling great again and the pregnancy went pretty well from that point. Yes, I still found things to worry about, but I think worries are par for the course in pregnant moms. What is going on with all this leaky discharge… did my amniotic fluid break? (No.) Why am I feeling so much internal weight on my cervix, is this baby going to come barreling out 2 months early? (She didn’t.) Then there’s all the screens and tests to worry about. For a hot minute it looked like I might have gestational diabetes. (I didn’t.) And of course, all those ambiguous internal feelings… was that just a little gas or am I starting contractions and heading into premature labor? (I wasn’t.)
With all the worrying about premature birth, it was surprising that my little girl waited until 4 days before her due date to enter the world.
We hung tight through all the holidays, and then on January 2nd labor distinctly started at 4:44am. I woke up to a very clear contraction stretching all the way across my belly… 20 minutes later, another one. 16 more minutes, and yep, it was time to wake Urban Husband.
He called some friends over to watch the boys, and we started heading into the hospital as my contractions were about 10 minutes apart. (This seemed possibly premature to me, but I remembered barely making it in for my last birth.)
We made it to the hospital just as it was starting to lighten up outside. My Bradley Method instincts told me to delay, delay, delay, so I waited through a couple more contractions in the car. Unlike my first pregnancy, where I hollered my way through the contractions, I had learned it was much less tense and painful to work through the contractions with vigorous breathing.
Urban Husband convinced me to make my way inside, taking a break every so often to huff and puff through a contraction. We checked in at 7:55am. I considered apologizing for arriving on the early side and offering to just hang out for a bit. Instead I was ushered into triage so they could decide whether I should stay or go home.
“She’s rimming!” cried out the midwife who checked me. Well THAT was a surprise. (Fully dilated and baby’s head peaking out?!) Small talk was pushed aside as nurses sprang into action… “Would you like to have the baby here or do you think you can make it to the delivery room?”
Upon entering the delivery room, my body seemed to sense permission to enter full-on baby-pushing mode. I was no longer able to cooly huff and puff through the contractions. I was yelping as my body ramped the contractions up to 11, doing its utmost to expel the baby.
Here I was one more time, up on the delivery table delivering my baby in a very conventional position. If I was the type of woman who wanted an epidural, there would have been no time to insert it. My inclinations were more towards a water birth, but that was out of the question once again. The nurse fumbling with the monitoring equipment gave up on that as well, since the baby clearly wasn’t waiting for anything.
I turned onto my side, remembering that worked well last time. Dr. Beth kept asking me to hold my leg up higher so the baby could come through, which felt rather awkward. No matter. It was only about 3 awfully intense pushing contractions. I felt a POP! The water broke. Then I felt a bulge push through… “She’s here!” they greeted her head. Then a bigger bulge and the rest of the body followed. She entered the world at 8:25am, half an hour after checking into the hospital.
Oh joy! Again, it happened almost too fast to mentally process and there was this little child resting there on my chest. I have since learned that this rapid labor by some definitions is called precipitous labor, and can be traumatic for the mother and the baby. I can’t say that I was too bothered to get through the labor so quickly, but wish my baby could have had a gentler entrance into the world!
Dr. Beth checked if I would accept the pre-cautionary shot of Pitocin after the birth to help protect against excessive bleeding. I pretty much always so no to interventions, but I knew this was an intervention she felt strongly about. Plus, once the baby was out I was much less concerned about any affects on the baby, so I went for it.
Looking back, I sure am glad that I did.
This is the point where typically the room relaxes and you get to gaze at your new child. You enjoy those early expressions and watch that amazing instinct kick in that tells them where to head for a drop of nourishment.
However, something seemed to have gone wrong with the delivery of my placenta. Dr. Beth was kneading my stomach, trying to get everything fully out. Oof, that was uncomfortable. Then I heard someone mention grabbing the “hemorrhage cart.” I had apparently lost an excessive amount of blood. “We’d like to put this IV in you to deliver some medicine to stop the bleeding. Is that ok? This is kind of a life and death situation…” How could I say no to that? I was so glad it was my trusted Dr. Beth by my side in this moment.
Dr. Beth kept kneading my stomach to release clots and membranes, which was SO uncomfortable I couldn’t help wincing and tensing up. “Relax,” she kept saying as I felt like my uterus was getting assaulted. “I need you to relax for this to work.” She was reaching into my uterus to manually remove the remaining pieces of my placenta.
Eventually the clots and full placenta was removed. The bleeding came under control. I now had an IV bag attached, some suppositories stuffed up my butt, and a catheter inserted (since they didn’t want me getting out of bed for the rest of the day.) Unfortunately they had to give me a broad spectrum antibiotic to prevent infections. This grieved me the most, since I believe a healthy microbiome plays SUCH an important role in mom and baby health… at least baby got her vaginal birth inoculation.
Never in my life have I felt so medicalized, but I was grateful it wasn’t worse. I had avoided a stop-gap measure involving a balloon inserted into the uterus. I had avoided needing a blood transfusion. Most importantly, thanks to medical advancements, I had possibly avoided death. After-the-fact my nurse pointed out to me that it was usually placenta issues such as this that led to women dying in childbirth in a previous age.
Subchorionic Hematoma Connection to Postpartum Hemorrhage
Why had this happened to me? Dr. Beth said hemorrhaging is more likely to occur with larger babies and faster deliveries (both risk factors relevant in my case.) However, she thought my hemorrhage was related to the significant bleed from earlier in my pregnancy. She said there was dried up, old blood on one area of my placenta. This was most likely from my 2nd trimester subchorionic hematoma. The dried up blood seemed to make the placenta sticky right there, so it didn’t completely shed off as it should. Then the uterus wouldn’t close up and stop the bleeding until all the membranes were cleared, resulting in the hemorrhage. (Later I found a brief mention of a few studies that found significantly higher rates of manual removal of the placenta after having a subchorionic hematoma.)
Meanwhile our sweet girl had been taken from me. My body was cold from the IV fluids, and the poor girl’s temperature was low. After weighing and measuring her (9 lbs and 21 inches long!) they put her under a heat lamp to warm her up. They wanted to track her temperature the first day and they wanted to track the iron levels in my blood to ensure I didn’t need a transfusion.
When we finally got to our recovery room, I was focused on the basics: Extra blankets and nourishing food. I sent Urban Husband home to collect the liver pate, which I had conveniently made the day before. It was the most iron-rich food I could think of and I wasn’t going to count on the hospital food to help me get my blood levels back up.
It worked. Pretty soon we were both toasty warm. The nurses were very impressed with my blood levels 8 hours after the birth. My hematocrit was back up to 29%. (This number didn’t mean much to me, but a nurse told me she saw this level all the time in women who didn’t have hemorrhaging, so I guess it was ok.)
For the first time, I took the full 2 days of recovery in the hospital. This afforded me an unusual and cherished amount of time for self-reflection. My mind kept returning to the question WHY? Why did I face all these unexpected challenges in my pregnancy and birth? I had thought I had this whole pregnancy and birth routine figured out…
And I realized that was the very issue. It reminded me of that ever-vexing question, why do bad things happen to good people? I believe it is God’s loving reminder that we are not in control. If there was a life formula, and we could enjoy predictable results every time, what need would we see for a God? I believe God keeps things from being straightforward to remind us that we need him. Because when we turn to Him we get something far greater than the resolution of our temporal problems.
I can see why God might have wanted to tap me on the shoulder. I felt like I had the pregnancy and birth pretty well under control, through hours of research and experience. But God reminded me that I couldn’t save my baby when there was a bleed. I couldn’t even prevent my own life-threatening experience. While I still think educating and empowering oneself is a good thing, I needed to fully appreciate that at the end of the day, God is the one in control. I still needed to lean on him and ultimately give Him the glory.
Because ultimately our sweet Petals is a gift from God. We didn’t earn her. We didn’t do anything to deserve her. And when her life was threatened in the womb there was nothing we could do to help her. He chose to let her survive.
To Him be the glory.
Can any of you relate? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Sources of Inspiration
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth My favorite book on natural childbirth and “giving birth without fear.”
- Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear, for I am with you…”
- Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
- 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness… For when I am weak, then I am strong.”