In December of 2005, I was enormously pregnant and going into my eighth month with our son, Cooper. Things were progressing normally until I was about 32 weeks and got a nasty winter cold. I am your typical Texas allergy sufferer that lives on Claritin 90% of the year and that wasn't working anymore so I switched to the hard stuff – Sudafed. Now anyone with high blood pressure knows that Sudafed is a big “no-no” and I do now as well. At my doctor appointment that week I sat in the waiting room for what felt like forever. Mentally thinking of all the projects on my desk at work that I needed to wrap up, what we were missing from the nursery and upcoming baby showers.
After waiting two hours in the lobby, my OB was finally in the clinic from a delivery. We did all the normal appointment tests (peeing in a cup, weight and checked blood pressure). After taking my blood pressure three different times with different size cuffs, they all gave the same reading, 160/100.
This earned me my first trip to L&D for a non-stress test. I was absolutely terrified that I was going to be delivering my baby that day and I knew it was too early. Eventually, the Sudafed wore off and my BP came back down out of yikes range into just elevated range. At the time I also earned steroid shots and another sonogram a week later. The next week I returned for my sonogram (33+5) and a BP of 144/100. The prize from this doctors appointment was bedrest. I’ll be honest and say that my idea of bedrest before and after are drastically different. Before, I thought not working and sitting around with my feet propped up a lot meant that I was being good. Let’s just say I learned my lesson the hard way.
A week into bed rest my mantra had become, “What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.” Little did I know my ongoing joke was self prophecy. In the early morning hours on December 28, 2005 I woke myself up on the couch. The middle of the night infomercial that was playing had forced my attention most likely saved my life. I slowly waddled to the guest room that I had taken over because the bed was more comfortable and couldn't get back to sleep. As I laid there, the tightening in my belly got worse and worse. Being a first time mom, I laid their thinking maybe these are brackston hicks contractions. They should go away or ease at some point, right? Right? I’m not sure how much time had passed before I picked up the phone and called our nurse hotline provided by our health care insurance. Her advice was to go in to L&D and “Good Luck”.
By the time we arrived at L&D the tightness and pain was so intense that I wasn't able to fully stand up. As I leaned against the L&D nurses counter, I was still lost as to what was going on. Finally I was settled in a bed and the nurses started to hook up monitors to me. Again and again, the monitors only found silence. New monitors were brought in, new dopplers, new nurses. This all felt like it took forever as the silence started to sink in, but I’m sure it was only minutes. Suddenly, I’m being prepped for an emergency c-section and I can hear my husband in the corner of the room calling my mom that we are about to have our baby. Once arriving in the OR suite the oncall OB arrives and as she sits me up on the OR table the worst words fall from her lips. “I’m sorry. We were unable to find the baby’s heartbeat. We are going to take you back to the room and decide what to do from here.” I sat there dazed and in pain. Lots of pain.
I am taken back to my room in a wheelchair and the door is closed. “Is my husband in there?”
“Does he know…” I can’t get the words to come out. They are stuck.
“I can’t…I can’t tell him...” It doesn't sound like my voice coming out. It’s flat and in shock.
The oncall OB opens the door to my room and I’m framed in the doorway and can’t look my husband in the face as I finally start sobbing in the wheelchair. All I’m looking at are the yellow surgical booties on his shoes as he collapses on the ground in the arms of the nurses screaming hysterically. The cries of a man that has lost his first boy. The desperate tears of a dad that was so excited when he found out he was having a son. I have failed him. My body has failed both of them. The image of my broken husband is forever burned into my memory.
My husband and nurses help get me back in bed and start talking about options. Tim crawls in bed with me and holds me in his arms as he whispers how much he loves me in my ear. I am in terrible pain now and the nurses are giving me drugs to get me comfortable. The last thing I remember before the haze over takes me is my normal OB arriving in my room and I am keep trying to tell her how much it hurts but she can’t understand me because all my words are slurred. Then finally the blessed blackness takes me.
The next sharp but quick memory is my OB slapping me on my thighs and yelling at me to breathe. So I take another breath and focus on just one more breath before going back to the blackness. It’s so much work to breathe. Too much work.
I become aware of how cold I am and nauseous. “I’m going to throw up.” The nurse in the rooms says there are containers on the wall. It’s too late and my husband catches it as the blackness takes me again.
My aunt comes in the room and kisses me on the forehead. I’m still so cold and I don’t think of being cold in the blackness.
Again, my OBs voice in my ear. “We are taking you back into surgery. We can’t get the bleeding to stop and might have to do a hysterectomy.” As they run me back into the OR, this is the moment I decided to fight to live. I’m 23 years old and if takes a hysterectomy and my motherhood dreams with it to keep me alive, then so be it.
The surgical team moves me from the bed to the OR table and the pain is uncontrollable and I scream at everyone in the room. An unknown voice next to my head barks orders for a central line in the carotid artery in my neck. Somehow I knew I already had one in my groin and tell the mystery voice that. “You’re getting another,” is the curt reply and the blackness is back.
I am very slowly being woken up. There is something very hard in my mouth and throat that makes me want to swallow, but I can’t. I can hear the notorious hiss of a ventilator and I’m being coached to breath and not choke on the tubes that are running down my throat and that have been doing the breathing for me. If you’ve even woken up on a ventilator, it is a very weird feeling and I finally figure out to clamp my teeth around the tube in my mouth so I won’t try to swallow and gag.
Once I’m free of the breathing apparatus, I’m asked if I want to see my mom or husband first. I barely manage to whisper, “Tim.” He comes in the room and grabs my right hand with both of his as he leans over and kisses my forehead. Two questions are in my mind but I can’t figure out what to ask first. “How long…” my voice croaks and I change directions, “What day is it?” I find out it’s only a mere 26 hours since I arrived at the hospital. Tim helps me start to put some of the pieces into place though it’s so hard to talk. I was rushed in to an emergency c-section after I was ordered to breathe. I had a lot of blood loss due to a complete placenta abruption. He jokes that my “oil was changed…twice” because I received 14 units of blood and they lost count on how many other blood products. They didn't have to do a hysterectomy. I breathe a sigh of relief at this news. The voice that argued with me over central lines belonged to my nephrologists, Dr. Rojas. That is the man that is credited with saving my life.
I spent five days total in ICU before being transferred to post-op. Every day I focus on my healing and continue to make progress until I’m released from the hospital and get to go home. The weeks that follow I start researching what happened to me and I want to know why. I stumble on the Preeclampsia Foundation and their forums. Finally! I’m not alone and I find other women who sadly have lost their babies to preeclampsia too. Through my time on the message boards I find the support I need and start to forge relationships with these women. I am so thankful for the forums and I start thinking of ways to give back. To help families make sure this doesn't happen to them. A year and 3 months after my world turned upside down, I held my first information booth and passed out signs and symptoms brochures to my local community. Since then I have continued to increase my efforts by being a Promise Walk coordinator, regional coordinator and member of our patient support network. I have seen the difference in the lives and families that I have worked with. I reflect back on the short life of my son and know that I never would have made such a difference if it wasn't through the loss of my son. He might be gone, but he lives on in me. In the work I do. In the families and health care providers I talk to and the money that is raised to find a cure. His life wasn't wasted and neither will mine be. Because what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.