Warning: This is a frank discussion of childbirth complications. Men in particular (and perhaps pregnant women) may not wish to continue reading any further. You will not find statistics here; rather, you will find my story. It is a story of immeasurable thankfulness.
My kids were extra snuggly today. (The weather is still cool enough to want to snuggle.) As I wrapped my arms around the Baby and sang to her, I remembered afresh how miraculous it is that I’m even alive and able to hold her.
When she was three weeks old, I was so weak I could barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom. The narcotics I had on hand were barely touching the abdominal pain. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I wondered if I was going to die. Not the seizure coma death type of fear I talk about so much, but a foreboding that I might not live to see my baby grow up. I wanted her to know how fiercely she was loved, and I wrote her a note to tell her so.
Later that day, emergency room doctors diagnosed me with endometritis — a uterine infection which can, they told me, spread to the bloodstream if left unchecked. I received intravenous antibiotics, spent the night in the hospital, and took heavy-duty oral antibiotics for the next week. I needed another full week of people bringing us meals and watching my older kids for my strength to return.
I wouldn’t have lived long enough to require those life-saving antibiotics if it hadn’t been for other modern obstetric interventions. I’d hemorrhaged at 10 days postpartum and required a semi-emergent D&C (dilation and curettage, my first, and so far only, surgery). Even before that, I’d hemorrhaged in the hospital an hour after her birth. It took, for all you medical people out there, two bags of Pitocin, one shot of Methergine, and another of Hemabate, alongside an already-nursing baby and that delightful practice of fundal massage, to stem the bleeding. Just as we began discussing blood transfusions, the hemorrhage finally abated.
I’m not sure I would even have been alive to have a fourth baby without those same hemorrhage-halting drugs for my second baby, whose nearly 10-pound weight stretched my uterus so far it had trouble contracting again, and whose large head tore my cervix, requiring a clamp to stop the bleeding. (I think it’s fairly obvious why my propensity to postpartum hemorrhage was a reason I didn’t want to move overseas in the first place.)
When I think about the fact that before oxytocic drugs, hemorrhage was a huge maternal killer (and still is in some parts of the world), I am thankful I didn’t die during my fourth birth or in the ensuing weeks of infection and illness. I am thankful I didn’t die during my second birth, either. Without modern medicine, I might not have lived to watch my second born walk at 11 months, or enjoy him as the laughingest baby I’d ever known. I might not have been around to watch him over and over again as he earned his “Danger Baby” nickname.
I might not have been around to watch him refuse to talk till he was three, communicating only through gestures and nods, simply because he didn’t want to talk. I wouldn’t have been around to watch his two-year old self lay on his floor every night, looking at board books with his stuffed Tigger till he was so tired he fell asleep there.
Without modern medicine, I wouldn’t be able to snuggle my Baby and sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” or her favorite Steve Green’s Hide ‘Em in Your Heart song “When I am Afraid I Will Trust in You.” I wouldn’t be able to belly-laugh at her dinnertime jokes. I wouldn’t be around to watch her dance like a ballerina or to receive her sweet kisses.
I am profoundly grateful to the doctors, nurses, and midwife who treated my postpartum hemorrhages and infection. Because of you and the scientists who created those life-saving drugs, I can enjoy my four precious children. Because of you, I can cuddle with them on a couch in Cambodia. From my house to your hospital, I thank you.