I had an emergency c-section with Little Pea; when she was a year old, we started trying for baby #2 and about two years later, I found out I had Asherman syndrome from the uterine scarring. Without treatment, I was told that I had only a very small chance of getting pregnant and if I did, I wouldn’t be able to carry the pregnancy beyond a few weeks. With treatment–which included surgery to remove the uterine adhesions and clomid–I had a better chance of conceiving and carrying to term, but still not great. Since the odds didn’t seem to be in our favor, we decided to embrace Little Pea being an only child.
It wasn’t easy; she often asked about having a brother or sister and talked about babies all the time. When I saw moms with babies, I’d feel a lump in my throat and tears well up in my eyes. But I threw myself into the one-and-done life as much as I could. Last summer, I sold all of Little Pea’s baby gear and all of her clothes that weren’t stained with spit-up.
In September, I developed a strange rash on my hands and feet. After many dermatologist visits and much back-and-forth, I ended up being diagnosed with a rare reaction to strep. I dutifully took my round of antibiotics, but I still didn’t feel right; in fact, I found myself nauseated and unable to eat. No one knew what to tell me–there was no reason for me to still feel sick. “Follow up with your primary care provider,” I was told.
My husband and I had joked about me being pregnant, since the nausea had shifted into intense food aversions. But I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant again. So that couldn’t be. However! I knew that I’d have to take a pregnancy test when I went to the doctor, so I decided to take one the night before my appointment so I’d be able to rule that out from the get-go–and not have to pee in a cup there. Who likes peeing in a cup? No one! Except degenerates!
Well, I took that pregnancy test and the room literally felt as if it was spinning afterwards because it was positive. After years of trying, after being told it was practically impossible. After selling all of Little Pea’s baby things.
Disbelief soon turned into panic. My ob/gyn’s words echoed in my head: you are unlikely to carry another pregnancy to term. I completely freaked out, but I couldn’t get an appointment for a few weeks. The reproductive endocrinologist I had seen when considering fertility treatments felt sorry for me after I called the office crying and let me come in right away for an ultrasound, where she found a heartbeat and an 8-week old embryo. It was for real. I was pregnant.
Knowing the odds of miscarriage because of my Asherman syndrome, it was hard to enjoy my pregnancy. Aside from that anxiety, it was just a hard pregnancy, period: bleeding and cramping in the first trimester, pelvic pressure and back pain in the second. As things progressed, I start feeling worse and worse and just knew that something wasn’t right, but I was told: this is what it’s like to be pregnant! You must have had an easy pregnancy the first time around!
With Asherman syndrome, I knew there were a few crucial points in my pregnancy. Conception? Done. First few weeks of pregnancy? Done. Implantation of the placenta around 12 weeks? Made it through. First ultrasound? No bands of scar tissue. Somehow we were beating all the odds, despite how difficult the pregnancy felt. After the 12 week ultrasound, my maternal fetal medicine doctor said he expected that this pregnancy would be no different than any other and that I should be in the clear.
Everything changed at the 20 week ultrasound. The ultrasound technician joked with us and told us how great everything looked, but then the maternal fetal medicine doctor came in looking somber. I had placenta previa. Likely placenta accreta. And a single umbilical artery, which I was assured was nothing to worry about–at least not in light of the more serious placenta issues.
I knew that having Asherman syndrome placed me at higher risk for placenta previa and placenta accreta, but after beating so many odds, I figured we were out of the woods. And even after being diagnosed with those placenta issues, I wasn’t too worried–the plan was to have a c-section at 37 weeks, earlier if follow-up ultrasounds showed the need. The biggest risks of placenta previa and accreta are when you go into labor, particularly if you go into labor without being diagnosed first. Going into labor means hemorrhaging and the hemorrhaging is life threatening. But I wouldn’t go into labor! I would have a c-section! It would be fiiiiiine!
On Valentine’s Day, the pressure and pain in my back and pelvis were too much to bear and my ob/gyn advised me to go to Labor & Delivery Triage at the hospital. No one was at all concerned about the pain I felt; instead, they fixated on the fact that I told them I had a tiny pinprick of blood when I wiped after going to the bathroom. I kicked myself for mentioning it at all and wanted to roll my eyes when they lectured me about calling next time something like that happened. I had bled all through the first trimester and was told it wasn’t a big deal–why does a tiny little dot of blood matter now?!
Exactly a week later, I had another tiny pinprick of blood. Wanting to be a good patient, I called my ob/gyn and was told to go to triage again. This was not what I wanted to hear. This was crazypants! I was frustrated at the thought of having to spend hours at the hospital again for nothing.
“Can I at least wait until my husband is finished with work for the day before I go?” I asked the nurse.
“Yes, that should be fine.”
At 5:15, I started getting ready to leave and decided to pee first; I felt a pop and when I got up, there was blood everywhere. Little Pea was in the next room, so I tried to keep it together as best as I could. I yelled for my husband and told him I was hemorrhaging and needed to go to the hospital immediately, then wrapped a towel around myself like a diaper and got into the car with Little Pea trailing behind me, upset that she was going to miss her gymnastics class.
In everyday life, I’m a pretty high-strung, anxious person. But when I’m in a crisis, I become scary calm and laser-focused. I knew that I needed to call the hospital so they would have donor blood ready for me. While we were in the car, I called, and while waiting to speak to someone, I was put on hold. Nearly 4 months later, whenever I make a phone call and get hold music, my chest seizes up and I feel like I can’t breathe.
The drive, through rush hour traffic, felt interminable. When we finally got to the hospital, a nurse was waiting outside with a wheelchair. I sat down and she sprinted with me down to triage; I was put in a room which was immediately filled with about a dozen people. A nurse kneeled on one side of me putting an IV in my right arm while an anesthesiologist kneeled on the other side doing the same for my left. The nurse who wheeled me in was at the computer asking me questions which I tried to answer as calmly as I could while it felt like half a dozen people gave me a pelvic exam. I remember bleeding onto the table and apologizing to them each time, feeling bad that someone would have to clean it up. Catholic guilt, y’all.
At some point, someone told me that they were going to have to take me to have a c-section. I don’t even remember exactly how they phrased it, but I remember the ice cold tone of her voice. The voice of someone trying to remain calm in a chaotic situation. I immediately took out my phone and texted my co-workers, because obviously letting them know I’ll need time off was of the utmost importance. I remember all eleventy-billion doctors and nurses running down the hall with me towards the operating room with my husband and Little Pea trying to keep up. I realized then that it could be the last time that I saw them; in the same moment, I realized that the baby might not survive either. I tried to talk to my daughter as calmly as I could as we rode the elevator up to labor and delivery, but she couldn’t look at my face because it scared her to see me so upset.
I wasn’t having an emergency c-section; I was having a crash c-section. Which meant that I was put under general anesthesia because time was of the essence. A few seconds here or there could be the difference between life and death for me and the baby.
At 6:08pm, not even an hour after I began to hemorrhage, Sweet Pea was born at 25 weeks and 0 days, 13 inches long, weighing in at 1 pound, 10 ounces. During the c-section, I had a hysterectomy because the placenta accreta meant the placenta had grown through the uterine wall.
I didn’t know that she was born until around 11pm, when I woke up in ICU to find my husband, Little Pea, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and nieces standing at the foot of my bed. I assume I was awake sometime before that; it’s frustrating to me that I don’t remember that and I don’t remember who told me that Sweet Pea was okay. Piecing together those memories has become an obsession of mine. I don’t know why it bothers me so much. I suppose it’s just a strange feeling to know that things happened to you without you being aware. I ask people what they said, where they waited; I have Sweet Pea’s nurses read me notes from her chart that detail her first moments, who was attending her, etc.
And when you have a micro preemie, the feelings surrounding the birth feel confused and complicated. It should be one of the happiest days of your life. And it is! Kind of! But it’s also one of the scariest days. And saddest–because seeing your tiny, tiny baby on a ventilator, it is hard.
Being a micro preemie, Sweet Pea went straight to the NICU while I was in ICU. Everyone else had seen her except for me and I wouldn’t be able to see her until I was able to get out of bed and make it to a wheelchair, which ended up not being until the next morning. And I wasn’t able to hold her until a few weeks after that–something I felt ambivalent about because while my body ached to hold her, it was also terrifying. She was so tiny, so fragile, only breathing with the help of that ventilator. It took me a day or two to even be able to touch her without fear that it would harm her somehow.
After recovering sufficiently from the loss of blood from the placenta accreta and previa, I was moved to the regular postpartum floor. In the rooms on either side of mine were families with their new babies. I heard the babies cry, the parents coo, the visitors congratulating them. And then there was me, alone in my room. The pain felt like too much to bear and I sobbed to sympathetic nurses who will always hold a special place in my heart.
Whenever I could, I’d go up to NICU to see Sweet Pea. I was supposed to wait for a nurse to escort me, but often I would sneak up there without one because I didn’t want to be a bother. And then after a few days more, I was discharged from the hospital.
The next few days felt surreal, which I attributed to the pain medication I was on. But once I was done with that, the surreal feeling didn’t get any better, as it had with my first c-section–instead, it continued to get worse. My husband and I would visit the hospital to see Sweet Pea and it took all I had to comprehend what the doctors and nurses were telling me. Forming words into sentences felt like a Herculean task. I was so tired that I was dozing off in the middle of conversations and couldn’t keep my eyes open more than a few minutes at a time.
After a day or two of this, I concluded that I needed another blood transfusion. My ob/gyn ordered some lab work to confirm. When my husband and I got to the clinic, I could barely get myself out of the car and I had this overwhelming feeling that I was literally dying. I sat in the crowded waiting room and I knew that if I waited my turn to go back and get my blood drawn, I wouldn’t make it. A voice told me to leave and go to the hospital; I called upstairs to my doctor’s office and the nurse who answered agreed that that sounded like the best plan.
So back we went to the hospital, this time to the emergency room. I drifted in and one of consciousness on the way there, my husband shaking my leg and calling my name to wake me up. Once again, there was no waiting needed once I got to the ER–the triage nurse asked me a few questions and another nurse came out with a wheelchair for me immediately. You know things are serious when they treat you like royalty at the ER. I insisted I needed another blood transfusion, but the doctor who saw me rattled off a few possible diagnoses: yes, it could be the blood, but it could also be pre-eclampsia or a blood clot.
Obviously, it wasn’t either of those things. Obviously! Because I didn’t have the symptoms of a blood clot and my blood pressure was low, not high, so it wasn’t pre-eclampsia. But blood work showed an elevated D-dimer, a sign of a blood clot. A CT scan confirmed: blood clots in my lungs. But I was up and about after my c-section! I did everything I should!
Well, I did do what I was supposed to do, but the clots originated from my pelvis, a result of the crash c-section which probably nicked a vein or two. I begged the nurse to talk the powers that be into admitting me to the labor & delivery floor so I could easily visit the NICU, but instead I had to be in the cardiac unit, where I’d stay for a few days while being monitored and pumped full of blood thinners.
I. Felt. Like. Craaaap. I don’t know if I felt that way before being admitted and it just didn’t dawn on me because I was so out of it or if I suddenly started feeling the full impact of the pulmonary emboli at the hospital. I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom without being out of breath and setting off the various alarms I was hooked up to. A nurse came running into the room when I was getting dressed because my heart rate was so high; she kindly suggested that I put on one article of clothing, take a rest for a few minutes, then start on the next. If I was upset after my first brush with death, I was despondent after this one. Now not only was I without my newborn baby, I was also practically an invalid.
For the next few weeks, when I visited the hospital I had to take a wheelchair up to the NICU. Which was embarrassing! I probably stopped using it sooner than I should have just because I felt like everyone was staring at me in it. Which I’m sure they weren’t! Just the act of going from home to the car and the car to the wheelchair left me so exhausted I’d have to take a catnap on the couch in my daughter’s NICU room. I even had to skip visits for a day or two, which made me feel terrrrrrrible, but everyone assured me was fine and understandable. Sometimes in the NICU mom world, it seems like a contest of who missed the fewest days, who pumped the most breastmilk–it’s easy to feel like a garbage mom in such circumstances.
Oh, and breastfeeding! Let me tell you about that. I had struggled with low production with Little Pea; with Sweet Pea, I knew breastmilk was super important, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to give her all the milk she needed for her entire babyhood myself. That first week after having her, I pumped all that I could, which wasn’t much, but being a micro preemie, she didn’t need that much yet. But then I ended up going on Eliquis for the pulmonary emboli, which meant Sweet Pea couldn’t have my milk anymore. Again: garbage mom. I am endlessly grateful for the selfless mamas who donate their milk to milk banks. Which is a thing!
About 2 weeks after being born, Sweet Pea was struggling with breathing and the doctor on duty ordered a bunch of cultures to check for bacterial infection. We got the call informing us of this at 11:30pm, after my husband and I had fallen asleep. When your baby is in the hospital, it is the worst feeling to get a call late at night–I couldn’t help but assume the worst. One by one, all the cultures started coming back. Blood infection was first. Then UTI. Lungs. Finally, what we had feared most: a spinal tap showed signs of meningitis.
So now not only did we have a micro preemie–we had a micro preemie fighting a series of infections that even a term baby would struggle with. Cultures showed the exact bacteria we were dealing with–enterococcus–but the antibiotics that treat it didn’t seem to be working. We waited. The infectious disease doctors consulted with the NICU team. We waited some more. Things started seeming bleak. And then one by one, we started getting cultures back again: this time, they were all negative.
A brain ultrasound showed some lingering effects from the meningitis, which we were concerned about. But then in a subsequent ultrasound, all the retained fluid from the infection was gone, something that no one had expected. I had a good cry after hearing that news.
We’re now on day 111 of Sweet Pea’s NICU stay and she’ll be coming home soon, we hope. Because she has Chronic Lung Disease, as a result of being a micro preemie and being intubated for an extended period of time, she’ll be coming home on oxygen. She’ll need to steer clear of other kids and sick adults because even the slightest cold for you or me could send her back to the hospital, but we’re hoping once she’s outgrown that stage, she’ll be like any other baby born at term. But we’re also realistic–many micro preemies end up having disabilities. We’re hoping with early intervention, we can mitigate some of the effects of being born so early.
It’s very hard to have a child spend 4 months in the hospital, but overall, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. We have experienced so much kindness from others during this time and the fact that Sweet Pea has fought through so many difficult circumstances is nothing short of miraculous. Her adjusted age is almost 41 weeks now and she’s super alert, interested in the world around her, and we’re seeing her cheeky little personality starting to form. I don’t even have words to express how lucky we are.
Why am I writing about this here? I don’t know! I guess I just wanted a place to share what happened and this seemed as good as any. And also because I intend to start writing here again–I miss it! I’ve been sharing recipes over at Hello Veggie, but I’d like to start writing about feeding vegetarian kiddos again, especially with a baby and a preschooler. I also intended for this site to be an online portfolio of sorts for my recipe development work–with a micro preemie on oxygen and daycare out of the question, freelance work is pretty much my best option right now.
Anyway. Life is crazy.