The happiest time of my life quickly turned into the scariest moment I’ve ever experienced: shortly after giving birth to my son, Preston, I almost died from postpartum hemorrhage.
I had no clue what postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) even was when I was pregnant. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I had a very difficult pregnancy, both emotionally and physically. So when it came to a birth plan I wanted to keep things simple: get an epidural and have my OB-GYN ensure my son was delivered healthy. I knew labor was going to be painful. And it was way more intense than I thought (mine was over 20 hours!). But the rest of my minimal birth plan went the way I discussed with my doctor. It was the post-birth experience that I never planned for… and could never have possibly imagined.
I’ll never forget the moment Preston came out of me and was placed on my chest. Right before my last push, my incredible nurse told me, “you will forever be a different person.” And she was right. I felt overcome with joy as I held my baby, staring at this little human that I grew inside of me. Tears of joy streamed down my face and I looked up at my mom, who was my birthing partner. I now understood why she said giving birth to me will forever be her happiest memory.
Less than 10 minutes later, my nurse explained that the doctor was getting my placenta out. I asked her if it was normal to hurt so much. She and my mom tried to distract me from the pain by helping me take deep breaths and focus all my attention on Preston, who was snuggled on my chest. But the pain kept intensifying. As I breathed deeper and held my son, the nurse explained that my placenta was coming out in pieces and the doctor needed to manually take it out. The next thing I knew, my teeth were chattering. I was freezing cold. My body was shaking. Preston was taken off my chest and I was almost positive I was going to die.
Everything is a blur after that. So I only know what I was later told. Apparently my placenta was stuck to my uterus and the doctor had to scrape and pull it out piece by piece with her hands and through D&C. My mom said that I turned a ghostly white-gray with blue lips. My heart rate dropped below 50 and I looked up and her and said “I’m going to die.” I don’t remember saying it aloud. But I remember feeling and thinking it so vividly that even as I write this I get chills.
The bleeding was so excessive that they had blood prepared in case they needed to do a blood transfusion (luckily it didn’t come to that). I was pumped with fluids and fetanyl. And eventually, I was stitched up from the inside out and Preston was placed back on my chest. We stayed in the delivery room for a long time while nurses monitored my vitals. The joy was back, even amidst the pain. But I was still petrified that I wasn’t going to make it. So I just held my baby and my mom’s hand, breathing in both of their love.
Hours went by, nurses came and went, my stepdad arrived to meet his grandson and finally I was wheeled into a new room to recover. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The medical staff continually monitored me and the pain was excruciating, even more so thanks to a catheter I was required to have. I barely slept. But my baby did. And I was, and still am, so grateful that he’s so healthy.
During my hospital stay, I was incredibly weak. I couldn’t even hold an iPad the first day. But my mom and the nurses changed Preston’s diapers and continually placed him on me so we could have glorious skin on skin newborn snuggles. I had to keep taking pain killers, and was pumped with fluids and iron. But my vitals kept improving and I was sent home.
mentally healing after postpartum hemorrhage
I told myself to put the PPH trauma in the past and just enjoy my newborn bubble with Preston. But it’s really hard not to think about things when you’re in so much pain. I had a few breakdowns and I’m so grateful my mom was there to hold my hand and help me through them. And then I had a set back: some of my stitches fell out. As my mom drove me to the OB-GYN, we passed the portion of the hospital where I gave birth. I couldn’t breathe and I started hysterical crying. It was an out of body experience. It only lasted a few minutes but it was as if I was right back there, facing the trauma.
I later worked with my therapist, who guided me with mentally healing after postpartum hemorrhage. These are the steps she helped me take:
Rephrase the Narrative
I replaced the word “but” with “and.” Instead of saying “I almost died but I didn’t” my therapist recommended saying “I almost died and I’m okay.” This simple rephrasing majorly helped. It allowed me to accept that yes, something horrible happened. And you know what? I got through it. I am and will be okay.
Understand the Fear
Aside from physical pain, I’m fine. My son is healthy. I love my new home (moving 9 months pregnant was so worth it!). And I have the most amazing support system of family and friends. So I couldn’t understand why my brain wasn’t able to let go of the fear. What was I so scared about anyway? With the help of my therapist, who knows me very well, I learned the root of my fear: my near death experience was the ultimate loss of control.
I handle physical pain fairly well. And I’ve never been scared of death. But losing control frightens me to no end. The first thought I had when I was positive that I was going to die was: I won’t be there to take care of my son. I had only met this tiny human for minutes. But it was the scariest notion ever. If I was no longer alive, I could not control anything. Once I understood my fear I was able to process it and work through it.
Talk it Out
I really didn’t want to talk about my experience. It seemed selfish and self-absorbed. I should only be talking about Preston, and the joy he brings me. But my therapist encouraged me to talk about it over and over with people I trust. She explained that you’re allowed to feel many emotions after giving birth. Talking about a painful experience doesn’t take away from your happiness surrounding your child. Instead, it helps you process and release emotions, allowing you to be a better mother. And she was right. Every time I talked about it with my mom or a friend while Preston napped, I felt a little lighter.
Write Through It
This is the step I’m currently taking, as I type this blog post while Preston is snuggled on my chest. Instead of journaling, I decided to share my story in hopes that it can help at least one woman out there. It amazes me how much of pregnancy isn’t discussed. After I mentioned postpartum hemorrhage on Instagram, I had over 10 women DM me that they had a similar experience. I later read that each year, over 14 million women experience PPH world-wide.
It’s wild to me that there aren’t more discussions about healing after postpartum hemorrhage… or conversations about maternal health matters in general. I read that 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression. While I didn’t get postpartum depression, I experienced perinatal depression in my second trimester due to the difficult situation I was in. I sought out professional help and worked through it. But I didn’t talk about it with anyone except my therapist, doctors and very close family and friends.
I commend my friend Alessandra Torresani for addressing postpartum in her podcast, EmotionAL Support. She also experienced PPH, and has guests on for discussions surrounding pregnancy, motherhood and mental health. She’s also really funny. So even though they are serious matters, there’s a positive lightness in each episode.
Now that I’ve gone through my fourth step of writing through the emotions, I really do feel better. I know the feelings aren’t gone. But just like my physical pain, the emotional pain is healing, too. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s ok to be over the moon about your new child while still working on alleviating pain, whether physical or emotional. It’s the “and” my therapist talks about:
I am so happy and in love with my baby and I’m grappling with pain and I will be okay.