Baby's hand gripping

The Day I Almost Died

I watched my son play, unable to believe how fast the years had flown by, and unable to believe that somehow I was still alive.

After giving birth to him, what should have been a magical experience of bonding and wonder turned into a nightmare.

I’m not going to sugarcoat things here – what happened wasn’t pretty and wasn’t easy to get through physically or emotionally. But, as parents, society can sometimes make it feel awkward to talk about these kinds of experiences, especially when it comes to the mental and emotional baggage that comes with having a traumatic experience

People say well-meaning things like ‘don’t worry, what happened was rare and likely won’t happen again’, but the reality is, it still happened to me, so when I got pregnant a second time, the memories swung back into my mind with the force of a wrecking ball. 

I’m talking about my experience with Placenta accreta.

This is a serious condition where instead of the plancenta coming out naturally after child birth, it has become stuck to the lining of the womb. This can cause severe hemorrhaging. 

According to Tommy’s ,Placenta accreta is rare, affecting 1.7 pregnancies per 10,000, and the risk is higher if you’ve had a previous caesarean section, if you have placenta praevia (low lying placenta), have had a number of other pregnancies, or are of a higher maternal age.

I was 28 when I gave birth to my son, and although I’d been previously diagnosed with placenta previa, by the time labour rolled around, it had moved into a safer position. 

When Labour Started

I clearly remember starting labour bang on 11pm, 24 hours after my waters broke. I was watching football and the country I was rooting for had just lost (I can’t remember who that was). As the losing team were crying and giving supportive hugs to their team mates, the contractions started. In a panic, I stumbled into the gaming room where my fiance (now my husband) was playing his PC.

It wasn’t long before I was begging to go to the hospital for my planned epidural because it felt like my insides were being torn apart.

Thankfully, my mother in law lived close by and had already agreed to take me to the hospital. When I finally got driven to maternity, all I could say to the staff was “Please, I need my epidural! I need it now!” 

Much to my relief, they hooked me up to the epidural, then I had some gas and air and ended up falling asleep thinking that Christmas was coming.

The doctors woke me up in the morning telling I was fully dilated and it was time for the pushing stage. 

As the nurse put it at the time, all of that stuff happened ‘text book style’. It was bang on his due date, labour went on for the average time for a first birth, and my son arrived with the biggest, bluest eyes I’d ever seen. I remember that I started crying because I thought he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on. And that’s when things turned into a big crazy blur. Something wasn’t right.

Lucky to Be Alive

The doctors and nurses kept exchanging worried looks. They said ‘her placenta isn’t coming out’ so gave me a few shots of a solution that was supposed to make my womb contract to release it. All this time I was in a post-birth stupour with my mum and fiance, watching my wailing son get weighed.

The next thing I knew, the doctors and nurses around my bed were looking at each other with the most serious expressions and saying “the womb’s all floppy and not contracting’,. Everything then happened so fast I had no time to process it. They told me they had to get me to the operating theatre because I was starting to lose blood. A lot of blood.

I was rushed to the operating theatre so fast that I had no clue what was going on. The rest of the memories are fragmented because I became unconscious. I woke up several times on the operating table with surgeons fishing around inside me like a Tesco shopping bag, and wretching up some bitter substance which I later learned were the medicines being pumped into me. The doctor stroked my head, then I passed back out. This happened several times for brief moments where I felt like I was made of ice and needed to throw up.

When whatever they had been doing to me was over, I woke up and was told that it had been ‘about six hours’ as the placenta was so accrued to my womb that it had to be removed in pieces. The whole time I was bleeding out severely and they’d been fighting to prevent me losing more blood, as well as to remove the placenta.

Later, in the intensive care unit, a nurse said to me “I don’t think you realise how lucky you were. Just so you know what happened, you lost nearly all your blood, so you’ll be on transfusions for a while’. 

Nearly all of my blood. Apparently, at one point, all I had left was a litre. The equivalent of two average sized water bottles. The average adult body has almost 5 litres.

I felt like an android hooked up to several bags of blood and too many canulas. Oxygen was hooked into my nose, and a catheter was inserted to collect urine. The bag had to be changed often because it was full of blood clots. That was traumatic enough on it’s own because every time the bag blocked and I stopped draining, it was excruciatingly painful. Inside, I was packed with gauze, which also had to be changed regularly. To say I felt sore was an understatement, and that’s with the Oramorph and Tramadol they were giving me on a regular basis.

I felt broken.

The After Effects

Later still, I learnt that my fiance had experienced trauma of his own. He had been left for hours not having any idea what was happening, worrying he was going to lose me, and not having a clue how to change a nappy or look after this helpless new life. At one point he had been in a terrifying limbo when he discovered that the staff couldn’t access the blood in the fridge and were having to wait on more blood being delivered.

Everyone was shook up, not to mention, exhausted, by what had happened. 

In intensive care I felt useless as the nurses mostly looked after my baby and would take him out onto the ward to watch over him so I could get some rest. I kept passing out but couldn’t truly rest because I was worried sick. Every now and then I would wake back up and the nurses would come back glowing, gushing over my son’s eyes and how unbelievably alert he was for a newborn.

Despite both of us receiving the best care, I panicked the whole time. I worried when I couldn’t see him and imagined all sorts of scenarios like him getting badly hurt or going missing. But I was no more relaxed when he was with me because I constantly feared he was going to stop breathing, that I couldn’t cope, and that he might not bond with me because it was so painful to hold him.

I had never planned to breastfeed, and that was probably for the best because I didn’t even start making milk until over a week later. I was in hospital for most of that first week, with several days spent in intensive care, and the rest being spent in a separate ward in a tiny room by myself – just me and my baby. I spent most of that time crying and begging my poor exhausted fiance to come back to me. Thankfully, my mum took over caring for me so he could have some rest, and there was the most incredible nurse who worked the night shifts, called Annette.

It certainly didn’t help that I was surrounded by posters saying ‘breast is best’ and started to feel a lot of guilt.

Would he turn out OK? Was I making a mistake? Had I lost out on a vital experience I’d never get back? Could I keep him alive? Would people think I was a terrible mum?

On top of those feelings, when I left intensive care, I was suddenly hit with the full realisation that I had nearly died. I was still sore, still hooked up to a cathetar, the nurses didn’t come to me half as much, and I was petrified. I kept breaking down in tears. People said it was the sudden drop in hormones, I felt like it was the trauma, the pain, and all of these other feelings I was struggling with. It also likely didn’t help that I’m autistic and everything kept changing.

Being told it was just my hormones was incredibly invalidating.

My fiance was exhausted running back and forth from the hospital because of my breakdowns and wasn’t eating properly. This added severe guilt to my plethora of other mounting emotions. 

During my time out of intensive care, I kept calling the nurses and begging them to remove my catheter. They kept refusing and eventually my mum got involved and started arguing my case. It was causing me so much agony and I felt like my bladder was constantly full to bursting because the tube was constantly clogged with blood clots. Eventually, they agreed, but warned me it would take a while to be able to pee, and to re-strengthen my bladder. Hours later, I rushed to the toilet and by the time I managed to shut the toilet door, it was if the world’s biggest water balloon had exploded all over the floor. 

I was ankle-deep in urine and had to call a nurse to help me, but the relief I felt was immense. On the floor was all the urine I had been retaining due to the catheter which hadn’t been draining me properly. I never knew it was possible for a bladder to hold so much water.

Although all the doctors and nurses gave me the best care, I will never forget that one nurse, Annette. She was probably in her late fifties or early sixties, and worked the night shifts. Despite being busy with other duties she was motherly and attentive, coming to me when I cried and helping me learn the basics of changing my son’s nappies and sterilising his dummies. She went beyond her duties to support me and help me adjust to being a new mum. I was always sad when her shift was over, but her extra special care made the experience of finally being allowed home so much easier. 

The Importance of Support

At home, I continued to recover, but still felt tearful and shocked by my experience. I now understand that I was probably experiencing the start of PTSD, and I also developed perinatal OCD.

It was a long time before I could hold or carry my son because I was terrified of hurting him and had to get used to using my body again. During that time, I was offered support to talk through what had happened to me, but stupidly decided I didn’t need it.

I told myself I was being weak and stupid and that I needed to be strong for my family. 

Not surprisingly, this lead to issues with my mental and physical health that I’d end up having to receive counselling for.

Six years later, after having my second child (during the Covid pandemic which was another big worry) I realised it’s not stupid at all to seek or accept professional support. In fact, it’s vitally important. I feared that if the same thing happened again, I would have no support due to the lock downs. I worried I’d have no visitors and be isolated.

Thankfully, none of that happened and the second time I gave birth was as smooth as it could be, despite a debilitating case of perinatal OCD re-occuring.

As the years have zoomed by, it’s all too easy to forget just how precious life is, and how close I came to never meeting my son.

If you’re a new parent, have already been through trauma, or are a partner struggling to come to terms with a traumatic birth, I’m telling you now, don’t be ashamed to seek help, and don’t be afraid to tell others how you’re feeling. 

Allow yourself to be vulnerable and get that support because nobody can do it alone. Not really. No matter how much you might tell yourself you can.

If my story has affected you in any way or you would like to ask me more questions, feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment.

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