We were going up as a family of six, but we would, by the grace of God, be coming home a family of seven. I had to pack for all possibilities — a one-day stay, a week-long stay — books, toys, food, clothes, baby stuff. Thank goodness I had these to worry about because it distracted me from the absolute terror that filled my chest whenever I considered the outcome. I had done what no one should do and consulted Dr. Google. I had a much greater understanding of what was possibly going on, as well as a likely explanation for the bleeding in the second trimester, and while I was grateful to be informed, I was, after all, informed. What stretched ahead of us was very, very serious.
I knew that death was a possibility. My doctor had warned me that delivering here in the Valley would be a death sentence simply because there was not enough blood product on hand that would be necessary if I had what they thought they had. I absolutely had to be in a bigger city and a bigger hospital that could handle this type of trauma event.
We protected the kids from the majority of what was happening, but the fear was etched on their faces when they asked about it all, my daughter especially, who clung to me and would bury her face into my arm begging me to tell her I was going to be okay.
I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for what I was putting them through, and the prospect of leaving them without a mom nearly broke me. I had absolutely no idea something like this was possible with a repeat c-section. I knew that whatever happened to me, the baby would be okay and would be loved. But my other four children, they knew me and loved me, and I loved them, and that pain was much more acute.
The night before we left, I sat down at my desk and wrote each of them a letter, detailing how sorry I was for what might have happened, how much I loved them and why. And then I stuck a post-it note to my computer… “I love you all… so much.” It would never be enough, but at least it was something.
Sunday morning came and we were ready to go. I was the last one out of the house, and as I walked out the door, I took one last look around the living room, safely away from the worried eyes of my children, and I let the fat tears of stress, fear, and anxiety fall down my cheeks unchecked for a few brief moments. I thought that this very well could be the last time I stepped across this threshold. Shutting the front door behind me felt incredibly final, and as I looked back one more time, Jason stepped in and took me in his arms, and whispered a hope more than a promise that all would be well. And then we walked down the steps to the truck and headed out of town.
That night I slept very little. Two kids slept with me and two kids slept with Jason in the fan-less room. I was uncomfortable and hot and worried and barely sleeping on a nightly basis anyway, so instead I watched the sleeping faces of my loved ones and prayed.
Tests and consultations and meetings with doctors the next day, and it was as we thought: suspected placenta accreta. It was decided fairly quickly that though they couldn’t visualize the vascularization fully, they felt the conservative, safe thing to do would be to admit me, monitor me, and give the huge team of doctors the opportunity to have complete access to me as they prepared for any outcome.
That night in the hospital room I slept off and on. I woke up at 2:00 when they came in to do a vital check, and I stayed awake for a while after that. Fear had settled in my chest as I reflected on what was about to happen, and I prayed for answers in those early morning hours. I gave thanks for the prayer that told me this baby would be ours, and I gave thanks for my family, my doctors, the hospital. I kept looking for reassurance that I’d be okay, and that Ben would survive and thrive despite his early birth. In my mind I kept remembering the dream of the sweet baby boy, and I reminded myself that I held him in that dream, and we were together. So I continued my prayer, but this time I asked about the dream. If I’d dreamt of baby Ben nearly three years ago, dreamt that I held him and smelled him and kissed him, is it possible this was what I needed to remember as I went into the next few days? The answer was a soft and gentle yes.
At 10:00 the next morning they brought in the machine for the non-stress test, and I had to lie on the bed and stay in one position for as long as possible to get the baby’s heartbeat for a continuous 20 minutes. Ben was TERRIBLE at this test, and I ended up being on my back for an hour, until they finally, mercifully came in to say that everything looked perfect. They unhooked me, and as they wheeled the machine out, in walked my family. I hugged my kids, said good morning to everyone, and then excused myself to go to the bathroom.
I could hear my family chatting in the other room, and I noted that while the hospital room itself had been really hot to me, the bathroom was suddenly downright cold. I sat on the toilet, feeling chilled, and saw that there was a thermostat on the wall. I remember having the vague thought that it was incredibly odd that the (a) the bathroom had a thermostat, and (b) that it was set so low.
When I felt a pinch deep in my belly, I didn’t think much of it, other than perhaps it was a strange contraction leftover from being prone for so long. And then the room got even colder and I had goosebumps now, but I was starting to sweat, which was really weird. And I had the fleeting, floating thought that this was all so strange because this is exactly how I feel right before I pass out. I wiped my brow, now dripping, and began to sway. I realized I needed help, so I yelled out, “I think I’m going to pass out!” just as everything went black.
I woke up to my mom holding me, and I knew that Jason was standing right behind her. I was slick with sweat but freezing, and the edges of everything were dark and fuzzy.
“Open your eyes, Jessalee. Stay with us.” And I hazily realized that the room was full of people. I forced my eyes open, willing myself to not give in to the warmth and comfort that the darkness promised. I could smell my mom’s perfume and hear Jason talking to the doctors.
“We need you to stand up, okay?”
I shook my head no because they must not have realized that I had just gone to the bathroom and that means I had to wipe my dang bottom and flush the toilet because, oh, my gosh. And I said to them, “I can’t. I just passed out. After pooping.”
They assured me everything was all right, and it was certainly not going to be worst they’d ever seen, but the intense embarrassment I felt about having just passing out on the toilet overrode their promises that it was all right.
Despite my protests, they insisted, so I stood on shaky legs with my underwear around my ankles and my dress pulled up to my waist, and they guided me to the waiting wheelchair as I apologized for what had just happened.
(Dignity? What dignity?)
They wheeled me out of the bathroom and into my enormous hospital room that was now full of staff crowding in, everyone talking over one another, and my mom and Jason explaining what had just happened.
I remember searching the faces of the people in the room, making sure that none of them were the faces of my wide-eyed children, hoping that someone had taken them out because all of these people and all of this shouting would certainly scare the heck out of them. Realizing all four were out of sight, I was brought to reality, and that reality was something was very wrong.
They transferred me to my bed, and the pain cut across me. I begged for them to let me turn because surely the other side wouldn’t be this excruciating. I turned, and hands were on me from all sides, taking my vitals, looking for the baby’s heartbeat, and still I could barely breathe from the pain in my belly.
“Jessalee, your baby’s heart rate is dropping, and we need to get you to the OR right now.
The bed began to move, and I could see my mother’s face moments before they wheeled me out. “Please! Tell everyone I love them!” I yelled, as she slipped out of view.