Several years ago, Jonathan Franzen wrote a book called The Corrections, which was wildly popular and I read it and thought the novel was okay, but I thought mostly that he was more brilliant to accept and then reject Oprah, because that move probably did more for the press and subsequent sales of his book than just being on Oprah, which, of course, he has now been on for his new book called Freedom, which I haven’t read and might not after reading this review of the book by Alexander Nazaryan in the New York Daily News, which I though was rather astute. Anyhow, these series of blog posts are called The Complications and have nothing to do with Franzen, except that there’s an echo of his title in mine and, in regards to the aftermath of my particular birth experience with my daughter, this essay does have a tiny bit to do with Oprah, which I’ll get to eventually, but it might take a while.
This bit of writing about The Complications is bound to be long and arduous for you and me and yet, I have to write it and so you can read it if you want, but I mostly post this publicly, as with other posts, to help another who might have suffered similar complications. However, I recommend if you’re reading this while pregnant, you don’t read much further because, well, I don't think reading these posts will help you relax.
Besides a birth ending in a cesarean section being a major complication to a candle-lit, dimly-lighted, bathtub-soaked “home birth,” I might have been more serene with this serious surgery if I didn’t have the major fallout afterward, starting with that massive hemorrhage, which I’ll call....
I remember the moment, my brand new daughter was at my breast – she’d already fed once already and was working on her second helping when I felt my uterus contract inside me like a clenching of a giant fist and then I felt a gush of blood, a surge roiling from my body and I sort of flinched and said to the nurse, “there’s blood coming out.”
This nurse and I had had some tension between us, in fact, for clarity, I’ll call her the Burned-Out Nurse because she’d been a nurse for twenty-three years at that point and had a bit of the ol' surliness to her. Before the c-section, this nurse was the one who got kicked out of the birthing room by the shaky-hands doctor who was trying to extract my daughter via a vacuum from my body because she decided there was too much pressure on the baby’s head and popped the extractor by turning off the power. The doctor shouted with meanness in his voice to “get out” of the room, which, as I was pushing and pushing was shocking to me. This nurse was also the nurse who, when I first was admitted to the hospital, said to me, “we should talk about a c-section,” to which I replied, “I don’t want to talk about a c-section.” She was gunning for one the whole time.
Anyhow, back at the recovery room, after I mentioned the blood that I could feel saturating the pad and then some, Burned-Out Nurse lifted the sheets over my legs and said, quite calmly, “That’s not normal,” and punched some sort of call button on the wall. The next thing I knew, two young intern-looking women were at my feet, and then a bunch of people rushed in the room and my baby was taken out of my arms and left to scream with her father in the corner until some other nurse escorted him (now crying) and my newborn out of the room. I was made horizontal and people were standing over me saying, “Can you hear me, Nancy? We need your permission to give you universal blood, we don’t have time to get your blood, can we have your permission?” and I kept saying, “I’m just tired, why are you bugging me?” which didn’t answer their questions at all.
Shaky-hands doctor rushed in next, a tall tree-trunk of a man, and he stood on my belly with all his weight, pumping his hand in a steady rhythm, and I heard the word “hysterectomy,” and then the next thing I know he had his other hand up my crotch and I could feel the pressure there though I don’t remember pain since I still had epidural juice in me and since I was also probably on some other drugs I don’t even know about for sure, and the other nurse, not the Burned Out one but the one I first met when I was admitted the evening before who was now on-duty again, who I’ll just call the Good Nurse, was saying to me, “stay with us, Nancy, stay with us,” while I rolled my head on my pillow and willed them to stop pounding on me as my blood pressure dropped to thirty over forty, which my nurse and doctor friends now tell me means almost dead.
While all of these medical professionals pounded on and yelled at me, I watched them waiting for what was probably thirty seconds but seemed like several minutes for somebody special to arrive. They kept asking, “where is she, where is she?” and when “she” arrived, I was quite surprised to see this new woman in an old-fashioned Nurse Ratchet uniform, complete with white opaque stockings and paper nurse cap bobby-pinned to her hair. She wheeled in what I know now to be the blood transfusion machine. But at the time I thought “this woman is who they’ve been waiting for?” forgetting the day was October 31st, Halloween.
I also remember Good Nurse saying to me she was going to give me some drugs that would help stop the bleeding but would cause quite a bit of bloating in my intestines, but as gushes of blood coursed out of my body, who was I to say “no?” And by the way, I didn’t know until this momentous experience that all that blood coursing around our bodies actually is just looking for a way out. I thought blood wanted to bring oxygen and life to our limbs, but, nope, it turns out that all those red and while cells running around are just searching the labyrinth of our veins and arteries for a big hole so they can be set free. Once that hole exists, they make a run for it, and if our body doesn’t have its clotting powers (in my case because my womb was so pooped from the extra-long labor, and because I’m old and my body doesn’t function quite as it once did), that blood is going to pour out of us like Niagara Falls.
Anyhow, the staff at that hospital completely saved my life and my uterus, and I’m very grateful to them all for their fast thinking and work. Even Burned-Out Nurse did her job quite well, and I’m thankful, and I couldn’t really stay angry at her for gunning for the c-section since she was the one who pressed the button so that I could live to feed my child again. Later she told me in all her years of being a nurse she’d never seen a bleed like that and I really “kept them on their toes,” so I guess that’s some kind of karmic payback for her wanting the c-section in the first place. Still, the staff working on me was impressed I never did totally lose consciousness. Afterwords friend told me I surely would have died at the birth center with that kind of hemorrhage and I know that theory to be true, which is why the universe was good in that I was transferred to a hospital, however, in truth, I believe I never would have hemorrhaged like that if I hadn’t had a c-section, but of course, we’ll never know so it's a moot and mute point.
After I was somewhat stable, the team of nurses and doctors and the new guy on duty, called the Hopsitalist, who was, honestly, dressed in a woman’s pink candy-striper shirt and yet another Nurse Ratchet paper hat, told me I’d have to go to Intensive Care and babies weren’t allowed in there. I did not like this idea. I wanted only to be with my brand new baby. I didn’t understand then how I had lost over half of my blood and they needed some time to pump more of the red stuff and a bunch of platelets into my veins. I didn’t want to go, but as I was quite exhausted by then, who was I to argue? And again, here I give praise to the hospital, specifically the maternity ward staff, because they wheeled my baby in her plastic tub crib into the ICU every chance they got to have her nurse at my breast, the little sweetie swaddled and tucked between IV tubes and blood pressure bands permanently attached to my arm. They even let her fall asleep with me in the bed for little snatches.
By the time we’d settled into the ICU, my mother and another good friend had arrived. Outside the curtain of my “room,” the Hospitalist explained to my stunned mother, “You remember how we used to say that women ‘bled out’ after birth? That’s what happened to your daughter.” A phrase no mom ever wants to hear, much less from a guy dressed in a pink candy-striper shirt...
...to be continued....
...to be continued....