*warning* this post contains medical information & imagery related to childbirth
Maybe I’m falling. I’m no longer sure which way is up.
I’ve never liked glass lifts. As the lift moves, and my floor and the floor outside separate my brain lurches. If I’m not holding on to a wall I’ve been known to stagger. Unsure which way I’m moving. Unsure which way is up.
There is a moment in the story of my daughter’s birth that dissects it into two stories. The first story in which she is born, and it was a bit complicated, and everything you expect birth to be, or maybe not, but ultimately I was fine. She was fine. And the second story, after her birth. The afterbirth. In which I was found, in the Darwinian sense, to be ‘unfit’. The story in which my uterus fell out of my vagina.
Reach your hand into your pocket, and pinch the bottom of your pocket with your fingers. Now without letting go pull your hand out. There, like that.
It’s called a uterine inversion. Don’t be surprised if you’ve not heard of it. They are extremely rare. They are also, as you might gather, extremely serious.
I remember realising that I was bleeding. I’d haemorrhaged when I had my son as well, but not nearly as much, only 900mL; although I lost that fast, in just a few minutes or so. It is hard to describe that feeling. It’s like a head rush when you stand too fast, but it doesn’t stop. It keeps rushing, and rushing. And as the blood rushes my mind is falling. I no longer know which way is up.
I remember my husband backing away from the bed, as a nurse places on oxygen mask over my face.
I remember being jerked awake as I am lifted onto the table in OR. My head flops to the side, I see the blood on the bed.
I remember being told it would feel like I was being kicked in the stomach.
I remember the bright lights. I remember seeing IV lines in both my hands and arms, while the anaesthetist buzzes around me, more injections into my thighs, my shoulders.
I remember being told I was stable, and once they had finished stitches I would be moved. It is only when she tells me this that I notice someone is stitching my perineum.
I have since been told that inversions present somewhat ‘uniquely’ in that they have an immediate effect on the central nervous system. This happened in my case. I had a massive drop in my blood pressure and was no longer stable before blood loss was heavy enough to cause this. Blood loss in inversions is very rapid; they liken it to turning on a tap. I lost 3.7L of blood, but was put back together and in the recovery ward within an hour.
It all sounds terrifying. In a way it was. What I find the hardest part though is the lack of fear. The knowledge of how quickly my mind was gone. I didn’t think of my newborn, my husband, my son. I had no fear that I was going to die. Other than a flicker of recognition as my husband steps away from the bed there is no ‘me’ in these memories. Only the pain. The need to breath. The falling.
We met with the obstetricians recently, in an attempt to fill in the gaps. I now believe I was unconscious for most of the time in OR. That nearly everything I remember is after they had pushed my uterus back, and the ‘kicking’ was the attempts to contract it once it was in place. On a purely factual level it should not be surprising that my brain struggles to place these memories in context. Deprived of blood and oxygen, my body pumped full of a variety of drugs, my mental processes were impaired to say the least.
My husband was allowed in to see me straight away, carrying our daughter. They lie her on my chest and she even attempts to feed. I don’t remember them arriving. Instead I have vivid memories of the shaking from shock, how cold I was, and being unbelievably thirsty, while attempts to sip water resulted in vomiting on my shoulder. But I also remember lying there, her tiny body on my chest, skin to skin. And despite it all, a feeling of peace. A feeling of completeness. I was back to where I needed to be.
We went forward from there. At first I couldn’t sit on my own, couldn’t support her weight, too headachy to think, too nauseous to eat. But slowly I recover. We name her. I make it out of bed. I make it home. I’m strong enough to walk holding my daughter. It is about a month before I have the strength to lift my 2 year old. I laugh. I cry. I get better.
Most of the time, I’m fine. For months I really just felt glad to be here. Grateful for the doctors and nurses and blood donors who saved my life. But then I would go to bed at night, and in the dark all the fear I didn’t feel at the time comes creeping in. I can’t shake the knowledge that for all the complexities of our lives, all the amazing and wondrous things we do, we are dependent on our heart, our lungs, our brain. I can’t shake the memory of what it felt like for them to be slowing, dragging me down into the undertow.
I wake in the night. I feel like I’m trapped in a glass box. I feel like I’m falling.
Read my follow up to this piece here