Today was the day I almost died two years ago. It’s also my youngest son’s second birthday.
It took us eighteen months to get pregnant the first time, so when I found out I was expecting at only nine months postpartum, I was shocked, yet excited.
Attempting a vaginal birth after caesarian (VBAC aka TOLAC, trial of labor after caesarian) became my main focus. My researching brain went into hyperdrive as I did everything possible to seek the best outcome for my wishes. Proper nutrition: check! Daily exercise: check! Hire a doula: check! Collagen, scar therapy, meditation, endless empowering stories and books: check, check, check, check!
When 40 weeks hit, I was ready, but my baby was not. 41 weeks came and went, and still no sign of labor. By 41+6 I had done all the walking, cried through all the XL XXX sex, and broken out the breast pump. If my labor didn’t start within the next 24 hours, I was set it be induced.
Induction is a process which is taxing on even the most resilient of uterus’, however, my uterus was previously scarred.
“Uterine Rupture” is a term that terrifies people attempting a VBAC.
Even with a .2 to 1.5% chance, it becomes a looming awareness that is brought up more and more as you approach your due date. I had some risk factors for a uterine rupture going into my VBAC including the suspected weight of my baby, and the “past due” status I had been labeled. However, if you had a 1% chance of getting in a car wreck while driving, would you avoid driving all together? No, right? I proceeded.
On Mother’s Day 2018, I willed my baby into the world after a pity-party day in which I ate my weight in shrimp cocktail. Bending over to pick my toddler up, something began leaking. It wasn’t a gush, so I honestly had no idea if it was my waters or not. I decided to continue living my life, but the waters kept-on-a-coming, so I decided to lay down and text my doula.
She encouraged me to wait and see where it went. As a precautionary, I called my hospital, and they requested that I come in for testing to confirm the presence of amniotic fluid. When I arrived, I was having contractions that were not longer, stronger, or closer together, but hey, they were there, so I was pumped.
After a longer-than-usual wait period, the doctors clamored in and said my swab came back negative. Confused and shocked, we began talking over plans for the evening. At the time, the most defeating thought was to go home to see the toddler I had said goodbye to (for the last time as an only child thank-you-very-much) so we made arrangements to visit a nearby hotel.
As we were being discharged, the doctors rushed back in to say they were wrong, it was indeed amniotic fluid, and they’d like to keep me overnight. From here, I befell the hospital timetable.
“If labor has not commenced in 12 hours, we’d like to start Pitocin”
“Honey, your contractions just aren’t strong enough, so we’re going to need to turn it up”
“Your contractions are strong now, but we need to see them picking up a bit more”
And so, I labored, and bled, and labored and bled, and cried, and bled some more.
While I was in a hands and knees position (being assisted by my angel doula), I began making deep, groaning sounds that are indicative of the transition phase. In a hurried flurry, the nurse barged in and said she needed me to get back in bed so she could check me.
I said “no” and my doula inquired if we could continue to labor in this position for a bit longer. Hospital policy mandated that if I was appearing to be close to birth, I needed to be in the bed, so I conceded and asked for assistance in standing up.
Who it was that helped me up, I’m not sure, but in that moment, attempting to stand up, I felt a pain that was so intense all my neurons fired at once and caused what translated as television static in my brain. In fact, writing about that pain now still causes my chest to tighten and stomach to churn.
While on the ground I had been estimated at about a ten dilation, yet after I crawled into bed, I was regressed to an eight. It’s not completely uncommon for a baby to bob up and down the canal during labor, but the contractions had changed, and I began dispelling larger amounts of blood with each one.
I requested an epidural, and voiced concerns to my nurse. “The Pitocin is too high,” I said, “Please turn it down.”
“Sweetie this is necessary for labor to keep going in the right direction,” she replied.
I’m not sure which of my people came to my saving, but one of them had a word with her, and the Pitocin was promptly turned off until anesthesia could make it into my room.
After the epidural was placed, I felt incredible. Sure, there was still one area of my nethers that I felt, but honestly, it was the tits. I wondered why I had ever wanted to labor unmedicated.
Having not seen my doctor in quite some time, she came in shortly after anesthesia, and began reviewing my charts. She asked me if I was experiencing any shoulder pain, a strange but effective way of diagnosing a uterine rupture. I assured her I wasn’t, but voiced concern over the amount of blood I had lost. She mimicked the nurse’s response in saying that it’s pretty typical, but I saw the furrowed brow as she raised the bed sheet to check. She informed me that she was going to closely monitor the baby and me at the nurse’s station, and encouraged me to get some rest while I could.
This next part of my story has been pieced together by the tenderness of my doula and husband. Although it contains moments of nerve, if you are not triggered, please continue to read to the end.
My doula ran to feed her infant (mad love for the mama doulas, and all they sacrifice) and my husband went to send an update to everyone. The nurse routinely asked me how I felt, and I told her I was having trouble keeping my eyes open.
She said, “Awe, I bet, honey. Labor is really hard work.” and then, in an astounding moment of awareness, followed up by asking, “I just need you to clarify, are you saying you want to close your eyes, or that need to close them because you’re struggling to stay conscious?”
The doctor must have observed what I was feeling on the monitors because within a matter of minutes an overhead speaker announcement was made. In scurried 10-12 nurses and doctors and my doctor began speaking very hurriedly. “I need you to get ready to meet your baby in a different way today.”
My husband came in the room as I was being wheeled out. There was no time to wait on him to suite up. The baby needed to come out now.
It was the first and only moment I’ve ever seen my husband scared. The image continues to haunt my memories today.
The OR was quiet. A stark contrast to my first birth where the doctor was jovially talking about his golf game that past weekend.
I prompted the doctors for answers while waiting for my husband. I was desparate for any comfort, any knowledge of what was happening.
First, I asked if my baby was ok.
“Incision,” “Baby’s in the abdominal cavity,” and “That’s a lot of blood” were the first words I heard at the birth of my son.
Not, “You did it!” or “He’s so beautiful” or “Look at all that hair.”
No, the initial bonding words spoken revolved around his clinical state.
My husband joined me, and we waited for that cheated moment with our boy, who was indeed handsome, and chubby with a head full of hair. In the meantime, we built painful memories around the state of my uterus, and whether or not we’d ever be able to have biological children again.
My time in the OR was extended several hours for blood transfusions and get x-rays. (Because of how hastily everything was done, the doctors were nervous they had unwittingly left gear inside me.) We went into the OR at around 5:00PM, and weren’t in our postpartum room until 2:00AM.
I held my baby boy for the first sentimental time while shaking violently in post-op. Although this is typical with most after-births, my body was experiencing extreme shock. Heated blankets were brought in by the armful and my sweet, precious doula, Nora, made her way to my room.
Unbeknownst to me, Nora raised hell to be at my side the whole time. Due to hospital policy at the time, she wasn’t considered essential, and was declined entrance. It by was the grace of one nurse that stood up for her and allowed passage to my post-op curtain.
A couple of years ago, Nora and I spoke at a conference about the importance of doulas and the relationships they build with their clients. An excerpt from our talk reads:
Nora: after nearly 3 hours— of waiting and little information save for “there has been a complication”, I was let back to see her by a nurse, after they had been asking for me for well over an hour. Only one support person is typically allowed in recovery. The nurse said “she has a doula, not another support person”
Nora: I walked in and I went straight to her, I held her, or as much of her as I could.
Macy: my composure broke, i cracked when she walked in. I began to feel the disappointment, the anger, the hopelessness. I felt it all.
Nora: She said to me, “this is nothing that I wanted.”
Macy: She said to me, “I know Macy, I know. I know. I’m so sorry.”
Nora: She said to me, “I feel like a failure”
Macy: She said to me, “You are in no way a failure. You are pure strength, resilience, you are here, on the other side, breathing, baby beside you. there is triumph here.” (This is one of the things you said to me that still gives me goosebumps. Love.)
Nora: She said to me, “I’ll never have the birth I want.”
Macy: She said to me, “Your baby came in the way he absolutely had to. He had to come this way. I know you are going to find peace in this story. It doesn’t feel like it now, but it will come.
Nora: Macy said to me, “How can I do what I want to do if I’ve never even been through labor?”
Macy: Nora said, “you can, and you will. you ARE. you have experienced what it is to be brought to your knees by the unknown, to meet fear and to meet pain, you have gone past all of what every birthing person does. all of us who birth babies feel these things. you have felt it magnified, intensified. and here you are on the other side.
Macy: I had been in shock until I saw Nora. From the words said, and the words we were unable to say, there lingered an energy of impotent emotions. Josh and I stared blankly at each other, breathlessly praying for some relief to come. For Nora to come. As she affirmed me, held me, nourished me, I peeked around to glimpse at my stoic husband who’s eyes were wet with tears. Droplets from his chin hitting the top of our newborns head. Husband. Wife. Doula. The three of us, bonded with shock, disappointment, then hope.
Nora: What I saw— this woman met her feelings head on— went through every brutally honest truth— the anger, the sense of disappointment—— and she moved through it. It kept moving through her. Up and down, peaks in laughter, valleys in tears. She met her worst fears about her labor and then went steps beyond those— and still, here she was able to move through it. Celebrated in her baby’s perfect latch, awed at his charming face— his hair, dimples, cleft chin, rolls. we laughed as conversations about naming her son turned silly. She felt it all, she allowed herself to feel it all. Color returned to her cheeks, I watched her welcome the tidal wave of love for her new baby come in. It was time for me to leave.
This is my second year of reflecting through this story, and all the traumas that are wrapped up in it. Here are some highlights that come to mind:
–My baby lived, and I lived. Because uterine ruptures are so rare, oftentimes they’re missed and survival for one or both parties becomes minimal.
–My uterus lived. My option to expand my family in that way is still an option, albeit a heavy one.
–My son, who we named Llewyn, meaning beloved friend, has been an absolute joy. When he was a newborn I used to say, “the hardest part about you was the way you came into the world.” Two years later, it holds up.
-Llewyn was indeed was a fat baby and weighed 9lb 10oz at birth!
–My convictions of wanting to work towards changing hospital policy were solidified.
–We need more birth workers, especially birth workers of color. My outcome was improved significantly by the fact that I’m white. In Texas especially, the numbers of minority maternal mortality rates are staggering.
–Holding space for those traumatized in birth is not only suggested but necessary.
–My body did not heal completely until I began seeing a therapist regularly. (That mind/body connection is real, y’all!)
-Doulas, and my doula in particular begin the holistic healing process.
–There’s no winning in playing the “what if” game about your birth. This is something I’m still actively working on.
–Autonomy in birth is a must, but autonomy can be complicated in a situation where trauma is present. Doulas help, but this needs to be studied a whole bunch more.
After Llewyn, I began my work as a full-spectrum doula.
The first birth I attended was beautiful—easy and rosy. The mother’s face was serene, and held such strength. When she birthed her baby into the world, I stroked her hair and said, “You did it. I’m so proud of you. She’s absolutely beautiful” and when our eyes met, I heard the same words repeated by a voice in my head.
I may never have the birth I want, but I have the job I want.
Happy birthday, little Llew. And happy badass mofo day to me.
Macy Morrow, CD (DTI)
Right now we’re at a shortage of donated blood in the US. Donated blood is what saved my life, so I usually ask everyone to give on my birthday. This year, however, I’m asking on Llewyn’s. There are covid-friendly donation centers across America. If you’re able to, please consider giving blood to your local blood drive.