AFE Survivor Emily M.

I experienced my AFE with my first and only child after a c-section. I went into labor the day before my due date, contractions were so intense and didn’t let up, dropping my son’s heart rate. Everything happened so quickly, I went from getting an epidural to being put under after feeling the blade of the scalpel making the first incision. My son was born at an APGAR 1, and luckily recovered in about 5 minutes to be deemed an APGAR 8. I was very groggy from waking up from general anesthesia and feared I didn’t have the capacity to hold my son when he was laid on me. Once in recovery I felt a warm sensation, much like slipping into a soothing bath. Little did I know I was hemorrhaging and bleeding out rapidly. (All during shift change.) Luckily with quick thinking of my medical team, 3 Bakri balloons, over 12 transfusions, and finally a uterine embolism, the bleeding stopped. After three days in the ICU I was reconnected with my son in L&D and treated as any other new mother who had just given birth, for better or worse.

I slowly learned about who was where, what took place when, even the condition of my son in the first minutes of his life over the following days and weeks. Little by little piecing together the events of a birth story I never imagined possible. I grieved for a long time, I felt very disconnected from my son and what had happened, as if I wasn’t there at all. I felt robbed of an experience I had waited for my whole life, even more so after having a bumpy infertility road. I never had that immediate, fall in love like no other connection you hear about when holding your baby for the first time. I felt jealous, I felt ungrateful for feeling jealous, knowing we survived. I fell into a mild postpartum depression that was never treated, luckily coming through without battle scars.

I didn’t realize I experienced an AFE until closer to the one year point, confirming with a maternal and fetal specialist. I felt like I needed answers and figure out what it all meant. It was a highly emotional process, which was compounded by other losses in my family. The first couple of years were rough with rays of sunlight dotted in. 

My husband was my rock, we leaned on one another and talked through everything forward and back and all over again. I had so many questions. He was the one to truly help me through this, as he also went through the hardest days of his life as well. We also had to face the reality that the uterine embolism, we believe, made it nearly impossible for us to conceive again. Confirmed by the lack of any kind of menstrual cycle. Another grief process on coming to terms on the number of children we/I hoped to have was now going to be just one, at least from my body. Then feeling terrible for not appreciating what I already had.

I can’t pinpoint what helped through the complete recovery, my son, friends, family, time, or just day to day routine of caring for a baby. I was fortunate to stay home with him for his first two and half years. I know what made/makes it harder was not knowing how to handle a near death experience, what that means, how it changes me, does it change me? I was frustrated with others, especially close family and friends, at times, wanting them to truly understand my experiences and act accordingly. A completely impossible task, even for me. 

I am extremely lucky to feel recovered, mentally and physically. Although the mental recovery took much longer. I’m more at peace than I have ever been, I can tell my story without choking up, my husband still isn’t able to, and we made a final decision to not explore another pregnancy. The back and forth of the possibility was debilitating. It took 4 years to get here. My son is now 5, and his past two birthdays have felt like his birthdays and not just our survival day.