19 Feb 2018 | Partners in Care
The experience of women who undergo an unplanned hysterectomy (removal of the womb) at the same time as birthing is a story that is not often told.
In December 2017 Michelle contacted the maternity specialist at the Commission to share her story. She wanted women to know that with time and support it is possible to process the grief and imposed change to a future of no further pregnancies.
The Commission welcomed Michelle’s story through the Partners in Care Programme (which supports consumer engagement) and acknowledge her generosity in sharing.
I am Michelle, a mother of two beautiful baby boys and a wife to a very supportive and loving husband.
Three years ago, I gave birth to my first baby boy. It was the first time my husband came face-to-face with the thought of losing me. He was told my uterus was not contracting and that a hysterectomy would be the last resort if the bleeding didn’t stop.
He just sat there, staring blankly, crying silently, wishing and praying to God to save me. It was a traumatic experience for those who witnessed what happened the day I almost died.
But having faith in God that he will carry me through another pregnancy, I convinced my husband that I could handle getting pregnant again. It’s just that I had a childhood dream of having a baby girl in the family. That girl would grow up to be a lady and we would go shopping together and she would share with me all her heartaches, fears and hopes. I would give her advice on love, life and make-up. And we would be a happy family.
After a year, I got pregnant with our second. It was not a girl. The stubborn me said, “We will keep on trying ‘till we get a baby girl!” Or so I thought.
Fast forward to July 7, 2017. I was at 38 weeks with contractions getting more frequent, we headed to Auckland Hospital where we found out I was dilated at 5cm already. That “5cm” encouraged me to go for a natural birth.
After more than 24 hours of hoping, the opening of my womb was only at 6cm.
Like a soldier that went to war ready to fight no matter what it takes, I turned back and retreated. It was the night I finally surrendered to God and cried with tears flowing from my heart, “Lord, if it is this complicated for my body to deliver a baby into the world, I am happy with having 2 boys. Let your will be done.”
The other option was a C-Section. In the theatre room, I took deep breaths to shrug off nervousness. But even so, I was at peace to be under those surgical knives. I knew that the surgeons and the rest of the medical team were brilliant and they would take care of me.
The operation was quick. The baby I carried for 38 weeks and 3 days - through pains and tears, was finally out. We made it! But something seemed off. When I heard my baby’s cry, I was waiting for small talks and laughter among the medical team; but there was none.
The silence was threatening. I sensed panic and it was confirmed when the anaesthetist told me, “We are going to put you to sleep.” It was a sign that something went wrong.
Suddenly, every millisecond counted. I had to focus my thoughts on only the very important ones. It was not a time to fear but a time to confirm that whatever happens after this, I believe in life after death.
With eyes closed, I prayed, “Lord, my life is now in your hands. Either, I wake up with my baby by my side or I wake up with you in Heaven.” My last thoughts before I lost consciousness.
So when I awoke at the Recovery Room, my first question was, “Do I still have a uterus?” The nurse told me, “No.”
At that moment, my dream collapsed. I felt a mixture of regret, joy, excitement and devastation all at the same time. Despite having been blessed with a gift from God, in exchange, a very special part of me was taken away. I lost my capacity to bear more babies.
The ICU nurses decided that I go straight to the Ward instead of the ICU. In their own words, "Judging from how you look, you don't need to go to the ICU. You look good and fresh."
For the first time, I saw my baby Thomas Elijah. He was laying there in the baby bassinet, oblivious to how he came to the world. It was such a great joy to see him and hold him in my arms. And he also breastfed from me, something my first baby never did. That connection we built with each other gave me strength to move on with life.
I had to look beyond my pain to see that there is a tiny creature that depends on me for his survival. I had to keep on refocusing my thoughts on the beauty that was before me – a new life that is so innocent and pure, entrusted to me by God, for me to care for, nurture and love for the rest of my life.
Later on, I found out from my surgeon that I probably lost 3.6L of blood – more than half of my estimated blood volume. The rate of blood loss was so fast because a lot of blood vessels got affected when the placenta attached too deeply to my uterus. "It was like a piece of wet paper towel soaked in blood but just lying there not doing anything. It was not contracting at all,” said my surgeon. She added that I had passed out briefly when my baby was taken from my womb due to that intense blood loss.
I questioned her why a hysterectomy had to be done. Straight to my face and without a blink of an eye, she told me, "If I had to do it all over again, even with you telling me you still want more children, I would still do it. To save your life." In my anaesthetist's words: "If we didn't remove your uterus, you would have died in 5 minutes."
The most important lesson I realised from losing my womb and almost coming close to death is this: “Life is short. Do the things you want to do. Praise your creator and worship him because he is the source of all great things.”
I am happy to have been given the opportunity to share this experience. It is a story I will gladly share over and over again because it is not a story of broken dreams, rather, it is a story of second chances, third chances and ultimately, for me, a story of God’s unconditional love. The reason I am still here is because I need to care for my 2 sons and husband. I will be forever grateful to the surgeons and all the medical team who saved my life and ensured my recovery well after that difficult loss.
If you are going through a similar experience, please don't lose hope. The pain will go away and it shall pass. The wind will blow it away slowly until all that is left with you are lessons from the past, strength for the present and hope for the future. And if like me, you believe in God, a higher being, that is omnipotent, continue to have faith. My faith carried me through the pain.