I Almost Died In Childbirth And It Changed Everything

Photo: Tim Bish

Photo: Tim Bish

I tell myself that I never dreamed of a wedding or marriage but rather of being a mother. And as with most things, if you believe it long enough it becomes reality. Truth to tell, I didn't have a realistic model of a healthy working marriage. Intellectually I knew marriage wasn't a page out of a romance novel but I had no idea how to connect the dots. I was ill-equipped to navigate romantic relationships from the time I was a young girl. Floundering and flailing like a fish out of water.

The reality is the road to motherhood was not smooth for me.

Underneath, of course, I did want it all. I wanted the happy, romantic marriage and the loving family by extension. My story wasn't written the way I wanted it to be but my children and their father (my ex-husband) are no less for it. They are amazing people and my childhood baggage was my mess to sort out, not theirs. My life had been messy since I was twelve, a wobbly common denominator that I was comfortable with. Why would it be any different now?

The reality is the road to motherhood was not smooth for me. My first pregnancy was a mere blip ending in miscarriage one day after finding out I was pregnant, which was long enough for my doctor at the time to assign a due date and prescribe pre-natal vitamins. The mourning was real and I careened to a dark place I had never been. My second pregnancy was glorious until an unexplained “condition” threw me and my family into a tailspin. After sailing through seven months of blissful normalcy, I was told six weeks before my due date that I might die. Terrified and confused, I had no guidance from my regular doctor as they had taken her off the case and reassigned me to an unknown high-risk doctor. My “condition” was still not confirmed or substantiated. Yet no one in my family or myself questioned anything because we were all so shocked.

Among other things, I was told that I would have to be admitted to the hospital, that my baby had to be induced six weeks early, that I would need to be on steroids (for no medical reason as I would later find out after the birth) of which the side effects were insomnia. Thus, going into a 38-hour induced labor, most of which was spent lying on my back and numb from the waist down, I hadn't slept more than a few hours a day in two weeks. In order to receive an epidural, a patient must have a platelet level of at least fifty. Platelets help to clot your blood. If you have too many, you clot and die. If you have too few, you bleed to death. This appeared to be at the crux of my mystery condition. My platelets, despite a normal, asymptomatic medical history, were dangerously low. At the time I was admitted to the hospital for induction, they were at exactly fifty. The anesthesiologist on duty when I arrived swiftly administered the epidural before the platelets sunk even lower. He referred to a term called “chasing the pain” commonly used in anesthetic circles. You want to get ahead of the pain lest you spend the rest of the time futilely chasing it with copious amounts of pain killers. In the hours of actual hard labor, I wanted nothing more than to stand up or at the very least get up onto my knees yet the epidural had left my legs tingling and inoperable. Every hour was critical and I was running out of time. The pain of back labor had set in and along with the heavy contractions, I was in extreme pain and despite the anesthesiologists best attempts, I wasn't just chasing the pain, I was haunted by it. I was officially in the worst of both worlds.

...I wasn’t just chasing the pain, I was haunted by it.

I ask myself now why motherhood was supposed to be my salvation? My purpose? Perhaps because I thought that unlike marriage, motherhood was a natural process I had been born to carry out. Yet, since the age of twelve, I had been chasing the pain. The metaphoric collision of my flawed worlds, motherhood and marriage forced me to look at me. I wasn't whole before I had my son and it was unfair to expect him or my then-husband to complete me. Rather, this experience gave me the inspiration to fight for our lives and to begin the journey to my best self.

Motherhood, as it turns out, was and is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is an examination into all that I am and all I have to offer. And many days, I come up short. I will forever mourn the fact that I don't know what it’s like to have a child with someone I am in love with, to bring a child into this world as a result of that perfect extension of the love shared between two souls. But on that July day nine years ago, I gave it everything I had and ushered my son into this world by myself. There was no blueprint for this dream. I had to draw from a reserve and a hopefulness that only I could summon. It wasn't the team I was expecting but there we were nonetheless. In an instant, the two of us ill-prepared for what was to come, were no longer chasing the pain but embracing the moment. Hand in hand learning as we went along, week by week, day by day, hour by hour.

Motherhood, as it turns out, was and is the hardest thing I have ever done.

Today, nine years later, my household is bustling with children and animals, brimming with books, music, laughter, and love. Unassuming from the front but wild and lush once you're in, our home is an urban paradise. Our secret garden is guarded by a 100-foot wall that has ivy growing two feet deep, tangled and territorial over us. It is our pride, our surrender and our celebration. Our backyard jungle reflects my own inner wildness — perhaps a standing reminder of the wildness in all of us. I’m confident here, nestled in my pioneer woman existence. It’s actually all I've ever known motherhood to be.

For the last year I had recurring dreams of being in a cabin in the woods. I see now that it wasn't some far off dreamy destination with my nonexistent Prince Charming — it was here, my home. It was me. Pulling in. Quietly reading on a rainy August day. Walking my dog and chatting with neighbors. Cooking for my children and singing Billie Holiday. Living in the moment, truly, fully, completely. Free and unencumbered by the cloak of failed marriage or the imperfections of what I thought motherhood and womanhood should be.

My children are no longer small, they are officially bonafide people who can help in almost any way I have needed them to. They are amazing and at the core of who I am and what I hope are the healthiest, happiest reflections of myself. Some days I do feel like a pioneer woman, guiding and loving my household of wonderful two and four footed creatures through this crazy roller coaster world. Only now, I am free to love wholly. To love and laugh with reckless abandon and to do and feel nothing but the best because that is what I deserve. There will be no settling this time. No breaking. In the meantime, I keep going. I keep guiding myself and these creatures the best way I know how and believe in my deepest depth that this is all how it was supposed to happen after all.

by Maria Carola