I have given much thought as to how and when to share Cooper’s birth story. This intimate experience changed my life forever, and I needed time to reflect on and process before presenting it to the world. During the last 16 months, I have watched with curiosity how individuals, both vulnerable and brave, chose to share stories of grief and triumph on social media. I analyzed my hesitation to be so public so early. The birth of my daughter Cooper was not only the best day of my life, but it was also the scariest. It was the closest I have ever been to birth and the closest I have ever been to death.
I have written the details of Cooper’s birth multiple times since January 10th 2016. Three months into motherhood, I wrote from a traumatized perspective. Although I had every intention to post it, I am glad my therapist, an active participant in my recovery, encouraged me not to. She said, “Aly, you are not ready.” She encouraged me to write my next version as a personal letter to Cooper. I did, and the process toward recovery began. My third version included spiritual insights and realizations I will carry with me throughout my life and motherhood journey.
This is my fourth version of Cooper’s birth story, written 16 months after the blessed event. It is full of clarity and full of strength. I tell my story, inspired by the idea that sharing it will bring faith, not fear, into people’s lives. That it will empower others to not take for granted the miracle of birth. That it will remind people to be grateful for each day here on earth. I write to educate people that pregnancy is the leading cause of death in women ages 15-19 in developing countries. That one woman dies every two minutes worldwide during pregnancy and childbirth. Ultimately, I write to show my daughter that the details within her birth story, though traumatic, tell a miracle story that will give me strength and perspective for the rest of my life and hopefully for hers.
The Events of January 9th-10th
Everyone warns first time moms to not become too attached to their dream birth plan. And I wasn’t. I only wanted a healthy baby, and that she was, all 9 lbs.1 oz. of her. She was dark haired, pink, plump, and absolutely beautiful. She arrived about 17 hours after my water broke and after one and a half hours of pushing. She was born in the middle of the night on January 10th at 12:53 a.m. The second the nurse placed her on my chest, all anxieties vanished. Baby had arrived safely. Never once did I imagine our time together would be cut short, and we would be dramatically separated for another seven hours. Never once in those nine months had it crossed my mind that I would be the one the doctors and nurses were trying to keep alive.
The nurses noticed bleeding, normal after childbirth, but not to the extent they needed to “weigh the blood lost” by carrying mounds of blood collected on pads underneath me to a scale. They waited for my uterus to start contracting after labor, which I now know is a critical part of the birthing process. Well, mine did not contract, even after nurses and doctors tried to help kick start the process with extremely painful massaging on top of my now baby-less stomach. Next came IV’s and shots with four different types of medicines, again aimed to start uterine contractions. When the uterus contracts after labor, all the main arteries which supply blood to the baby start to close up. Without the contractions, these arteries essentially become open faucets filling the uterus with blood, thereby causing hemorrhaging. I was experiencing major postpartum hemorrhaging that would not stop. They told Cory and me I needed an immediate blood transfusion because I was losing too much blood. The doctor also performed a D&C to make sure no placenta had stuck to my uterine wall, another cause of hemorrhaging. Amazingly, I felt strangely at peace. I reassured Cory I would be fine and would see him after surgery. I encouraged him to go see our baby girl in the nursery because I didn’t want her feeling lonely without us.
But I was not fine.
Halfway through the blood transfusion and surgery, the tone in the doctors’ voices changed. They began yelling at each other, demanding more blood. The bleeding would not stop. As it turns out, I was literally bleeding to death. The moments going forward were simultaneously vivid and cloudy as I fell in and out of consciousness. I ended up losing 3/4 of my blood, way too much blood to survive a hysterectomy surgery to remove my uterus.
The miracles that kept me alive are many. Hours of care involved ICU doctors, nurses, bags of blood, and bags of platelets. Thankfully, my body and heart were strong enough to keep the transfused blood pumping. One of the greatest miracles happened when the bleeding slowed down enough to allow another surgery, a Uterine Artery Embolization. Doctors went into my groin and blocked the blood supply into my uterus with bead blockers.
Seven long hours later, I was blessed to have my daughter back in my arms. I remember waiting in the room, alone, tears streaming down my face, unable to sit up with IVs hooked up everywhere, awaiting the reunion with my husband, daughter and parents. Many of those tears were tears of gratitude. I was alive. I was alive to see my husband and my newborn daughter. In that moment, I felt a level of thankfulness I want to carry with me forever. I was alive and had been given the opportunity to be Cooper’s mom.
Two women a day in the United States are not as lucky. Tears still flow when I think that on the day I lived, two mothers did not. They died of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. I came close to being that statistic. Their babies were never placed back on their chests. Their husbands left the hospital alone and brokenhearted. Everyday, I look at a picture hanging on Cooper’s nursery wall of that first moment when the nurse placed her on my chest, and I am eternally grateful that wasn’t our only photographed moment together.
Two women a day. This staggering statistic, along with many many more, highlights the global issue of maternal care. This is now my cause and purpose. I tell my story to bring faith, not fear, to empower and educate. I almost died during childbirth but am blessed to have been in a hospital with plenty of available blood to pump into my body, a hospital with top surgeons who performed new age surgeries which allowed me to not only walk away alive but to leave with my uterus.
Exactly one year later, I walked hand-in-hand with my mother into the same hospital, on the same day in the middle of the night with over a dozen sprinkled cupcakes in my hands. Although not the identical staff, we explained our way up to the labor and delivery floor at 12:53 a.m. to thank the nurses who had saved my life. We cried as we reflected on the year-long recovery process that allowed us to walk back into the hospital without fear, only gratitude.
After Cooper’s birth, I didn’t immediately begin to process my near-death experience because all my attention was focused on my newborn. Three months later, however, reality hit me hard: Cooper could have been motherless, my husband a widower. The what ifs invaded my mind. What if I had died that night? What would Cooper's life look like without a mother? What if knowing her birth story might bring her sadness? At first, I felt the need to protect Cooper from hearing the story, yet she is the one who empowered me to begin my healing journey. I am determined to make the experience purposeful, to be grateful for every waking moment with my newborn, to appreciate each day I celebrate with my husband, and to eventually tell my story.
So here I am, the week of Mother’s Day, 17-weeks pregnant with our second child, a son, reflecting on motherhood. The sacrifices, struggles and strength of women worldwide and throughout history are remarkable. I now notice them daily. From women struggling to conceive, to difficulties during pregnancy, to challenging births and lingering effects of postpartum on mind/body/soul, we are all one. Women are given a maternal instinct, beautiful and powerful. Even women without children of their own, I notice their passion and protectiveness worldwide.The overwhelming love I feel toward my own mother has been amplified and is indescribable. I am unsure if this clarity would be mine without my experience, but it shines brightly in me now.
The decision to try for a second child was a thought-out decision made with the guidance and counsel of doctors. It was also a spiritual decision with many prayers asked and answered. At this point, I am not feeling fear but only excitement in providing a sibling for Cooper and having another to call our own. I want my children to see me as an example of someone unafraid to tackle difficult challenges, but I also want to allow myself the space to feel any negative emotions that come with a traumatic experience. Recovery will be continual. Most likely triggers will come up the closer I come to our son's due date, but I am determined to address them head on. I have to for our son, for our daughter, and for me. Most importantly, I want to live a life that exudes gratitude for being alive while recognizing that over 303,000 women a year will not be as fortunate. Women are not meant to only bring children into this world. They deserve to nurse them in the middle of the night, to kiss their “ouchies,” to snuggle in bed, to watch them grow, to teach them life lessons. I believe the powerful influence of women--mothers, grandmothers, aunties, surrogates--in children’s lives is a mighty force for love and all that is good.
I also had the opportunity to interview with The Left Ovaries podcast. Click here to listen to the podcast "Maternal Instinct" aired May 2017.
Please help me spread the word about this cause. I am excited to continue my healing through connecting, educating and empowering.
Connect: If you know of any woman struggling with a traumatic birth experience, I would love to connect with her. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Educate: Look into the organization Every Mother Counts, a non-profit organization that works hard to keep pregnancy and birth safe for women worldwide.
Empower: Join the Be Better Movement. With every completed wellness challenge, money is donated by partnering corporations to Every Mother Counts.