‘There’s no way I can say goodbye?’ I had 2 options: die or let my daughter die. I picked myself off the bathroom floor and went numb.’: Woman survives nearly-fatal molar pregnancy, loses daughter

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“On August 24th, I was 16 weeks pregnant with our daughter Maya. Our lives were changed forever the day when we had to face the most unimaginable decision…death or death.

Courtesy of Casey Somerville

Our beautiful family of five was built by adoption and biology. It was full of life, deep love, disability, trauma, and joy. We were thrilled to be welcoming a fourth child, but this second pregnancy was overwhelmingly challenging from the beginning. My first pregnancy, although complicated with a prenatal diagnosis, was picture perfect. I had the normal morning sickness, but I also successfully chased around two young toddlers and gained just the right amount of weight. I loved being pregnant the entire time. I naively expected this second pregnancy to be similar.

I was sick from the get-go and the day before my initial pregnancy confirmation appointment at my OB’s office I started bleeding. I had reassurance left and right that bleeding can be perfectly normal. I was told not to worry. However, I couldn’t stop my thoughts from taking over that this was surely a miscarriage and I was about to lose our baby. When my husband and I arrived at my appointment, I was sick with fear, but also sick to my stomach with the unmanageable all-day sickness I had been feeling. I threw up in the parking lot before we made our way inside.

We chatted with my lovely OB as she wanted to know about the happenings in our family and about our younger son who had made quite a name for himself throughout their practice. She didn’t know at first about the bleeding, but once she did, she wanted to get straight to the ultrasound and avoid any speculation. I appreciated this so much because false hope was the last thing I needed. All I needed to know at the moment was if our baby was alive and growing, but I was bracing myself for the worst.

Courtesy of Casey Somerville

Heartbeat. Movement. Baby.

We all collectively let out a sigh of relief. The baby was growing appropriately and had a strong heartbeat. I was reassured the bleeding was normal and we would keep a close eye on things as I progressed, in hopes of finding a cause. My OB who in her always compassionate demeanor knew not all doubt had subsided. She offered a follow-up ultrasound two weeks later to see how the baby was doing.

Courtesy of Casey Somerville

As time went on instead of improving, I continued to decline in physical health. I kept convincing myself this was just a tough pregnancy and I got lucky the first time around. Every day I barely pushed through, was still bleeding (without a determined cause), was so exhausted I struggled to keep my eyes open, regularly sick throughout the day and, based on recent blood work, discovered I was pretty significantly anemic. My belly was also huge by 13 weeks, but it was my second pregnancy so it was easily explained away. At every appointment though the baby looked good and was growing. Surely this was just a tough pregnancy, or so I kept trying to tell myself.

At 15 weeks, my OB called and left me a voicemail. It was pretty standard based on the conversations we had been having, and she wanted me to go ahead and make an early appointment to see Maternal-Fetal Medicine for an ultrasound. Everything she was saying was typical, but just from knowing her I could tell something was different in her voice. I could hear this sense of uncertainty and a hint of concern, it just felt off. It was a busy day for whatever reason and I didn’t even notice the voicemail until hours later when it was probably around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I was so dismissive of my own symptoms during this pregnancy so the only reason I even called the nurses line back that afternoon was because of my OB’s tone of voice when she had left the message. Little did I know the voicemail is what spurred a chain of events I could have never in my life anticipated.

The nurse’s line rang and Jennifer answered. I explained the reason for my call and my OB’s voicemail. We chatted for a while and she said she would put in the referral to Maternal-Fetal Medicine for the ultrasound. From 20 weeks on during my first pregnancy, I had 1-2 ultrasounds a month so this was definitely not unchartered territory for me. Right before we were going to end the call, Jennifer asked if I was good otherwise. I told her since I had her on the phone, I did want to mention how out of breath I had been during the day, for the life of me I just couldn’t catch my breath. While on the phone with her, just getting words out had felt challenging. She said she could tell how I was struggling to breathe over the phone and put me on hold, I’m sure so she could figure out a plan.

She came back and said my OB had left the office for the evening, but if she had to guess what my OB would say if she was there, she would tell me to go into Labor & Delivery triage at the hospital. I virtually rolled my eyes and thought, ‘Oh, this will be a waste of time.’ My husband was out of town also so I had to make a couple of phone calls to coordinate someone to be with the kids and also someone to drive me since Jennifer’s instructions included me not driving. I’ve since had the chance to thank Jennifer for the role she played in saving my life. If unchecked, I could’ve easily had a stroke and died at home that night.

My mom came and picked me up while I still persisted with my denial that I was sick enough to be heading to triage. I even insisted I didn’t need her to drop me off at the door, but the truth was I couldn’t even walk short distances without having to sit down and take a break.

Reflecting back on the whole experience, I think two things were at play. I was a mom and people depended on me, I couldn’t be sick and unable to care for others. The other was I wanted this baby so desperately, I would suppress any physical or emotional distress in an effort to make it a reality just based on sheer will power.

Courtesy of Casey Somerville

Three days prior to the life-altering decision, I was admitted to the hospital with stroke-level high blood pressures that sent everyone into action and panic immediately. To my complete disbelief, I had one of the on-call OB’s at the hospital tell me I was their sickest patient on the whole Labor & Delivery floor. For the next several hours, the team struggled to manage my blood pressures, started enlisting other specialties throughout the hospital and I was on my way to the Medical ICU. Something I learned during my time in triage was based on my gestational age I was too early to be considered preeclamptic and something I definitely already knew was I was nowhere close to far enough along to be delivering a baby.

My condition was a mystery to the doctors for a few days while I underwent every scan, test, and lab under the sun to figure out why I was so ill. I was reassured with 90% certainty this was in no way related to my pregnancy, but also not any closer to figuring out what was going on. After days of this, my incredible Maternal-Fetal Medicine doctor came to me with her theory, but it took a little more time for everything to unfold because what she told us was so unfathomable, rare, and heartbreaking.

My Maternal-Fetal Medicine doctor had a history, and it wasn’t a coincidence she was on call when I was admitted to the hospital. Three years prior, she also confirmed our son would be born with congenital limb differences in utero.  This news also came without certainty we would successfully make it full term and without any other complications. The doctor and I bonded through my struggle. She knew our hearts, our stance on unborn life and knew without an overwhelming amount of certainty we were not going to terminate this pregnancy.

I was essentially carrying an undetected twin pregnancy with a complete molar pregnancy alongside our growing Maya. The complete molar pregnancy (toxic tumor-like placental tissue) was taking over my uterus, sending my systems into shock. It was questionable if I would successfully make it through surgery alive. This complete molar pregnancy growing alongside our daughter was rare, aggressive, and threatening both of our lives.

After consulting with doctors around the country and receiving unbelievable test results, everyone was watching my body basically die before their eyes. My condition was so grave and the outcome was uncertain. Less than 24 hours of my being at the hospital my husband had returned from his work trip and hadn’t left my side. He briefly left when my Maternal-Fetal Medicine doctor came to scan me herself to show me the complete view of my uterus and the deadly complete mole. I think I’ve blocked out the rest of the time she spent in my room, but after she left I walked myself to the bathroom shut the door and sobbed on the floor.

All of these selfish and guilty feelings started to pour out of my body. ‘Why do these things always happen to us?’ ‘Why do I always have to bring heartbreak to our family?’ ‘There’s no way I can say goodbye to our daughter?’

I picked myself up off the bathroom floor and had to calmly call my husband who was almost back to the hospital. Once he was in my room I shared the news with him and sobbed in his arms, everything else from our conversation is a blur. I collected myself and calmly called my parents so I could get them safely to the hospital without overwhelming them with panic. Both of my brothers traveled home from out of state that night too. I went numb after all of that, held my belly constantly, and ached for what lies ahead. One thing I think will stay with me forever from those moments is the sheer fear my husband was fighting against at the thought of losing his wife. I was overcome by the deep sadness and grief he was already in the midst of. He was a true pillar of strength throughout all of this, but the tears he shed during that 12 hour period shook me. My grief was deeply rooted in the loss of our daughter, and he was grieving that loss as well, but the thought of losing me was consuming him.

The next morning my OB, who was out of town, called me. We were both in shock and I clung to her reassurance on what needed to happen to save my life. She empathized with me so beautifully and paused for me while I cried. I underwent emergent surgery to terminate the pregnancy, removing the complete molar pregnancy and causing us to lose our beloved daughter as well.

My OB shared with me later she was out of town with college friends. The morning of my surgery she described this group of women, many of whom had never shared their faith together let alone prayed with one another, joining hands and praying out loud for my survival. The didn’t know the specifics of my case, only that their dear friend was beyond grieved over my condition. I’m eternally grateful this moment took place for them as I imagine the bonding and peace from the Holy Spirit falling over those women. I knew others who joined in prayer that morning for us as well, as they stood in the gap for our family and calmed my heart and mind even just the slightest bit.

I was wheeled into surgery surrounded by the most amazing and compassionate team we could’ve ever asked for. All evening and morning I had my phone glued to my face playing praise and worship music. These songs brought just an ounce of peace to my soul. My doctor didn’t want me to bring my phone into surgery and have it misplaced so she gave me hers and it lay on my chest playing Rescue by Lauren Daigle as I faded off to sleep. I have no other conscious memories of the operating room, I count that as a true gift from God. I can’t even begin to recount how well we were cared for by my medical team and the love we felt there.

Courtesy of Casey Somerville

Our whole world stopped as my doctors saved my life. My body fought and we said goodbye to our beloved daughter. We were forever changed.

For the life of me I couldn’t fathom why God would make this a part of our story. We aren’t strangers to hard, but this was beyond any comprehension. I knew in these moments grieving the loss of our daughter would be soul-crushing, but I had to make it home to our three babies and my husband. I had to.

Beyond having a biological son born with a physical disability we also had adopted our two oldest children from foster care. We knew hard, we knew heartbreak, we knew broken, we knew perseverance and grace. I thought we had already walked through our lives’ hardest moments before this. We are eternally grateful for how our family has been put together. We are better for the incredible children who have been placed in our family. Even still I selfishly thought we’d be safe from the unfathomable this time around. Although I wasn’t naïve about the complications of pregnancy, I was hopeful. I think that’s why the pain of this loss stung so much. I felt like we deserved this baby girl and just like that, she was gone.

Courtesy of Casey Somerville
Courtesy of Casey Somerville

Part of the seriousness related to a molar pregnancy is that traces left can cause a cancerous threat to the body, and certain hormone levels would need to be monitored closely as well. Complete molar pregnancies run the risks (many of which I personally endured) of life-threatening hypertension, hyperthyroidism, anemia, enlarged uterus, hemorrhage, hysterectomy, risk of cancer, and maternal death. It’s taken nearly six months for my body to physically heal and after weekly and then monthly blood draws for my hCG level to return to normal. The month was supposed to be Maya’s birth month is now the month I will officially be medically cleared.

Courtesy of Casey Somerville

I never could’ve imagined having to join the ranks of warrior women who have survived life-threatening pregnancies, against all odds. Truly some of the strongest women. Also, some of the most questioned, silenced, and misunderstood.

I never thought I’d have to decide between death or death. I’ve heard many say the chances a pregnancy can threaten the life of the mother is so very slim, practically unheard of, but that was me. I pray no one ever has to experience a crisis pregnancy as I did, but I know someone else will, and until you do you’ll never know the depth of the hurt and pain. Having to make unfathomable choices and bear that weight is the most heart-wrenching thing that can happen to a mother.

So my grief indefinitely leaves me in this place where I struggle between the gratitude I feel for my own life and the deep loss of our daughter. My hope is that our experience will bring awareness about such a challenging subject and also allows women experiencing molar pregnancies or other crisis pregnancies to feel less alone. Through the months that have followed, I’ve realized how many women ache in the shadows and shame of loss, without validation of their feelings or true healing.

Courtesy of Casey Somerville

This is not your fault.

You are not alone.

Your feelings and grief matter.

Say your child’s name.

Release yourself from the shame and expectation that there is a right way to navigate the journey of loss.

It is not supposed to be this way, momma.

You are so very loved.

I wish more than anything I could’ve saved you from this, sweet Maya. My only hope is you’re resting in the arms of Jesus. My girl, He is our safe refuge and I pray he carries us both through this until we can be together again. You will be a part of me always. ‘I carry your heart, I carry it in my heart.'”

Courtesy of Casey Somerville

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Casey Somerville from Michigan. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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