The Edge Of Life
“I am a mother whose life was not only threatened by my pregnancy, but came incredibly close to losing my life because of it. I have experienced what it was like to hear all the alarms going off and people yelling, while my body went numb. I remember just knowing in my soul that I was not going to live to raise those babies that I had just brought into the world. And I know what it’s like to fight so hard to speak the words, ‘I love you, goodbye’ but not have the strength to do it. My last thought was, ‘I hope they can save her, so this isn’t all for nothing.’ Because it felt pointless.
But I’m lucky because I also know the shock of waking up and realizing they were able to save me. I remember when the realization sank in that I had been only a hairsbreadth away from losing my life. I was so incredibly angry that my safety had been placed so far below that of my babies, that we were almost killed in the process. I know what it’s like to beg the doctor to take my health seriously and to be told no over and over ‘a C-section might make it a little harder for the smaller one to breathe on her own once she’s born.’ In the hours leading up to the delivery, I felt as though I was being marched towards a cliff that no amount of self-advocating could save me from. But first, let’s rewind.
My Traumatic Delivery
14 hours earlier, I had walked into the hospital for a scheduled induction for my soon-to-be identical twin daughters. The morning prior to checking in, I had begun to show signs of renal failure. I thought that I would be given a c-section, in hopes of reversing the damage that was clearly being done to my body. Instead, I spent those next 14 hours steadily declining due to severe preeclampsia. The entire time I had a gut feeling that I was not going to be okay. It turns out I was right.
I had spent several of those hours requesting a c-section. I asked. My parents asked. My husband asked. But the decision came down to one doctor, who I had never met before that day. She told me that she couldn’t perform an ‘unnecessary’ c-section. My insurance wouldn’t cover it and she could get in trouble with the hospital. The problem was, in hindsight, a c-section was absolutely necessary. Probably from the moment I walked through the doors. But she was concerned. What would the repercussions be if she performed a c-section that resulted in complications for the babies? What if the hospital administration later deemed that c-section to be unwarranted?
One thing I do know though is that she didn’t have to worry about jail time. Of all the factors at play in her decision, her own personal freedom wasn’t at risk. But despite that, it was still clearly a difficult choice and she sided with what she thought to be the more cautious option. It was more favorable to risk me stroking out than to risk my baby needing oxygen at birth. I disagreed. My family disagreed. Many of the nurses disagreed. But the choice came down to one scared doctor.
I remember the moment it came time to start pushing. I didn’t want to. I was more terrified than I had ever been of anything else in my entire life. I remember looking at my parents, as they walked out of the room, with tears in their eyes. All three of us knew that if I started pushing, with a blood pressure of more than 200/117, it was all but guaranteed that I was not going to come out of that delivery unscathed. And we were right. Between the delivery of Baby A and Baby B, I experienced a placental abruption, believed to have been brought on by a combination of severe preeclampsia and the heightened risk associated with delivering placenta-sharing twins.
Days later, as I lay in my bed on stroke precautions, separated from my babies, with one fighting for her life, I was angry. I couldn’t get over the fact that this all could have been avoided had that doctor made a different choice. C-sections are used to save women’s lives all the time. So how could she have possibly felt it was best to deny me one while my life hung in the balance?
I’ve had 5 years to process the trauma that experience brought, but if you asked me today, I’d say I no longer really blame that doctor for the choices she made. Medicine is a fickle game. You see, we like to think that there is this dividing line between life versus death, but that isn’t really true. Dying is a process and sometimes it starts hours, days, or even weeks before any of us are able to identify it.
Was I dying when I walked into the hospital, having stopped producing urine 16 hours before I even checked in? Was I dying hours later when, with heart palpitations and shortness of breath, I was told that I was going to have to push my body to the brink of exhaustion to bring my twins into the world? Or was it when I was told it was time to deliver and I knew I wasn’t going to survive that process? I know I was dying by the time all those alarms started going off and the nurse beside me started yelling that they were losing both of us. And I truly thought I was dead when I looked at my husband and then closed my eyes for what I thought would be the last time.
But then I woke up.
I survived. Between a mix of luck, medical intervention, and the grace of God, I woke up. You see, the only way to know for certain that someone is going to definitely die, is when they die and don’t come back. It requires hindsight. But when you’re in the moment, dying is impossible to pinpoint. And really, it all comes down to your doctor’s expertise, their professional opinion of what your body can and can’t come back from.
I was terrified that day. And I did not have confidence that my doctor was making the right decision for me. But I at least knew that no matter what decision she made, she wasn’t having to outweigh my care with her freedom.
Roe v. Wade
In many states today, doctors can face jail time for ending pregnancies that the government does not deem medically necessary. We have all told ourselves that women whose lives are put at risk will be able to access medically necessary abortions. But many women can’t even access medically necessary c-sections, because of the fear of consequences that come with making the wrong choice.
There is a difference between legality and medicine. Legality can often be black and white. Medicine is not. Yet in reading the wording of these abortion laws, it’s clear that many lawmakers believe that it is. They believe that a doctor can look at a pregnant woman and know with absolute certainty that she is dying. I’m here to tell you that is simply not the case.
To bank our lives on a doctor’s ability to do so, with so much certainty that they are willing to face prison time, is a sure way to leave thousands of women in the same position I was in. Laying in a cold, bright room, listening to the monitors screech out the same warnings that I had been trying to communicate for hours.
Right now, doctors across the country are desperately trying to get the word out that new abortion laws are not clear enough regarding what constitutes as medically necessary. They have told us that to make these decisions for their patients, they will have to consult hospital lawyers for each case. That is a process that can take hours or even days. And in that time, women may cross those lines between alive and dying and then dead.
If you want to ensure that these ‘life of the mother’ clauses are effective, you need to begin advocating for two things. First and foremost, these laws need to be crafted on the advice of people with actual medical expertise. Anyone who has ever worked in Labor & Delivery can tell you that ‘if the life of the mother is at risk’ is way too vague of a statement. ‘Risk’ is far too subjective. Second, existing clauses must be reworded to give clear guidelines on what is allowed. This will give doctors clarity on what treatment options are actually available to their patients, without requiring them to waste time.
Of course, these aren’t the only changes that we need to see in abortion protection but given the circumstances in many states across the country, it’s a start. If we can make these changes, we can hopefully save the lives of at least some women. And their babies.”
Read more stories like this here:
‘You can terminate the pregnancy or wait for the baby’s heart to be crushed.’ I feared being judged by friends and family for deciding to save my life.’: Woman births rainbow baby after painful decision to abort dying son, ‘He was suffocating’
‘All of a sudden, I hear the doctor say, ‘She’s bleeding out!’ My baby is stripped from my chest. I knew if I freaked out, I would just lose blood faster. I can see the fear in my husband’s eyes.’: Mom describes traumatic birth
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