I always knew that giving birth would be a life-changing experience. But I had no idea just how dramatic and traumatic that change would be.
It has been two months, and I think I am finally ready to look back and reflect upon our experiences during this time.
When I last posted, I was on bed rest and playing the waiting game, hoping to stretch out the pregnancy for as long as possible. We made it to 33 weeks and 2 days. On July 23rd, an ultrasound showed reverse end diastolic flow in Baby B’s placenta, so it was time for them to come out. A C-section was scheduled for that evening. I was nervous, but excited to finally meet our two boys.
Miles Sizhe Pelletier and Ryan Sijin Pelletier were born at 8:35 and 8:36 pm respectively. Miles was 4 lbs, 2 oz, and Ryan was 3 lbs, 2 oz. Although they were premature and tiny, they were both born pretty healthy without any serious issues. I saw them briefly for a few seconds each before they were taken to the NICU. I remember thinking how tiny they were, much smaller than I’d imagined, but elated to hear their strong cries. Len followed the babies to the NICU and said that he’ll see me in a bit when they’d closed me up.
That’s when things went to hell on my end. I started hemorrhaging uncontrollably. My uterus just would not contract; they gave me 5 different drugs, all to no avail. By that time, I was feeling very rough. They kept offering to put me to sleep, but I didn’t want to; I kept thinking that something was going to work soon, and if I just tried to cope through the pain, I wouldn’t have to miss out on seeing the babies that night. Eventually they made the decision for me and put me to sleep.
I woke up early the next morning in the ICU of a different hospital, St. Paul’s Hospital. I realized I was intubated, and Len and my mom were there beside me, but was too groggy to perceive much else. Later that morning, I woke up much more clear-headed but unable to talk because of the tube down my throat. Len was so patient, so loving as he made me as comfortable as possible. We even had a good time figuring out how to communicate my needs through hand gestures. As always, he made me calmer, more relaxed, and almost cheerful in what was a ridiculous situation.
The tube came out around noon, and I’d never been so happy to hear my own voice again. That’s when Len finally sat down with me and told me the whole story of what had occurred the night before. After I was sedated, they put a balloon filled with water in the uterus to force it to contract and monitored me that way for 3 hours. It did not work, and I kept losing more and more blood during that time. In the end, they asked for Len’s consent to perform a hysterectomy as a last resort; and in the end, that’s what they did as it was the only thing that stopped the bleeding. I ended up losing 10 L of blood in the process and was kept alive through continuous transfusions. My doctor told us later that that is more than twice the amount of blood I had in my whole body to begin with.
I listened to all this with a very matter-of-fact attitude, and although I was initially a little dismayed to hear of the hysterectomy, I just felt an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for our medical system. If I had been in a different part of the world, maybe even in a different part of this country, my story might have had a very different, tragic ending. I made a mental note to myself that one day when my body has recovered, I must go donate blood. None of the blood that I had in my body was mine; I was only alive because someone else gave me their blood.
There was lots of talk of sending me back to Women’s hospital so I could be with the babies, but as it turned out, the next day was my toughest day. I was in more pain than I’d ever experienced in my life, and eventually they found that I had a few other complications from the surgery. I had ileus of the bowels, which they treated by putting an NG tube down my nasal passage to suck out gas from my abdomen. They found a blood clot in one of my ovaries. And the most serious complication was a damaged ureter because a suture was put too close to it during the hysterectomy. That was what caused me so much pain on my left side. They put a tube into my kidney to drain it externally, and I lived with this nephrostomy for 2 months.
I ended up staying in the ICU at St. Paul’s for 5 days before I was finally transferred back to Women’s Hospital. During that time, my singular focus was to get well enough so I could go back and see my babies. That was the hardest part of that ordeal. People kept congratulating me on their birth, but it all seemed so surreal to me still. I clung to the memory of their cries and of their little faces the moment they were born in an effort to remind myself that they were real and that I was really a mom. I knew that they were doing well in the NICU and that they were in good hands, but I irrationally feared that I might never get to see them again. As always, Len was my rock during this time, as he shuttled back and forth between hospitals, sending me pictures and updates of the twins.
When I was finally transferred back, I got to go see the babies almost right away. They were in different rooms, as Miles had gone immediately into intermediate care, while Ryan needed more intensive care. I ended up seeing Ryan first. As Len wheeled me up to his little incubator, I felt nervous, excited, not sure what to expect. Then when I reached in, and my hand touched his unbelievably soft velvety skin, I was overcome with intense relief and joy and I started crying for the first time since the whole ordeal began. And when the nurse put him on my chest and I held him, stroking his soft head of hair, a wonderful sense of calm settled over me. All was finally right again.
And it was just as magical to see Miles and to hold him, and one special night, I got to hold both of them at the same time, which was unforgettable. I was at Women’s Hospital for another week, which I spent shuffling back and forth between my room and the NICU, and navigating my way through the beginnings of pumping breastmilk. That was one thing that did go well for me; the nurses and doctors told me how lucky I was to even be producing breastmilk, as many women who’d lost as much blood as I did and received as much physical trauma would not be able to produce any. And I remind myself of that often these days, as I face other breastfeeding challenges.
An interesting thing started to happen as I felt physically better and better during that week. When I was so weak and ill in the ICU, I had no trouble staying positive and mentally strong; I had only one goal in mind, and that was to get well enough to see the babies again, and everything else was irrelevant. I took all the news of the hysterectomy and nephrostomy in stride and didn’t even think twice about it. But it was as though real life finally caught up to me when I got back to Women’s; I had acheived my singular goal, and now the real challenges of dealing with the aftermath began. I felt so frustrated by my slowness and pain and helplessness. I started to feel angry and guilty about missing the first 5 days of my babies’ lives. I hated with a passion my new appendage that was the nephrostomy. And even though Len and I had only ever planned to have two kids, I started to resent having that choice taken away from me. I would get annoyed every time a new nurse came to check on me and, not knowing my story, would ask me about my postpartum bleeding and fundal height, and I’d have to explain yet again that I did not and will not ever again need to think of those things.
I realize that what I felt is a very human weakness. When one is in the thick of a crisis, one does not have any trouble keeping sight of the big picture, because that’s all there is at that point. But once things start to get better, it gets harder and harder to keep that big picture in mind, and the little things start to seem more important. So I kept repeating to myself multiple times a day, “Big picture, remember the big picture”; I was alive, babies were alive and healthy, and that’s all I ever wanted through this whole journey.
I was discharged from the hospital exactly one month from the day I was first admitted back in July, and it was quite surreal to be home again after such a long absence. The babies were soon transferred to the NICU in Burnaby Hospital, where Len and I learned to care for them, everything from feeding to changing to bathing them. They have now been home for over a month, and it has been, as expected, ridiculously busy and challenging. But in between the hectic happenings of the day and long nights, there have been moments of intense joy and love, which make everything more than worth it.
I have lots to learn still, and the challenges of caring for two newborns at once will no doubt intensify next week when Len returns to work, but I am excited to move forward and discover new experiences on this motherhood journey. And I say move forward, because I’m writing this from yet another hospital bed. I had surgery a few days ago to fix that damaged ureter, and if all goes well, I should be going home today. I was really quite traumatized by all that happened from the c-section complications, as I found myself really dreading this surgery. I had mild panic attacks about it in the days leading up to it, and found myself thinking very dark thoughts about the worst possible outcomes. But thankfully all seems to have gone according to plan, and hopefully I can soon put all this insanity behind me and truly focus on our new life with little Miles and Ryan.