I hope that by meeting these courageous mothers that have navigated their way through the toughest of circumstances, they can be uplifting and encouraging to those of you who may be experiencing the same.
I couldn’t wait to be a mom. After about a year and a half of marriage by husband and I decided to start trying. That quickly became difficult, stressful and emotional for both of us. It just wasn’t working naturally so we reached out to fertility specialists after a year of trying with no success. I was put on some different medication and eventually tried 3 rounds of Clomid which all failed. At this point it had been almost 2 years of negative tests and countless doctors visits so we just took a break. A few months later we we’re ready to try again with a different doctor. He put me on a different fertility medication and within a month we we’re pregnant! I could not believe I was looking down at a pregnancy test and seeing a faint second red line. I shoved it in my husband’s face one morning, while he was making coffee, and said PLEASE TELL ME YOU SEE THE SECOND LINE. He did and 7 tests later (all positive) we finally believed it. I was pregnant. It was finally my turn.
I started with a pretty “normal” pregnancy – maybe just a little more tired than normal. I, thankfully, never had one day of morning sickness! I was loving the pregnant life. Around 23 weeks, I developed a chronic cough and became severely out of breath. I told me OB about this and she referred me to my primary care doctor thinking I just had a cold. My PCP ended up diagnosing me with pleurisy, which is inflammation of the lungs, and low iron levels. I was given some antibiotics and sent on my way. Those treatments didn’t work and my hemoglobin levels were becoming an issue, as well. After continuing to feel awful my OB then referred me to a hematologist and we all expected I would have to get an iron transfusion. After my visit with the hematologist, he requested that I get some additional tests done. I got a doppler of my legs to check for blood clots. Those came back clean so now he wanted to do a VQ scan, which would check my lungs. On my way there Adam, my husband, had just gotten out of class at the police academy and called me. We were both hungry. I told him just meet at the hospital, I’ll get this scan done then we’ll go get some lunch. I was actually somewhat annoyed I even had to do this. I was worried it would cost a fortune and it required being exposed to radiation, which I kept hearing, wasn’t great for the baby. Looking back, I’m so thankful Adam was with me. No way could I have done that all alone.
I honestly thought I’d walk in, do a scan, have no answers and leave. That was basically my life over the prior few weeks. I should have known that considering I had to stop twice, from the car to the check in desk, to take a break, because I was so out of breath, that something more serious was wrong.
I walked into the room for my scan and when it was over there was a wheelchair waiting for me. I knew right then something was wrong. The test had shown a high probability I had blood clots in my lungs. I was immediately admitted to the Emergency Room where the ER doctor then ordered a CAT scan to confirm the results of the prior scan. The CAT scan showed I had bilateral pulmonary embolisms—multiple blood clots in both of my lungs and my right lung had almost no function. Everything became such a whirlwind in this moment. I was immediately hooked up to blood thinners, IVs and monitors for the baby. Later that evening, I was transferred by ambulance to the Medical ICU at The Toledo Hospital due do the fact I was pregnant and they wanted me in a hospital that had a NICU.
I remember that day vividly but one of the things that sticks out the most was when I got to the MICU there were probably 10 nurses and doctors waiting for my arrival. I was shocked all those people were waiting for me. I think I looked pretty scared and one of the nurses standing above me said, “do you know why you’re here?” I said yeah..I’m pretty sure I do. She said “do you know how serious this is? You have multiple large blood clots in both your lungs”. They asked me how long I’d been feeling crappy and I said probably over a month. They said why are you just now here then! I said I had been telling anyone that would listen that I couldn’t breathe! And no one could figure out why! At that point I think I finally realized how lucky I was they caught the clots when they did.
The baby and I were monitored very closely in the ICU for 4 days. I was getting out of breath just having normal conversations and starting to lose my appetite. They were drawing my blood every 3 hours to make sure my levels were ok. After 4 days of getting my blood drawn that often my arms we’re completely covered in brusies. Eventually my blood work starting coming back with concerns. My liver enzymes were rising as well as my blood pressure. At this point they started becoming worried I was getting preeclampsia. In order to prepare for a possible early delivery, I was administered steroid shots to help develop my baby’s lungs. I keep saying baby because at this point we did not know the gender, we had decided to wait to find out and be surprised!
By noon the next day, my condition was worsening. The preeclampsia had turned into HELLP syndrome, which is very severe, and the only treatment is delivering the baby. My liver began shutting down and my blood pressure was so high that doctors made the decision to deliver right away. I was told I would be delivering in an OR, under full anesthesia, as opposed to the OR on the OB floor with just local anesthesia. Because of this, Adam was not allowed to be in the OR for the delivery. I went from being pretty calm to completely terrified. How did this happen? 4 days ago I was walking around Target getting a phone call that I needed to go get some test done to now having to deliver my baby, 3 months early, in order to save both of our lives. Up to this point in my life I had never been hospitalized, I had never had surgery, I had never even had an IV before. I was wheeled into the OR where there were about 20 people. An anesthesiologist team, a NICU team, an OB team and a pulmonologist team for the blood clots. The last thing I remember is a member from the anesthesiologist team saying, “Ok Kelsey, you’re doing great, but we’re going to put you to sleep now.”
Our baby GIRL was delivered at 8:19pm on February 16th, 2015. My surgery continued as they placed a vascular filter in my femoral artery in order to protect the clots from dislodging and prevent any new clots I might get from going into my lungs. Meanwhile, Adam was taken to the NICU to meet the baby. After surgery, I was moved to Surgical ICU where I remained sedated and intubated until they woke me 14 hours later. I woke up on a ventilator which was one of the worst experiences of this whole thing. I quickly started to panic and wanted to rip it out. I was trying to write notes on my husbands hand with my finger telling him to get this tube out of me because I could not speak. FINALLY, the nurses came and removed the ventilator and I could start to breathe on my own. Adam was so excited to show me pictures of our baby girl from the NICU. She was also initially intubated but just for a few hours and then she began breathing on her own! Our daughter, Harper Kathleen, was 2lb 6 oz and 15 inches at birth. She was born 13 weeks premature, but despite her early delivery, was doing great.
I wasn’t able to meet my daughter until 2 days later when they wheeled me into the NICU. They only allowed me 20 minutes with her because I was still recovering from major surgery. I will never forget the moment I held her for the first time. I had obviously seen photos of her but I couldn’t grasp my head around how small she was until she was in my arms. She was literally the size of my hand. So tiny and fragile. I just cried as I held her. I was in so much pain from my surgery but in that moment nothing else mattered.
I had two blood transfusions and continued to recover in the SICU before finally being moved down to the OB special Care floor. As the days went on, I was able to go see Harper more often and started to change her diapers and pump milk for her (she was on a feeding tube).
After 12 days in the hospital I was discharged to go home. How could I possibly leave my baby here and go home without her? That night I cried the hardest I have ever cried in my life. My husband just held me, he didn’t say a word. Which was exactly what I needed in that moment. He couldn’t fix it, no one could. I just needed to cry. And then the next day, I took a shower and my mom drove me up to the hospital where I spent the entire day with my baby girl in the NICU. And this quickly became my new normal.
I had to continue to be monitored by a home health nurse and had more follow up appointments that most new moms do. I was prescribed a blood thinner that I was on for 9 months. Eventually, the vascular filter was removed by outpatient surgery. A few days following my discharge, I had a follow up appointment where I mentioned that my calves had been bothering me. Unfortunately, a test showed that sometime during the ordeal, clots had formed in my calf and groin, as well. Eventually the clots dissolved and after about 9 months, I started to feel like myself again.
Harper did amazing in the NICU. There were some bumps along the way, her heart was obviously underdeveloped so she had a murmur (this eventually corrected) and she also had to get a blood transfusion. She was hooked up to oxygen, heart monitors and a feeding tube every day. We spent our days holding her, in time helping her learn to eat from a bottle, and giving her baths. Thankfully the NICU makes sure that the parents are very involved in the babies care. Harper spent 77 days in the NICU and was finally able to come home on May 3rd, 2015, about a week and a half before her original due date. She weighed 5lbs when we brought her home…at almost 3 months old!
That was 2 1/2 years ago and she has had a few complications due to her prematurity, she has asthma and needs daily breathing treatments, has had to get tubes in her ears due to chronic ear infections and she gets sick a lot but she is a FIGHTER and because of her, I had to be too.
The year after her birth was a daily struggle for me. Especially while she was still in the hospital. I eventually had to go back to work so I would spend all day at work then all night at the NICU. My husband and I took a financial hit when this all happened as well due to medical bills and unpaid leave. We are still trying to catch up from that. However, as time has gone on I have been able to feel less and less sorry for myself and more thankful that I am even here to write this story. That I was here for her first words and first steps. That I was here for her first Halloween, first Christmas, and first birthday. That I am still here to see my daughter enjoy her gymnastics class and to potty train her. That I am here to watch her grow and discover new things. She has blown me away by her resiliency and it is because of her that I had to be courageous and fought so hard to make it through one of the most challenging experiences of my life.
I dealt with the grief and pain of feeling like a “normal” pregnancy and delivery experience was taken away from me. I never got to experience labor and delivery. I never got to share the joy of bringing a baby into this world with my husband. Adam never got to run out into the waiting room and yell ‘it’s a girl!”. I never got to hold my baby right after she was born. I will probably never completely get over these things. Especially because I have been strongly advised by a couple doctors to never get pregnant again. Just a few months ago I met with my OB for my regular, yearly check up. Its been 2 ½ years since Harper was born so my husband and I would love to expand our family. I asked my OB about the possibility of me getting pregnant again. And she literally said “I am terrified for you to get pregnant. Kelsey, it is a miracle you are alive today.” I shed a lot more tears that day as well. I want nothing more than to be able to have more children but I know that it is more important for me to be alive and present in my daughter’s life. Just as much as I need her, she needs me.
My husband and I are now exploring different ways to grow our family. We would love the thoughts and prayers as we embark on a completely new journey! But until that may or may not happen for us I have Harper, who is a daily reminder, that miracles can happen.