My Hysterectomy Story
When I look at my 10 month old son now, I have this fleeting sense of loss that "this will be the last time I will hold a child this small," and find comfort in the idea that in maybe 10 years time, the next baby I hold with that same adoration will be our apo. There's a void inside me and I feel a throbbing itch down my belly where my uterus used to be. I have yet to wrap my mind around how I can survive and how much it cost us for that to happen, but being able to give birth and still be alive is apparently a feat that most people take too lightly, even for granted sometimes.
35 was the age that I planned for the most which was a far cry from when I had my eldest son, Mio at the age of 21. I have been with the most supportive and loving partner for five years now and in that short course of time, we have successfully (in our version of success) merged two households comprised of his two beautiful daughters, aged 18 and 13; and his 6 year old son -- all three we spend as much time with as our setup permits; my 14 year old son who at that time was just about to be declared cancer-free; and five sweet cats in a renovated townhouse; mapped out three out of the country trips; a number of surf trips throughout the years; mounted over 40 work projects... the biggest of these would be our baby projects: Roux and Pablo.
A year into our relationship, we decided to have a baby. In less than a year, we had our first child together, Amelia Roux who is now in her terrible twos. She is such a darling and literally brought the most joyous of joys to our hearts. From the time I carried her in my womb, I was radiating sunshine and had a glow that my daughter now emanates from the moment her eyes open all the way to the last straw of her most endearing cries. Last Christmas was our second and final attempt to add the icing on our very big cake.
Our birth plan was that if for any reason that I would have to give birth via cesarean section, I'd already be ligated. My OB advised against it saying "sayang bata ka pa" especially since my last two pregnancies I gave birth via NSD. Economically, leaving us with the possibility of having more children wasn't wise and I had a feeling that getting pregnant past the age of 35 will take a huge toll on my body having a history of slipped disk and a mild scoliosis. True enough, my third pregnancy wasn't a walk in the park compared to the one I had in my very young age of 21 and when I had Roux. I had constant joint pains; the foulest mood; minor spotting during my first trimester... it truly felt that I was too old to bear any more children further after. I always believed that it was mostly a case of mind over matter and that there were a lot more women older than me who are stronger than I am. Instead, I strengthened my spirit while my body was ailing. I thought, "maybe its all the smoking, drinking and late nights I put my body through during my 20s..." but I knew that was the mom guilt taking over.
In my past 2 pregnancies, I gave birth 2 weeks before due date so when I hit my 38th week this time around, I was so impatient already. I was positive that everything was going to go smoothly because all ultrasounds and tests were good, our baby boy was of the right size, all vital signs were great and there was absolutely no reason to worry. I had been 2cms dilated by that time and having gotten used to giving birth in a matter of hours or days from that mark, a week was just too long. I was restless, felt like I was waiting for something else besides the baby. Meanwhile I made the most out of the waiting time, wrapping up emails or passing on plan Bs for my projects and wedding gigs.
On the day of my second weekly routine check up, September 12, I even had a morning meeting that Tuesday before going to my OB's clinic. Finally I was 4cms dilated. We were instructed to go about the rest of the plans we had for that afternoon and check myself in at 5pm. I was finally giving birth that evening. We did the grocery, double-checked our hospital bag, kissed our kids at home goodbye and said we will be back home in probably two days with their brand new baby brother. On the way, I even replied to an email asking if I was available the following Monday for a meeting to which I replied, "I'm on my way to the delivery room. Can I get back to you tomorrow if everything goes smoothly and let you know if I'm up and about by then?" (I did get back to her while in the ICU and postponed the meeting to the following Thursday! Hehe)
I was wheeled in the OR at 7:30pm for my epidural. I had the same team of OB-anesthesia so we were very comfortable with each other, reminiscing the last time we were in the OR together 2 years ago. We were even joking about what playlist I wanted to play this time and if I had my final check of my lash extensions. They cheered me on telling me that I pushed so well with Roux, this should be a piece of cake.
In my groggy state, I recall a heavy feeling in my chest until I vomitted. I felt scared because I never had a heartburn in my life and to have it while giving birth didn't seem like a good way to start my "push". My eyes would shut and I recall the OR lights as I slowly lift my lids once in awhile; I remember having chills and doctors asking me if I felt cold; and checked back after they put heat under my blanket; finally I felt Paolo's hand on my face, he was smiling with a camera in his hand. I saw the excitement in his eyes as he kissed my forehead. At 9:16pm I heard him cry, our Pablo Pascal was born via normal spontaneous delivery with a birth weight of 6.4lbs and immediately laid on my chest for our first touch before he was lifted off.
A little while longer, I can hear more voices and my OB waking me up with Paolo on the other side. This time, Paolo's eyes were filled with worry and unbelievably in tears. I was told that my uterus wasn't contracting and that I was losing a lot of blood so they need to take it out. I had the strength to ask, "what does that mean?" and simply put, "wala ka ng matres hindi ka na pwedeng magka-baby ulit" which I easily dismissed and thought, "ok lang yon, that was the plan anyway."
The way it was explained to me was that after giving birth to the placenta, the uterus is supposed to contract to stop the bleeding. In my case, even after they've stitched me up and tried 4 different medications to stop the bleeding, I was still losing a lot of blood. By the time they decided they needed to do an emergency hysterectomy I have already lost over 2 liters of blood and quickly losing life.
Paolo kissed me again and said, "be strong babe dito lang ako." I felt that he was scared, so I smiled back and joked, "basta beb ikaw na bahala." It wasn't a good joke because I didn't realize then how bad it was. According to Paolo when he recalls what happened that time, I really looked near dead and seeing almost 20 more people in the OR panicking, bringing in bags of blood scared the hell out of him.
I woke up in the recovery room around 2:00am the following day, my throat parched. I wasn't allowed to take in anything, not even a drop of water until about 6:00am. I kept asking to see my family, my baby but I wasn't in any condition yet, they said. I checked my body while I waited for any doctor to update me on what time I can be moved to our room as the anesthesia wore off: my toes were moving fine but something was hooked on my big toe and noticed some bruising on my feet; I tried to move and lift my bum and realized something was hanging between my legs. Apparently I had a catheter which was later on explained to me necessary to monitor my output, see if my kidney was working fine; my abdomen was covered as expected, I had no idea what was underneath but my back felt heavy and glued to the bed; my arms were a masterpiece, swollen up to my fingers. I think there were a total of 8 people who tried to look for a good vein throughout my hospital stay as I needed at least 3 good lines to run blood, fluid and medicine in. I occasionally needed oxygen too. After 12 hours, I was told that instead of our room, I had to be put in the ICU because I was having an acute kidney failure.
My kidney failure was caused by, expectedly, the lack of blood flowing to it. Apparently, when a person receives blood transfusion, the first organs the blood will rush to are the brain and the heart, leaving the heart in charge of pumping or distributing the blood to the rest of the organs. There wasn't enough strength or blood in my most hardworking muscle yet to get my kidneys working so they needed to transfer more blood and pump fluids in to closely monitor if it's working as it should, therefore the move to the intensive care unit. That, along with making sure my blood pressure was back to normal because it was still alarmingly low.
The ICU was cold and quiet, I felt like I was a fish in an aquarium. I was probably the only patient in there holding her phone up and actually talking to the doctors and nurses. That second night, I insisted that Paolo go home to freshen up, check on the house and prepare for that weekend's bazaar (he was half-way into cooking his homemade hot sauce for that weekend). My sister stayed until midnight waiting with me for my kidney to go back to normal and my BP to go up. I needed more blood and even had plasma transfused. I was so well-monitored in the ICU I sent all my family home that night. My parents arrived at 8:00am the next day to wait for more updates. By this time, after 2 nights without being able to see my baby, I was growing even more impatient than I was when I was pregnant. Top that with the horror of our hospital bill shooting up to 6 digits, over 4 times more than what we had planned for, that did the trick!
At this point, I was thinking,
I truly have outdone myself this time;
over-estimating my body's strength
and the time I had in my hands.
My BP was back up to normal by Thursday, September 14. By 4:00pm I saw the nurses in the ICU cheering for me, going in and out of my room to re-check the inventory of my supplies, putting back stuff I no longer needed, whatever helped to lessen the charges which obviously was my main concern over my vital organs at that time. They entertained me, explained my condition in layman's terms and constantly updated me on my transfer to a progressive care unit. I also received updates from the NICU where Pablo was staying while being given pasteurized breastmilk but who none of my family was allowed to hold due to policy -- imagine our frustration.
The progressive care unit was so fancy, it felt like a staycation. Soon as I was moved there that evening, I had the catheter taken out and dared to pee in the toilet for the first time. The real test was pooping, they said. So the next morning, the task of sitting on the bed pan was what I had to overcome.
The smallest things like peeing and pooping,
I took for granted and there I was
conquering them like my life depended on it.
The funny thing was that it actually did!
The third day was where the magic began. I was down to just one IV line and managed to poop in the toilet the same afternoon. That meant my kidney was fine except that I had breathing lapses so they wheeled in a portable x-ray machine and this time found a bit of water in my lungs. Just my luck. Apparently, since I was being pumped lots of fluids for my kidney, there was too much coming in and went to my lungs! I now understood what they meant when they say that "complications after operation" occur. That day was a roller coaster of sorts but I pulled through with my last blood transfusion, the twelfth in 3 days. That night, I was at last transferred to a regular room on the maternity floor and I immediately requested for Pablo to be roomed in.
Friday, September 15 midnight, I was finally able to hold him in my arms. I was frustrated to have a flimsy pair of boobs, yet to fill up with milk but holding Pablo felt like a surge of energy helping me get better. I was eating normal food, soft diet and enjoying the jello. That morning, after the OB team changed my bandages and checked with nephrology, hematology and pulmonology -- I was cleared for discharge with promises that I will rest. I was out of the hospital by 5:00pm with a brand new baby and without a uterus, 2 days earlier than they have expected for me to recover.
Working from home took a whole new meaning. The house was chaos also since we were short of one pair of hands to do the cooking and cleaning and was in between hiring; we had a business to run and makeup appointments to reset. Whatever I can do from bed, I did. I literally had my office and dining table set up from our bedroom and all that were only possible with a team of 3 household angels and my family going through shifts to help me do work, take care of Pablo and attend to our toddler. Several friends have helped too by sharing their breastmilk supply while I waited for my mammary glands to jump start.
The first two weeks was a battlefield and gearing up to go back to work in 15 days was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Thankfully, with help I can walk up and down the stairs, and manage to stand up long enough to do my first makeup gig by the end of the month. I honestly believe that my speedy recovery was mostly because of my determination to gain back enough strength to re-establish our routine and get the work ball rolling. My rigorous 12 day homecare medication was followed to the letter and I had essential oils supporting me -- if not actually, it made me believe that I truly was getting better, enough to actually already produce milk enough for Pablo in two week's time.
As of writing, I am 10 months postpartum and post-op. My official operation records state that I actually had 3 operations: a normal delivery, a minor cervical laceration and the emergency hysterectomy. What excites me is the fact that I will never have the monthly visitor ever in my life! I am surgically menopausal already. I will still have symptomatic PMS but no more bloody shedding. My ovaries and cervix are still intact (so I'm still susceptible to ovarian or cervical cancer -- knock on wood please! Hehe). Also, after I claim my maternity reimbursement from SSS, I can also claim for a disability benefit because a body part was taken out. Small wins, you know. Yay! ;)
Never had I imagined that I would be opened up for any reason, it was one of my biggest fears. But while I was going through it, I felt the same maternal spirit pushing me past it. I see a scar on my belly and only feel gratitude for the doctors who saved my life that night. Paolo would still tear up when he is asked how I am and I can't bear the thought of how afraid he must have been. Our savings are depleted, I'm not sure how we will recover and push thru with our plans but more than the pain or a longing for what I lost,
I feel a wash of gratitude that although side-swept our plans seem to be falling in place,
not the way we have planned them out but seemingly in its own sweet time
and certainly not at the pace I designed.
And I realize that's fine. I think I needed to learn how to slow down.