There are some moments that no amount of experience can truly prepare you for — and this was one of those moments.
On a sweltering day in July during a record-making heat wave — when I had just hit 35 weeks into my pregnancy — my mom, 4 kids, and I all spent the afternoon making homemade strawberry jam.
I won’t lie to you, I spent a good portion of the time complaining about how miserable I was. And when we were finished, approximately 10,000 jars of delicious jam later, I took a dip in our swimming pool, then plopped into bed for the night, too exhausted to even take a shower.
I had been in the last weeks of pregnancy 4 times before, so I was well aware of that finish-line level of exhaustion. But that day, I was beat in a way that just felt next-level.
Ironically, I hadn’t showered in 2 days at that point, but I told myself it was fine because I would shower in the morning and I had gotten in the pool — so that basically counted, right?
Around 2 a.m., in the light of the full moon, I woke up to waddle my way to the bathroom and found myself looking at… blood. Lots of blood.
I was still in that half-awake state, so I remember standing there perplexed, wondering what in the world I was seeing. Was I dreaming? Had I cut my leg and forgot about it? Did someone dump some red Kool-Aid in my bathroom like I was being pranked?
It took a good few minutes of standing there in shock before I realized a few things: 1) the blood was definitely real 2) it was coming from me 3) this was actually not a normal situation 4) I was going to have to do something about this.
As thoughts #3 and #4 dawned on me, I woke up my husband, who went through the same disbelief and questioning stages I had.
By now several steps ahead of him and fully awake, however, I was moving on to thinking things through. I was 35 weeks along, which I knew was far enough that a premature birth would most likely be OK, but still early enough that it definitely would mean some extra help might be necessary.
My biggest concern, however, was that I was over an hour away from the hospital I was going to deliver at and my care provider had left that very morning for vacation.
As I was standing bleeding in my bathroom, she was preparing to depart for an Alaskan cruise, where she would be very much unreachable atop a literal glacier.
As my husband still hemmed and hawed over how serious this really was, blood started to gush down my legs. Then we both panicked. Up until this point, I had been sort of quietly considering my options and what to do, but when blood started splattering to the floor, I lost it.
The truth is, I had been fearful my entire pregnancy about something happening to my baby.
This was my rainbow pregnancy after two back-to-back miscarriages over the course of 3 years, and I spent my entire pregnancy wrapped in anxiety and fear over losing her. I had nightmares every single night about waking up to find her dead.
And now, it seemed like my nightmare was coming true.
Because I’d once worked as a labor and delivery nurse, I quickly assessed myself — lots of bright red blood, no pain, and a stomach that felt rock-hard despite having no real contractions meant that I was most likely having some kind of placental abruption.
A placental abruption is when all or part of the placenta tears away from the uterine wall.
This can happen for reasons like trauma, such as if you get in a car accident — but in other cases, it can happen for seemingly no reason at all.
The horrifying part, for me, was realizing that if this was happening, there was no way of knowing if it would get worse — and if I continued to abrupt, my baby could die within minutes.
A full placental abruption would mean that the placenta tears completely away from the uterus, meaning the baby’s oxygen supply would be completely lost. Babies in-utero receive all of their oxygen from the placenta, which connects to the mother’s bloodstream. Without that connection, the oxygen supply is completely cut off.
When I realized what was probably happening and the fact that I was over an hour away from the hospital, I feared my baby would die on the way.
I started sobbing, ran to the car without even grabbing my shoes, and we called my mother-in-law to come watch our other sleeping kids.
I had to make a quick decision: Risk driving the hour to the bigger hospital, fully equipped with a Level III NICU and all the resources you could need for an emergency, or drive 10 minutes to the local rural hospital without a NICU to check on the baby?
I decided that the best course of action would be to check on the baby. My biggest fear was driving the hour to the big hospital, only to have my daughter die on the way.
Our local hospital confirmed — much to my relief — that my baby’s heart rate was steady. But without further assessment, they couldn’t tell me where the bleeding was coming from.
Fortunately, by that point, we had been able to connect with my midwife (who was on her way to the airport) and get her advice on what we should do.
After speaking with her, we made the decision that because my baby was stable and we didn’t know exactly what was going on, it would be best to transfer to the other hospital to prepare for delivery.
My husband rushed to the hospital, while I breathed through the contractions that had now hit in full-force. We burst into the OB triage room… and then found ourselves oddly and anticlimactically waiting.
Turns out, every single pregnant person in the area was also giving birth, thanks to that heat wave and full moon. Who knew?
The rest of my delivery turned out to be just as strange.
The doctor debated whether she would send me home, basically saying that as long as my baby continued to be stable, we needed to wait and see what would happen — which was exactly what I, as a terrified mom, did not want to hear.
I wavered between moments of talking myself into staying calm and then completely freaking out, which is when my OB nurse — the best nurse on the planet, folks — got me through every time.
She was a rock, and even when I saw her and my husband exchange worried glances at one point, she never wavered in remaining calm for me, which was exactly what I needed.
Because for me, the hardest part of going through a placental abruption was the uncertainty.
So much of my pregnancy had already been steeped in uncertainty: Would I have a miscarriage? Would the ultrasound show something wrong? Would I have a stillbirth?
I had spent all 8 months of my pregnancy worried something would go wrong, and then, when something did, I still didn’t have an answer. All I could do was take it one breath at a time.
In the end, my fears culminated in the best possible outcome: I had only a partial placental abruption that didn’t progress to a full abruption, my daughter’s heart rate stayed perfectly stable throughout my whole labor, and she was born healthy, with only a week-long stay in the NICU before we were able to go home.
My daughter is now just over a year old, and I will never forget the whirlwind of emotions that her delivery brought up for me.
The fear and intense love of motherhood, the realization that so much is out of our control, and the gratitude for every moment we have with our children are lessons that will stay with me forever.
And I’m not going to lie to you: I’m making strawberry jam this week for the first time again and I’m a little scared of what will happen.
Wish me luck.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer and a newly minted mom of five. She writes about everything from finance to health to how to survive those early days of parenting when all you can do is think about all the sleep you aren’t getting. Follow her here.