There are some moments in your life you never forget. Others that have a profound effect on the path you choose to follow. And some that fit into both those categories.
For me, one of them is 2 October, 2007. Although this story really starts two days earlier – September 30, a Sunday. I was tired, exhausted and had six weeks left of my second pregnancy. Things hadn’t felt right for the previous week. I’d kept calling my doctor, but she was either too busy to talk or just gave me quick, off-the-cuff answers. “No bleeding? Ok, you’re fine.” “No cramping? Then I’m sure it’s just normal exhaustion.”
I felt fobbed off and, somehow, just knew I shouldn’t let it slide. I paced the floor, waiting for Monday and my next appointment to roll round. I’ve been around 4cm dilated for the past three weeks and have been given medication to prevent my contractions from coming – it makes me sleepy, which isn’t great, but I suppose it’s better than stressing out.
At my Monday appointment, I argue with the doctor. I tell her things don’t feel right. The ultrasound showed my baby girl was large for 34 weeks. My experience with my first daughter means I know that, once dilated, I need my labor to be progressed because I leak fluid. I shouldn’t carry a baby inside me, waiting for 40 weeks, without fluid or nutrients.
The doctor tries to override me, but I put my foot down. “If you don’t admit me tonight, I’m going emergency to All-Children’s,” I say. She’s not happy about it but signs the admission orders for ‘observation’. I don’t know enough to realize that could be a problem.
I arrive at the hospital at 7pm, bag ready. The nurses at the station are confused but put me on a monitor. A few hours pass, and when a nurse comes to ask about pain, I’m asleep. “No, I don’t usually feel anything but today I’m super heavy and uncomfortable. Something is wrong,” I tell her.
A quick check shows I’m 5cm dilated. Pitocin, a drug used to induce labor, is hooked up to my IV, but I decline an epidural as I have a problem with side-effects that can include paralysis. Besides, I think, this is the 21st century. Nobody dies from childbirth any more, right?
According to the monitor my contractions are coming every seven to ten minutes, but I don’t feel anything. In fact, I go to sleep, waking at 11pm in greater discomfort. After I ring the bell, Jill appears – she’ll be my nurse for the rest of the night. She takes a moment to listen to me and the story of my first daughter’s birth, so she understands why certain things need to happen for this birth to go well.
By now I’m 6cm dilated, with contractions still roughly every ten minutes. I’m not really feeling them, but I am getting concerned – my amniotic sac needs to be manually ruptured so my body can finish the job it was designed to do and let me push effectively. That’s when Jill drops a bombshell – the hospital protocol means, to do that, they need orders from my doctor. And my doctor had left nothing. They try to page her but get no answer.
Jill can see how worried and scared I’m getting and tries to reassure me. She can see my monitor from her station, she says, and will check on me every hour. Fretting, I fall into a fitful catnap – both awake and asleep at the same time. I’m heavy, bloated and uncomfortable. A little pain starts to come and go, different to last time, and it makes me worry even more.
I’m alone in my room, with all kinds of concerns filling up the darkness around me, stopping me from resting. It’s October 2 now, 3am on Tuesday morning. The discomfort is worse, the pain is worse, and still my waters haven’t broken. Something feels very, very wrong. I feel my daughter move a little, but she’s not very active. I ring the bell and Jill comes in. If I can hang on for 30 minutes, she says, she’ll bring her lunch and sit with me for a while.
It’s 3.43am when she comes back. She’s tired and pulls a chair up next to me to rest. We sit quietly in the darkness. I’m so uncomfortable and finding it hard to breathe, but I’m holding back the pain. It’s frequent, but I’m too tired to realize just how bad it is or to protest about it. Jill tries to make a little small talk, but mainly we just relax in the dark.
Suddenly, something goes sideways. I jerk awake and try to take a breath. I can’t. I can’t breathe. But I must make some kind of noise because Jill jumps up out of her chair and hits the lights. I feel like I’ve been hit by a freight train and like I’m drowning, all at the same time. There’s fluid gushing everywhere and I feel the most intense pain of my life. And now I can see Jill holding up my daughter, who is purple. Purple. My mind knows that’s not a good color, but I’m still struggling to breathe. I feel like I’m about to black out.
Jill starts CPR and I’m aware of seven or eight white coats running in. I take a breath, feel fluids leaving my body. I’m so weak, with black around the edges of my vision. There’s my daughter, on a table, with doctors all around intubating her. My brain is freaking out, but I can’t move and I’m still struggling to breathe. I pass out.
When I come round, the clock says 4.30am. My doctor has decided to join us and is sewing me up in cold blood. I scream and promptly pass out again. Next time I wake, it’s around an hour later. Everything hurts. I have no idea where my daughter is or what is going on. Then Jill comes in. Her shift is over, but she wants me to know what’s happening.
My daughter is in the NICU, fighting for her life. I shouldn’t move, she says. I’ve had 25 stitches because my daughter literally ripped me apart trying to get out of my body. Somehow, later that morning, I manage to get into a wheelchair and take myself to see my baby girl. It’s scary, seeing her in an incubator like that, but at least she’s alive.
And so am I, thanks to Jill. She was in the right place at the right time and saved both our lives that day. I knew then that was the kind of person I wanted to be. That was my goal.
Guess what? I did it. Fast-forward 11 years, and here I am. I overcame homelessness, battled the challenges of being a single mother, and qualified as an emergency medical technician (EMT). Then I passed fire academy training and certified as a firefighter.
Every day, I get to give a little back. I’m the person that’s there for someone else in their worst moment. I’m the one who helps them through. And it feels great.
Ester is trying to trace Jill and hopes one day to thank her in person for the kindness and quick thinking that saved her and her daughter’s lives.