[Note from Katie: I asked Amy if I could share her birth story and her organization, Hippilongstockings.com, which is working to help reduce the maternal and infant death rates in places of the world like Africa (where they are working to build a birth center and stock basic life-saving supplies). Each purchase from Hippilongstockings.com sends money and a similar item to a mother and child who are truly in need. I felt compelled to share her story as I had a similar experience (placenta previa and hemorrhage with my third child and also only survived because of my geographical location. My hope is that we can help other moms around the world to have access to the same care.]
The Homebirth of Nova Irons Payton
(For my sweet Grandma Connie: She is from Kenova, West Virginia and her maiden name is Irons)
I woke up in the morning, lounged around with Iyla and Ione, made some eggs and started to plan the day. I was 39 weeks pregnant and since both Iyla and Ione were two weeks late, I didn’t expect anything different from this little one. Today was eight days before her due date. Iyla and Ione went upstairs and took a bath, I stayed downstairs finalizing the purchase of a car seat on Amazon. The girls came downstairs after their bath with nail polish, so I clipped their toenails and painted them a pretty purpleish-pink color. Ione was extra excited at how pretty her toes were, and as usual Iyla did her sweet over exaggerated “OH! Ione! Sooooooooo pretty!” The way Iyla complimented or encouraged Ione always made her beam from ear to ear, so proud of her little painted toes.
The girls were still naked, I was about to ask Iyla to get dressed for the day. I took off my shirt to stand up and head for the shower and take Ione upstairs with me to get her dressed.
When I stood up, I felt something gush out of me.
Surprised, I thought I must have peed my pants. Either that or my water just broke, but that couldn’t possibly be…my water didn’t break until I had been in labor for hours with my other two. I walked to the bathroom and just felt more gushing, and when I got to the bathroom I took off my pants and was bleeding. A lot.
I will never be able to explain what went through my head at that moment. Throughout this whole situation, this particular moment haunts me the most. The fear that I felt right then was not comparable to anything I have experienced. There was so much blood coming out of me, something was very wrong. I didn’t know where to start.
We are all naked. Every step I take more blood comes out. My cell phone doesn’t work in this part of the house. “Dear God please don’t let my kids see this and freak out, please let me live, please don’t let my baby die…….etc. etc. etc.”
In planning our home birth, Ryan and I were very excited. We envisioned it much like Ione’s very peaceful uninterrupted water birth. We were both diligently preparing, gathering everything we needed, inflating the tub, picking out music, etc. We thought the biggest deviation from our plan may be that we wouldn’t get a chance to fill up the tub, or that one of our best friends and amazing birth support people Sarah wouldn’t make it in time. Sarah and Natalie were not only present for Ione’s birth, but they were a huge part of the whole process. We had already been bummed out that Natalie wouldn’t be there. We had dinner with Sarah and Natalie the night before and it was the last time we were going to see Natalie before her and her boyfriend Mike left on their amazing journey across the world a few days later….because CLEARLY I would not have this baby early.
Ryan and I talked about our fears and excitements in having another baby.
We decided to wait to find out the sex because there were so many cool things about having a another girl and so many cool things about having a boy that it didn’t really weigh on us heavily. I expressed several fears to Ryan, one being not having enough arms to give my kids all of the attention they needed. The other thing I said to him was, “the only thing I really fear about the birth itself is a placental abruption or a c-section, but that’s not gonna happen so I’m good!”
A placental abruption is when the placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus before the baby is born, varying in degrees of severity, from slight to severe and deadly. In severe placental abruptions the placenta is born first, in which case the baby usually dies and the mother can then bleed to death. In all of the extensive childbirth research I had put myself through, I knew that this was very rare and found out later that it only happens in 1% of women worldwide. Of that 1%, less than a quarter of those women have a severe abruption where the entire placenta detaches and the mother starts hemorrhaging .
I have read several books by a world renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin, and in one of those, she discusses this anomaly. She also discusses what happens in a placental abruption and how women and babies can be saved in the unlikely event that this occurs. Oddly enough, I had the privilege of meeting Ina May Gaskin three days before this happened, and I will be forever grateful to her for discussing this in her books.
I immediately started panicking inside. I knew by the speed and the amount of blood exactly what was happening and how much danger my baby and I were in.
I grabbed my phone from the living room and walked back to bathroom hoping the girls weren’t paying attention. I dialed 911 and said:
“Please send and ambulance. I am 39 weeks pregnant and I just started bleeding profusely. I am not in labor, please hurry, my kids are here with me.”
Just as that came out of my mouth, the call was dropped before I heard a response. (I get horrible service in that part of my house)
So I walked over to the house phone and of course it wasn’t on the receiver. At this point, I was completely naked and Iyla walked in the kitchen. She looked down at the blood coming out of me past my hand and on to the floor, then looked up at my face. Calmly and collectedly she said:
“What do I need to do, Momma“?
I said, “Help me find the phone..listen for it beeping…I will page it…you follow the beep and find it for me!”
I needed her to find it because every time I moved more blood came out.
I knew I needed to call 911 but I also needed to stop moving. Sweet Iyla ran all over that house looking for that stupid phone and couldn’t find it. Finally, I told her to go upstairs and get dressed, and to put some clothes on Ione too. I held myself as best I could, walked to the garage, and put the first dress on that I saw on the dryer.
I know it sounds stupid to think of something like this but I didn’t want to die in that dress. I remember grabbing it thinking, “I am going to die in this ugly dress if someone doesn’t help me fast”.
I went outside and next door and sat on the bench in front of my neighbors house (about ten feet away), dialed 911, and proceeded to bang furiously on my neighbors door and ring the bell. She wasn’t answering, but her car was there. I had to sit back down because the standing was making the bleeding worse, so I decided to yell for help…but every time I yelled, more blood came out. I was on the phone with 911 and they were sending someone.
It wasn’t fast enough.
I didn’t want to die in front of my children.
I needed someone to take them away. I needed to use someone’s phone to call Ryan. 911 couldn’t hang up with me and call him until the ambulance got there. I kept bleeding…and panicking silently. I thought I had remembered from what I had read that if the placenta came out first that me and the baby would both die rather quickly. So I did my best to shove my hand up there, in the hopes of stopping anything important from coming out.
All of a sudden, Iyla came running out the front door completely dressed and said,
“What do I do now, Momma?”
She couldn’t take her eyes off of the blood dripping down my legs to the ground. I looked at her with what must have been the most terrified half smile she has ever seen.
She said, as calm as can be,
“Momma we need someone to help you!”
I said, “I know baby, run as fast as you can to Jillian’s house (her mom is a nurse) and tell her mom I need her right now, run!”
She started running barefoot down the street the fastest I have ever seen her little arms and legs move. Just then, Ione came running out the door in only a diaper that Iyla impressively put on her (the cloth kind with a bunch of snaps), saw Iyla and ran into the middle of the street after her. I yelled for Ione but she kept running, then I yelled for Iyla to get her and make her come back.
Iyla started screaming at her.
“IONE! IONE! go back to Momma right now! Right now!”
But she wouldn’t come. I told Iyla she had to come get her and bring her to me, so she started running back, grabbed Ione and brought her to me. My sweet little Iyla had just turned 6 five days earlier and she was carrying Ione who wasn’t even 2. I held Ione as best I could and told Iyla to go next door to Reza’s house because it was really close and to have him go get Jillian’s mom.
I could hear her banging on his door and ringing his bell and yelling:
“Help! My Mommy needs help!”
No one answered. (I found out later she said that I was “bleeding out of my front private”.)
While this is happening, Ione was standing between my legs. I had one arm half holding her close to me and was using my other hand to keep applying pressure and stop anything from coming out, all the while bleeding all over Ione–and she said: “Messy Momma, clean it…yuck!”
FINALLY, after what seemed like an eternity (but was really only about eight minutes) I heard the paramedics. I gave the 911 operator my husband’s number at work and told her to call him and tell him to come home as soon as possible. The sirens were the best sound I have ever heard.
(Then of course the second they pull up, every neighbor there ever was came outside to see what was going on. Where were all you lookie lous when I was yelling for you a few minutes ago?)
Poor Ione, still in a diaper with my blood on her. I told Iyla to get some wipes and wipe her off and get her dressed and Daddy would be home really soon. They got me on the gurney, and Ione just started balling.
I stared at them in total shock as they stood there, holding hands barefoot in the middle of the road behind the ambulance. Just looking at me and waving sweetly.
I knew that they may never see me again.
I told both of them I loved them so much and Daddy would be there any minute. I told Iyla that Ione’s bottle was on the bookshelf and to get it for her. Iyla assured me she would get her more rice milk and take care of her.
“Don’t worry Momma! I’ll take care of her, I’ll get her more rice milk! Can I still go over to Auntie Fin’s and play?”
“Of course! Have fun!” I said.
I was leaving my babies at home with the police. Ugh.
As soon as the ambulance door was closed I started the freak out on the outside, begging the EMTs not to let me die. All this time I knew that it was a placental abruption, I knew it in my heart. I also knew that if my placenta came out before the baby, the baby would die first…and then me. I kept my hand there to stop anything from coming out.
At this point, I hadn’t felt my very active baby move at all since the bleeding had started. One of the EMT guys standing outside the ambulance said ;
“Don’t worry I delivered a baby two weeks ago, sometimes when your water breaks there is a little bit of blood”.
I looked at the other two guys and said:
“Is he serious?”
Right then I realized, “Oh my God. These guys have no idea what is going on or how to help me.” The other guy who started and IV on me shut the door and told the guy who said that to get out of here. I explained to them what was happening. One of them told me to move my hand but I refused, then I explained to him:
“If this is what I think it is and I don’t stop my placenta from coming out, I’m gonna die!”
The only way I was moving my hand is if he was replacing it with his. I was having constant cramping, not contractions.
We were one block away from the house and one EMT yells:
“Holy s**t, dude! This guy is coming at us!”
I look up and it is Ryan, driving like a crazy person, screeching and swerving down the street towards us.
“Oh that’s my husband!”, I said.
One of them said:
“Your husband is endangering us and himself”.
I have never been so happy to see him driving like a jerk. He got out and the ambulance door flung open, he tried to get in (with is car “parked” in the middle of the road) and we both argued but they wouldn’t let him got with me, he had to follow us to the hospital. Then I thought to call my sister-in-law to go get the girls, the EMT called her for me and she left immediately–so my mind was a little more at ease.
But I still hadn’t felt the baby move.
I started poking my stomach and crying and begging my sweet baby to move just a little, anything so I would know it was there.
We got to the hospital and all I wanted was Ryan. They put me in a room, and as soon as I got there Ryan walked in the door. On the way to the hospital, he called Sarah as well as our midwives Sunshine and Brooke. They examined me and I was still bleeding, but it had slowed down tremendously and almost stopped! Awesome!
I didn’t tell Ryan yet that I hadn’t felt the baby move. I didn’t want him to have a lot of time to process what I was telling him before they put the monitor on me. They started to put the monitor on to see how the baby was and I blurted out:
“I haven’t felt the baby move, not at all since I started bleeding at home…”
He just looked at me, held my hand and told me everything was going to be ok, with a half smile full of disbelief. The longest thirty seconds of my life was when they put the monitor on….and we waited. Finally, a heartbeat! We just cried the most awesome tears of joy!
Just then, Sunshine, our midwife walked in. We had a minute to discuss what was happening, then a few different doctors and nurses came in and informed us all about what was happening. The doctor examined me, and told me I needed to try to pee.
Then all of a sudden, I started bleeding again. A lot.
Blood just started pouring out of me again. Ryan and Sunshine, looked down at me and then at each other. Sunshine told Ryan not to look and then said that that wasn’t normal. She asked me if that’s what was happening at home and I said “yes”.
I will never forget the look that Ryan and Sunshine gave each other. Just fear and confusion.
And I don’t remember clearly what happened after that.
I remember being terrified being wheeled into the operating room, trying to hold on to Ryan and Sunshine. I was begging them not to leave me and not to let me die. Ryan looked at me and told me it would be okay, but when I looked into his eyes I knew he didn’t believe that. Then he heard over the loud speaker something about a “crash c-section” followed by the room number I was just in. (I found out later a crash cesarean section means that either the mother or the baby is in imminent danger and delivery must be performed urgently or they may die).
Sunshine held my hand with both of hers and told me I would be okay. She reassured me that this had to be done. I kept begging her not to leave me and to not let me die. She told me I wasn’t going to die.
But she was the only person that told me that.
I remember that was the only moment I felt even a tiny bit of peace…but then she had to let go of my hand and I didn’t see her again.
They kept Ryan and Sunshine in a different room so that Ryan could get scrubs and a mask on. Going into the operating room, alone and crying and panicking and telling every person I saw:
“I can’t die yet I have two babies at home that need me!”
Not one person told me I wasn’t going to die, one nurse told me:
“We are doing the best we can, sweetie”.
Really? She may has well have told me I was going to die.
All I was thinking about were my sweet girls standing barefoot on the asphalt behind the ambulance, waving at me. I had so much to tell them. I wanted to hug them so bad. I was thinking about my sweet baby living without me and my incredible husband being left to take care of all of them alone. The obstetrician that performed the surgery grabbed my shoulders and put our foreheads together while they were doing the spinal and started humming and whispering to me and told me to close my eyes and think of my girls playing.
She talked me through everything, and told me not to open my eyes and to pretend I was somewhere else and all of this would be over in a minute. For less than a minute I could handle everything, then they moved me to the operating table.
I opened my eyes, looked down, and then started panicking again.
“Oh my God there was so much blood..” the OB said.
“..I told you not to open your eyes.”
I have never experienced a team of such caring people. When I was lying down, the OB told me to talk about my husband and my kids. I asked her to hold my hand but she couldn’t because at this point she was prepped for surgery. The anesthesiologist took my hand and started rubbing my shoulder and my forehead. He tied my arm down and I asked him to please not tie my other arm down and I promised him I wouldn’t move it. A different nurse then came over and held that hand and told me to look at her. Finally, she said:
“Amy your not going to die, your not going to leave your girls…”
Finally! Someone tells me what I want to hear! My response was:
“Even if I was you wouldn’t tell me would you?”
She said, “Probably not.”
Someone was poking me in the rib area and asking me if I could feel him poking me, I said “no” then “yes” when I did. He said:
“We are going to need to wait a second…”
Right when he said that, they pulled the baby out and took her away. I don’t know why they did that? Maybe so I wouldn’t know when the baby was coming. I have no idea.
I looked up and saw Ryan walk in the room trying to tie some crazy surgical mask on and saying:
“Will someone help me with this mask”!
He said he walked in just as the baby was being taken out. Oh my goodness I wasn’t dead yet and I was looking at my husband, and hearing a little baby cry. Ryan started to come over to me and I told him to go with the baby. Its funny how the sex of your baby doesn’t matter in the least after something like this. “Alive and healthy” was all I wanted to hear.
I felt these horrible pains across my chest in my left shoulder and up the back of my head. They told me that was because of the air that was coming into my body through my open stomach. Gross. That sweet anesthesiologist massaged by shoulder and reassured me. I’m so thankful that through all of this everyone was so kind. Ryan stayed with her for a while, while they pumped about 7 ounces of blood from her stomach. Apparently swallowing all of that blood puts the baby in a state of shock, so that is why I hadn’t felt her move.
I heard Ryan quietly argue with someone about not putting my placenta in formaldehyde and demanding that they not take it down to pathology for an autopsy. He thought I was definitely going to need it to be encapsulated after this traumatic of a birth. If you knew my husband a few years ago, you would understand exactly how funny that is. After about 15 very long minutes, he finally brought her over.
I finally got to kiss my sweet baby for the first time. My sweet, breathing baby.
When we talked later we both talked about being separated and how hard that was. Ryan sat in a room by himself, just waiting for someone to come get him…staring at the clock and listening to the dull humming of some machine…not knowing if one or both of us was going to die. Having 3-5 minutes to stare at the clock and just….wonder.
He said it was the loneliest place he has ever been.
The last thing he heard me say was:
“Please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me! Don’t let me die without you!”
At the same time I was in the operating room, surrounded by 10 to 20 people and felt the same lonely. Painfully lonely, wondering.
When we were together in the Post Op room, I have never been so happy to just hold my husband’s hand and to be near him. Nova was laying on my chest and blood squirted out of the top of her diaper. Of course, given the events that had just transpired in the previous hour and a half, I thought for sure she was dying. Thankfully–when a baby swallows that much blood that fast, their first few poops are just blood, but she was just fine.
The next several days were a complete blur.
I hardly ever even take Tylenol and I was so doped up that Ryan said I was slurring my words and I sounded drunk. I was also incredibly nauseous and dizzy because they said I lost about 2.5 liters of blood. He made sure that Nova was safe while I was in a constant state of shock. Caught between overwhelming thankfulness that I was alive, able to hold my live baby and complete disbelief that I was sitting in a hospital room for four days. It really felt like a crazy dream.
Telling the story over and over out loud and to myself, my sweet Iyla went from 5 to 25 in one short week. I will never look at her the same, she is a sweet little angel who completely out shined anything I expected from her in a crisis such as this.
My little grown up little girl.
I am so lucky for my friends, my sister-in-law Infinity, Sarah and Natalie for everything, especially cleaning up my house so I didn’t have to come back home to that mess.
And my husband. My crazy awesome, amazing husband.
Coming so close to our worst fears, losing each other or one of our children. Looking at each other and not knowing if this was going to be the last time we looked at each other. That is the worst feeling ever, ever, ever. Thinking over and over again about leaving my babies and my husband was so unreal. He has been a blessing I never thought I would have. So incredibly giving and caring during this recovery, he is taking care of everything.
So, I am crossing paths of weird down days of disbelief and painful recovery and days of unimaginable joy to be confined to the couch but able to talk about it with my kids even though I can’t hold them yet. I also feel a ton of guilt for ever feeling upset about the way this birth happened when I know all I should be feeling is thankful. My husband was right, writing this all down will help me put it behind me and move forward.
I love my little family. My lucky little family.
The birth of Nova and the subsequent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that followed inspired me and my family to change our lives. Nova and I both survived strictly because of our geographical location on the globe. I think daily of women and babies who aren’t as lucky as our family.
We founded Hippilongstockings.com after this traumatic event. Together with our partners, through your purchases, we are helping to reduce the maternal death rate around the world and give children and mothers necessities they need to survive.
My family and families all over the world are thankful for your support.