Placenta Previa and an Emergency C-Section Wasn’t What I Had In Mind

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placenta previa

My husband and I were thrilled when we found out that we were pregnant. It took every ounce of self-control not to share the news with friends and family until the perfunctory 12-week mark (at which point, game on!). The pregnancy was progressing well, and with every “normal” from the doctors, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. For our 20 week ultrasound, which took place for us around 22 weeks, my husband and I went to the doctor appointment, excited beyond words to get a peek at the outline of our little girl’s beautiful head, liver, heart and toes.

We sat down with the ultrasound tech, and after a few minutes of going through the motions she took a deep breath and said “Oh, if you think you’re going to have a vaginal delivery, you’re wrong.” Taken aback (and, might I add, naked from the waist down), I asked why she said this but she wouldn’t share any more information. My husband and I gave each a knowing look that said, “Seems like we’ll be asking the doctor for more information.”

We were able to meet with the doctor soon after, and while she at first assumed there was no issue and was ready to let us leave her office, we persisted in asking for information about what the tech had let slip – and after checking with the tech and reviewing the ultrasound images, she returned to our exam room and said, “So, you have a placenta previa. [Note – I had no idea what this was and of course started to panic.] This means you’re going to be on pelvic rest – so no working out and no sex. And, we’re going to schedule your C-section now. You also could bleed out so watch for that.”

My husband said I turned white at this moment, and many of the subsequent details are somewhat of a blur.

Upon getting home, having never heard of a placenta previa, I googled the term and was shocked by some of what I read – the traditional horror stories about women who are on significant bedrest, women who “bleed out” and are quite high risk, and potential dangers to the baby.

In a nutshell – placenta previa occurs when the placenta attaches to the uterus in a position which covers (either completely or partially) the cervix. Or, as I explained to my male co-workers, the exit is blocked. This condition randomly occurs in approximately 1 in 200 women, and in the vast majority (some websites estimating that number at 90%), the placenta placement shifts as the uterus naturally expands with pregnancy and the condition is resolved; in these cases, a vaginal delivery is possible. If the condition does not resolve, a C-section is the safest method of delivery.  I had to accept that a C-section was potentially in my future, and it took a few days for me to get past the disappointment of not having a vaginal delivery.

I ultimately switched doctors, and my new doctor advised us to wait to see if the previa moved/shifted before scheduling a C-section. After my 36 week exam, when it was clear that the lazy jerk of a placenta had not moved enough, my C-section was scheduled. At this point, I had not experienced any complications with the previa and I was feeling strangely confident that I would have the C-section as planned. I felt more in control of the process for the first time in weeks. Silly me.

About a week before the scheduled C-section, I stood up from my desk at home and felt a gush of warm liquid. I moved quickly to the bathroom, and found my underwear soaked with blood.  I called to my husband, and showed him my underwear – without skipping a beat, he threw our things into a suitcase and we jumped in the car and drove to the hospital.

It took us about half an hour to reach the hospital. We walked into the triage unit around 11:15 am, joked around with the intake staff and then were sent to the labor and delivery waiting room. After a while, a nurse came in, and after consulting with the doctors, said “I’m not sure if anyone told you this, but you’re going to have an emergency C-section today.” At this point, my jaw dropped and my mind started racing.  I still had 6 days to prepare for a baby! There was so much I needed to do (buy bottles!) and certainly hadn’t wrapped up my projects at work. I wasn’t ready! However, when you’re past 37 weeks with a previa and are bleeding –you’re a ticking time bomb (the doctor’s words, not mine).

I was rushed into surgery, and about an hour and a half after walking through the hospital doors I was receiving an epidural in the operating room. My husband, in scrubs, soon joined me while a sheet blocked his view of what I am sure would have been a traumatic sight (quite possibly preventing the prospect of conceiving a second child). After truly just a few minutes of chit chat, we heard a cry. Turning to each other, our mouths dropped open – at 1:21 pm, we were parents! While the news registered with us both, my husband looked around the room which he later told me resembled a crime scene. My placenta had shifted slightly during the end of the pregnancy and was not only slightly blocking the cervix, but was also blocking the incision site for the C-section so the doctors had to cut through the placenta to reach the baby.  Thankfully, I had tremendously skilled doctors (two from the group along with a chief resident) and nurses working on me. Despite losing 40 ounces of blood and feeling a bit light headed, I had a wonderful experience and my placenta previa was just a hiccup in my birth story.

My C-section recovery, while not glamorous, was also quite a bit better than I had expected. And, most importantly, our beautiful daughter was absolutely perfect. While the next few weeks were the most difficult of my life, filled with more self-doubt and maternal guilt than I knew I was capable of, I have a wonderful, healthy, happy baby girl and a scar that looks less and less like Frankenstein every day. The placenta previa and emergency C-section, while momentarily nerve wracking and certainly not what I had initially envisioned when picturing my delivery, were mere speed bumps in my overall pregnancy experience and in no way impacted the health of our beautiful daughter.

Sara is a mom to her beautiful daughter, Rachel, and a wife to her wonderful husband, Tim. When she’s not kissing Rachel’s chubby cheeks or changing her dirty diapers, she’s a commercial real estate finance attorney in Chicago, Illinois.