We learned at Ellie’s 18 week anatomy ultrasound that my pregnancy was considered high risk due to a condition called vasa previa. Basically, the blood vessels that are usually protected within the umbilical cord weren’t, and they were weaved into the membrane in the bottom of my uterus. These vessels are the baby’s lifeline. If my membranes were to rupture, the vessels would sever and our daughter would bleed to death within minutes. There would be no chance of saving her unless we were near an operating room and she could be delivered within a few minutes.
The plan was to prevent me from going into labor and to schedule an early cesarean at 34 weeks. I would be admitted to the hospital at 30 weeks gestation to basically be near an OR at all times. My heart ached over the thought of not being able to see my oldest daughter for an entire month during my hospitalization. I oftentimes think about the irony of this.
Being the planner that I am, I had asked my OB about the “worst case scenario,” because medical emergencies always seem to happen in the middle of the night on a weekend. I was counseled that if I noticed any bleeding or if my membranes ruptured, I was to drive myself to the hospital as quickly as possible. An ambulance would be too slow, and I was told to have my husband figure out childcare for our older daughter since even a few minutes of waiting could be life or death for both of us. I was to call the labor and delivery unit on my way so they could have an OR waiting for me. I was counseled that my baby would unlikely still be alive if this happened.
On February 2, 2018 I went to bed early because I just didn’t feel well. I was nauseated and exhausted from a long work week. Adam had recently had a cold, so I banished him to our guest bedroom so I could get a good night’s sleep. I had no idea that night would mark the pivotal transition from “before Ellie” to “after Ellie.”
“Come on, Mer….you’re a little too old for bed wetting,” I thought to myself as I awoke to a flood of warm fluid all around me. I quickly shot out of bed, ran to the bathroom, flipped on the light, and watched as blood begin to pour out of me. “No no no no no!” I yelled as I quickly raced down the hallway to Adam, screaming as I told him what was happening. “I’m going to the hospital. Meet me there as soon as you can.”
I hopped into the car in my blood-soaked pajamas and drove like a race car driver to the hospital. I had the hospital on speed dial and called the labor and delivery unit on the way. I sobbed hysterically as I told the resident what was happening. I asked her if there was any reason to rush getting there, knowing that when I arrived I would likely learn of my daughter’s death. “Get here as fast as you can,” she answered. And that’s what I did. When I saw my speedometer hit 110 mph, I decided to back off the throttle a little. Thankfully it was the middle of the night and few cars were on the road (and no police officers).
My body was shaking the entire way to the hospital – perhaps it was from adrenaline or blood loss, but more likely it was because I was terrified. I screamed out to God, “please let me meet her,” as I sobbed and gripped the steering wheel tightly. I began preparing my heart for the worst case scenario.
I reached the hospital in record time and threw my car into park, keys still in the ignition and engine running. The valet employee tried to ask me questions, but I hastily yelled for him to park my car and told him that I was having a birthing emergency. I flew past the transport staff, knowing I could get myself to labor and delivery more quickly than they could push me in a wheelchair. I was on a mission and no one was going to slow me down. Mama bear had a baby she was trying to save.
Due to construction and road closures, I had to park in the cancer hospital and run what seemed like forever to the women’s hospital. I was exhausted and I had lost quite a bit of blood by this point. Thank goodness for adrenaline to give me a boost.
Finally, I had reached the elevators that would take me to the labor and delivery unit. The ride felt like it took hours. I heard the ding of the elevator as I reached my destination. I took a deep breath before facing my reality. I knew that within minutes I would be facing an emergency surgery, likely alone. I felt like I was entering a battle zone, and in many ways, I was. That elevator ride was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life.
The elevator doors opened and a nurse ran to me. “Are you Meredith?” She asked. I nodded. She grabbed my hand and led me into a triage room. “This is all going to happen really fast,” she advised as I was already throwing off my clothes and watching the medical staff pour into the room. Two nurses worked on each arm to get IV access, anesthesia was checking my airway and consenting me for surgery, and the OB team was working so quickly to find Ellie’s heartbeat. I laid there as lifeless as possible, fearing that any movement would slow down the people trying to save our lives. Tears steamed down my face as I waited for the news I had been warned about. I braced myself for impact.
But that’s not what happened. A nurse with a British accent cupped my cheeks in her hands and said “your baby is alive! She’s fading quickly and we have to get her out immediately.” Tears of joy streamed down my face as the team ran me down the hallway to the OR and quickly prepped me for surgery. Because there was no time for an epidural, I would have general anesthesia and not be aware of what happened with my girl. I knew that if she didn’t survive, it would be hours before I would be able to hold her lifeless body in my arms. Unfortunately I had no choice. I prayed with every ounce of my being.
The surgery team quickly performed their timeout and it was time to start the surgery. “Your husband just arrived, Ms. Keisler,” someone said to me. “Tell him I love him,” I said as they placed the mask on my face and I drifted out of consciousness.
I began to open my eyes in an unfamiliar place. It felt like I had been kicked in the abdomen, a burning in the pit of my stomach as the gravity of the situation collapsed on me. I had to know how Ellie was doing but I was too terrified to ask.
“She’s alive, Mer,” Adam told me, and I cried tears of joy at the news. She was critically ill, and it would be several hours before we had updates from her team since they were working around the clock to try to save her. This moment marked the beginning of my journey as a NICU mom, then a bereaved mother not long after.
In a matter of forty-five minutes, my life completely changed. From the time I woke up until the time Ellie was born was 45 minutes. Some days I am haunted by those 45 minutes as I re-live those moments in flashbacks that feel so real it hurts.
But most of all, I look back at those 45 minutes in awe, because science tells me that after 10 minutes of bleeding my daughter should have been dead. But she wasn’t. For reasons I will never know, God chose to save her that day, and I was able to have 10 precious days by her side. I will always wish for more time, yet I fall to my knees in gratitude for the gift of her life on earth.
Do I believe in miracles? You betcha. And I know in my heart this was one of them. Every single second of that 45 minutes was perfectly orchestrated to allow for Ellie to survive her birth.
I’m reminded of John 11:40: Jesus said to her, “did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God.”
If you seek for His goodness, you’ll see it all around you. Even despite the pain I’ve experienced and her ultimate death, I see God’s grace and mercy at work. As painful as those 45 minutes were, I hope I never forget to seek His goodness in every detail that lead to Ellie’s miracle birth.