Raquel, Alexandria VA (USA)

By the time I went back home after having congestive heart failure, our daughter was already two weeks old, and I had only spent a couple of hours with her. She had been with my mom and my husband, so I wasn’t worried about her, but I didn’t know her. We got lucky because she was one of those easy babies: she would eat, take a bottle, then go right back to sleep. I couldn’t nurse even if I wanted to, because I was taking medication and I was told that it might affect her… or not. Because of that “might,” I didn’t want to take the chance. I knew that it was for a greater purpose, but I was still sad about it. But being able to rest was amazing. My mom also stayed with us until she turned 9 months old. The original plan was that she would be staying one month, but after all that had happened, she said “Oh, I’m not leaving you…” She’s one of those super caring persons. She’s from Columbia, and in the culture, when you have a baby, you need to take care of yourself. You don’t clean the house or cook for people for at least 90 days. At the time, my mom was 73, so it was tiring for her, but every morning, I’d wake up, and she’d told me to go back to bed and rest. It was amazing. It took me a while to process what had just happened to my body. You’re a new mom, but you’re a new mom who is sick. My medicine cabinet was filled with medication, and I felt like a robot. I wasn’t depressed or anything, but it was very surreal. I didn’t really talk about what had happened to anyone. My mom would get very emotional, and my husband didn’t want to talk about it either. I think I would have needed him to fill the gaps about my time at the hospital. There was a dark hole in my story as if a couple of pages of the book were pulled out, and I kept wondering what was inside that dark hole. I felt a bit incomplete, and I think it interfered with the healing process. I started feeling better around the third or fourth month postpartum. Because my daughter was such a good sleeper, I would go to bed with her and wake up with her rested at 5am in the morning. I didn't mind getting up that early: I’d feed her and watch the sunrise with her in my arms, and she’d go back to sleep until 8. Those moments alone with her, they allowed me to bond. It was beautiful.

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One of the first things my cardiologist told me when we first met was that he would not recommend I have any more children. I remember saying “Trust me after what happened, it’s going to be a long time before I even want another kid.” Our daughter was born in July, and in September, I got my first period. I was shocked because they had told me that it could take up to a year. October rolled around, and I didn’t get it again, but I was still recovering, so I didn’t think anything of it. My husband suggested I take a pregnancy test, but I was like “I’m not going to waste money on those tests. I just had a baby in July!” The thought of it was ridiculous. But you know what they say: “It only takes one time”… I found out I was pregnant with our second baby when our daughter was only 3 months old. I’ll never forget: we were having a family dinner at 6pm that evening. I’d bought the cheapest test I could find at the grocery store while running errands, and right before our guests arrived, I peed on the stick. I remember screaming my husband’s name and repeating “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.” I have to admit, it wasn’t a feeling of happiness. I was scared because you’re not supposed to get pregnant on the medicine I was taking. I thought about my doctor, who was going to be so mad. My husband remained very calm – he had “a feeling”! – and an hour later his family came over. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone. On Monday I called my doctors. They were very surprised, to say the least, but they stayed very professional. We changed the medication and talked about my options with this pregnancy. I took a sonogram and… there was a healthy little baby there. I saw an obstetrician who is a specialist in this type of high-risk pregnancies. She was very nice, empathetic. She’d just had twins! But she said: “I went through your files, and I just want to be forward with you: my advice is to consider not having the baby because we can’t predict what will happen during pregnancy and during birth.” But then she added: “If you do decide to have the baby, know that we will support and help you any way that we can. We’ll monitor you closely, and we’ll be ready for everything.” That made me feel so much more comfortable. I went home and slept on it, but it really wasn’t a hard decision to make. I was going to have that baby.

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I had appointments pretty much every week. Thankfully, the pregnancy was just like my first: I had energy, and I was feeling good. Emotionally though, it was hard. That’s when I found the near-miss survivors' group. I read about other women who had given birth after going through that type of situation. That’d help a lot because going through this can make you feel very lonely. I searched for answers because I didn’t want to live in Lalaland, but I didn’t really know where to stand with my hopes and my feelings. I found one woman who had a successful delivery after having postpartum hemorrhage but also read about many others who had to go through it again. In the end, I realized it could go either way, but at least I had realistic assumptions about the situation. Our first daughter was only five months old when this happened, so I was still learning how to be a mom and to focus on my health. There was a lot of emotions going on, but I kept thinking I had to stay in control and keep it together for my family and for this baby. It was so much pressure. Around the same time, I started praying. I’m not a big prayer, but I couldn’t really talk to my husband or to my mom, so I guess I just started talking to God instead. I would pray every day about coming out of this healthy, about the baby being fine. I promised I would be the best mom ever. Those two things – reading the stories and praying – helped a lot. I kept taking my medication, and even if I was concerned, the pregnancy went well. My doctors and I put in place a delivery plan, and I was induced on June 14th at 11am. That morning, I said goodbye to our daughter, and we took a picture. I definitely was scared, but I was focused. I didn’t have that moment where I thought I might not see her again. I knew she was in good hands. I told her I couldn’t wait to get back to her. I wanted to get back to her.

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My team of doctors… I guess they did such a good job at making me feel supported that I was very hopeful. So, we drove to the hospital, and I was induced. I don’t think my husband breathed during the whole labor, up until our baby was born. Everything happened very slowly and gently: the induction, the epidural... I was treated like a delicate flower! They started the process at 3pm, and she came out at 5pm. I got to hold her: 10 fingers, 10 toes. Smiling. She was healthy, and I was healthy. I was very happy. They monitored me carefully, and I stayed at the hospital for three days, just to be on the safe side. But again, everything was fine. Our first daughter came to visit. She was 11 months when her little sister was born. Going back home, I definitely felt a bit overwhelmed. Like, “What have I done?!” It’s funny because the following Sunday was Father’s Day, so for his first celebration's picture, my husband has two kids! It was also my first time coming home with a baby. I felt like a new mom, and it was a very surreal moment: putting clothes on her, placing her in the car, driving home, sitting in the back with her. Walking through the door of my house with my baby… it was amazing. During the first two weeks, everything was new because I had never experienced it. I was able to nurse, and she slept in the bedroom with us. My husband took care of our other daughter, and I got to be just with my baby. It was very therapeutic, very healing to be able to have that second chance, without the fear of dying. It was almost like it was just that first baby and me again. Some days, I feel bad for our first child. She was born, and she didn’t get to see her mother, so I wonder… but we’ll never know, and I don’t dwell on it because she’s happy and she knows who mom is now. I’m here. All the time. The first six months were challenging with two babies, but they did get along well. If my first daughter was a great sleeper, our second, not so much! She just wanted to be held all the time. But again, I was happy to do it. My mom also came back to help and stayed for three more months! My husband was finally able to breathe, but I think he’s still in shock about what happened, although everything is back to normal now. I still follow the near-miss survivors' group and, sometimes, I help. I share my story, and I try to raise awareness around me. I’m on the other side now, I'm lucky, but it could have ended very differently.