accreta experience: joree novotny
Finding Grace in Grief
My husband and I had decided shortly after the birth of our third daughter we were done having children, but life had other plans. Two weeks before his scheduled vasectomy, I found out I was expecting. To say we were in shock was an understatement, “How was I going to take care of four kids? Oh lovely, now we need to get a new car.” The racing thoughts slowly subsided, and I became excited for a new addition to our family. That excitement was short lived.
Driving to my 18 week anatomy scan I felt uneasy, a feeling I had never had before with any of my prior pregnancies. It was then I learned I had complete placenta previa. I knew what placenta previa was but I didn’t realize how potentially dangerous it was for me as a woman who had 3 prior cesareans. My primary cesarean was arguably not necessary but pushed on me by my OB. Being a young mother, I wanted to do what was best for my baby so I agreed. Suddenly there I was, my fourth pregnancy, three prior c-sections, and now placenta previa. Things rapidly progressed from bad to worse. At my next appointment I was diagnosed with accreta.
I decided to no longer blindly follow the advice of the OB that for so long I believed had my best interest in mind. I took control, I found a MFM with an extensive background in accreta. At my first visit with her, she walked into the room while I was having my ultrasound, and instead of looking at the screen, she sat on the table next to me, grabbed my hand and said “You’re going to be okay. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.” After weeks of panic and worry I finally felt like it really was going to be okay.
Two weeks later I was admitted to the hospital where I stayed for five weeks before my surgery. It was a brutal five hour cesarean hysterectomy with extensive bladder repair. But due to the amazing team my MFM assembled, I never became unstable (something uncommon for a percreta delivery). Our fourth daughter was born at 33 weeks and remained in the NICU for 19 days. She’s now almost three and absolute perfection.
The days, weeks and months after my delivery I became depressed. The entire second half of my pregnancy I spent not knowing if I was going to live. How was I supposed to go back home and carry on as if nothing ever happened? I couldn’t. So I didn’t. Nine months after my accreta delivery I made the decision to fight this from the other side, and I enrolled in school to pursue a career in medicine. That was almost two years ago now and I am currently in the process of applying to medical school.
When you’re first diagnosed with accreta it can feel like you're in a fog. It helps to surround yourself with a community of women who know what you are going through. I sought out support groups on social media which helped tremendously. If you’re like me, you have a million questions that might not even be medically related and only another woman who has walked the same path can answer.
It can be painful when family or friends don’t understand the severity of the situation. “You look healthy, the baby is doing great, what’s the problem?” Or you might even get, “Oh I know a woman who had previa, she did fine. Your doctors are probably just being overly cautious.” Don't let others diminish what you are going through.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the care you are receiving, don’t be afraid to speak up. Find someone who you feel confident in. This made such a difference for me and my state of mind. I finally felt I could take a sigh of relief when I found my doctor. This is your life. You get to be the one in charge. Before each appointment write down a list of questions so that you don’t forget. If possible, bring someone with you so that you have support. In my case, it seemed with each appointment the situation was more dire than the last. Having a partner, spouse or someone of support there helps, because at times the whole appointment can feel like a blur and it can be hard to remember what the doctor even said.
Like many accreta pregnancies, you’ll likely have an extended hospital stay. The days can be long. What helped me was to have a routine, even if it is the most mundane things. I began coloring (my girls loved seeing all my pictures when they’d come up for a visit) and I started a few popular TV series I had never seen. Ask your doctor if you can go outside or even if the nurses can wheel you around the hospital. Personalize your room. I hung pictures up, brought my own comforter, pillow and mattress topper. My sister also brought me a wall fragrance diffuser which seems like such a silly thing but I promise you it’s these small things that help get you through each day.
I was in a hospital that was not well equipped to handle an antepartum patient, so I often had to speak up. Hospital staff would come in and out of my room without knocking, I lived here for five weeks, a sense of privacy is needed, so I made signs for my door requesting that staff please knock before entering. Don’t be afraid of being “difficult,” this is about you.
As to be expected, my physical recovery was hard, but what I struggled with the most was how to move on from this. I couldn’t carry on like nothing had happened. I had spent the past several months of my life thinking about how my girls might have to grow up without a mother and how my husband would be left alone to raise our daughters. After the shock wears off, and you’re home with your new baby, remind yourself how absolutely incredible you are. Therapy can be a great place to start. Your mental health after this nightmare is equally as important as your physical health was going through it. For me, pursuing medical school has been deeply healing. Find something that will help you make sense of what you’ve just survived.
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