accreta experience: Stephanie goodell
A marathon begins with a single step, so does accreta recovery
When I made an “off-the-cuff” comment to my office mate, I had no idea where it was going to go. I had just made a Facebook post that the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) marathon team was looking for runners. When a friend responded with interest, I said, “Well if she’s going to run, that means I have to, right?” Yes was the answer, and I was literally off and running.
I have never been a runner. As a kid, my choice for transportation was my bike. This continued into my 20’s and 30’s. I mean, why would you take hours and hours to run 26.2 miles when you could bike it much faster? So last October, when I was accepted to the team, I couldn’t even run a mile. Six months prior, I was in the hospital fighting for my life. As a result, I had only been cleared to resume my exercise routine in June.
What motivated me to run my first marathon- the Boston marathon (known as the world’s hardest)? It was my pregnancy, increta and hospital experience with the incredible Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) team at BIDMC. Their excellent care, compassion and support inspired me to raise money for the OB/Gyn department, and I couldn’t think of a better way to honor my survival than to run the marathon.
After 8 years of infertility and multiple miscarriages, I was finally pregnant and healthy. Or so I thought. At 21.5 weeks, I began leaking amniotic fluid and was diagnosed with Preterm Premature Rupture of the Membranes (PPROM). Soon after, I went into early labor. Although the baby had a strong heartbeat, I began to decline during the 3 days of labor. Infection had set in and things took a very serious turn. My long-awaited pregnancy ended surgically, and the next few weeks were spent on a multitude of antibiotics, being seen by dozens of doctors and specialists, endless imaging, blood transfusions and speculation about what was wrong. As time passed and my condition did not improve, the doctors’ diagnosis was that I needed a hysterectomy to control the infection. The biopsy explained it all: I had undiagnosed placenta increta and the point of the increta attachment to my uterus was infected.
Now it’s hard to know what happened first-did the increta cause the amniotic sac to leak? Was there infection before I was admitted to the hospital? Was it caused by increta or something else? I don’t sit and think about the answers to these questions because here is what I do know: my life was at risk and I didn’t even know it. I was planning on delivering at the local community hospital; one that did not have the resources to manage an unexpected and serious placenta disorder. As I realized this, my life flashed before me, and I knew that I had just skirted death.
The gratitude and the sorrow equally filled my spirit.
If you’re reading this, you likely know that recovering from such a traumatic placental disorder is a marathon. And just when you think that you are getting stronger, there is a setback. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of similarities between accreta recovery and marathon training. The cycle of grief is similar to preparing for a marathon, from the first step, to the unexpected, to beginning again, to high points and to the low lows.
It all begins with the first step. In marathon training, that first step is the most important one. Then the next one...and so on. It’s simply putting one foot in front of the other. With accreta recovery, that one step may simply be to get out of bed. Or to return a text message from a caring friend. It’s just one simple step, but often a hard one that leads to another and another.
Have a plan and keep the long-term view. It took me six months to prepare for my run. I never thought I’d see the day that my training plan finally reached the 10 mile mark, or the 15 mile mark. But it was a thoughtful plan that was realistic over time. I was exuberant when I actually ran 10 miles. But the next week, for some reason, my body only wanted to do 8. It was frustrating. Just when I felt strong, I felt like I was slipping back.
Be prepared for the plan not to go accordingly. This is so true of the sadness and grief that comes with accreta, especially if it involved pregnancy loss or an inability to have kids as a result. An accreta recovery plan might include a list of things that bring you joy-pedicures with friends, an art class, trying a new recipe. It should have a timeline. And it should have flexibilty-the unexpected will come along, you’ll feel a new intensity of sadness that you thought you had already overcome, and you’ll have to begin again. While I was training for my marathon, a sinus infection sidelined me, then an injury. I felt like I was making so much progress! It was frustrating. Looking back, this was when I had to both be patient with myself while digging deep. Easier said than done, but…
Have a community of supporters. I know that I could not have trained for the marathon on my own. The words of encouragement from my BIDMC marathon teammates, along with other charity runners and our coach, kept me going when I felt like quitting. As accreta survivors, whether you are the primary survivor or a family member or friend of one, we have each other. We have the National Accreta Foundation (NAF) as wonderful resource and we an ability to connect across states and countries with the Facebook group. We come together around a common pain, along with a common desire to overcome it for a better future.
Watch the milestones carefully. I have found that certain holidays and dates are a trigger for my sadness. Although I celebrate my March hospital release date, I find myself getting sad in July. It’s hard to celebrate July 4th when I look ahead to my July 14th due date. It was supposed to be so joyful. I have to bring a new awareness to my emotions and know when to reach out for help. For the marathon, I was watching a nagging pain in my knee, and days before the marathon, I made an emergency trip to the doctor to get some relief. I’m glad I did, and I probably waited too long. With emotions, it’s really important to monitor the grief and to find a trained professional to help in a timely manner.
Recovery is easier when you can focus on doing something to benefit others. Raising money for the marathon helped me to feel like I was repaying a debt to my doctors while it proved to us all that both my body and mind were strong. I wrote a blog post for the New England Center for Placental Disorders where I say, “What could have been a huge, dark cloud in my life has become one with many opportunities to give back to those who healed me in my most critical moments of medical need.”
Ultimately, we are all stronger than we think. And that strength is exhibited when we take a single step and have patience with ourselves. Just like running 26.2 miles, it’s possible. It really is. People do it all of the time! Will I run another marathon? Nah, I’ll stick to the bike. But I’m grateful for the journey and to have learned a few things about myself along the way.
Do you have an accreta story to share?
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Stephanie Goodell is now the Director of Administrative Programs in the Office of Development at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). She walks in gratitude to work at the same hospital where her caregivers saved her life.