Seven years ago, I thought I was dying. Not the sweaty, heart-racing, muscle-burning fatigue of attending a hard core gym class or the body-heavy, sinus-infected, fever induced brain fog of a bad flu; there was a chance I was going to die. I lay on the hospital bed, with my husband in tears to the right of me and at least 30 people I didn’t know rushing around to the beat of the monitor alarms and I suddenly thought “Oh shit, he doesn’t even know how to put our daughter’s hair in a ponytail. How on earth will he cope without me?”
You see, I had been induced to give birth to my third child (a tiny little girl who had stopped growing) due to a suspected haemorrhage behind my placenta. My teeny little girl was acting like a plug to stop me from bleeding to death once I had popped her out, and the plug was on its way out! I had to push out my distressed daughter to save her life, whilst risking my own, and the hardest part was not knowing what the hell was going on.
Last Thursday, Kymberlie Shepherd was giving birth to her baby boy, and then she died. Just like that. She never got to hold her baby boy, who will now be raised by his grieving Dad, Wayde, and had no idea she never would. She died from a rare birth complication called Amniotic Fluid Embolism, where the amniotic fluid enters the mother’s bloodstream and can have lethal consequences. It affects around 6 in every 100,000 deliveries in Australia and cannot be prevented. It is still the leading cause of death during, or shortly after, birth and it’s cause is still not fully understood.
AFE is fast and ruthless. It happens during, or shortly after labour and delivery and its first symptom is cardiac arrest and respiratory failure. If mothers survive this first stage, then they face the risk of excessive bleeding and multiple organ failure and the only real treatment once AFE happens is extensive medical intervention to prevent coma and death.
Women who do survive AFE usually have long term complications following the birth including:
• memory loss
• organ failure
• heart damage that can be short-term or permanent
• nervous system problems
• partial or complete hysterectomy
• damage to the pituitary gland
Babies that are born following an AFE may suffer from impaired mental function and nervous system impairment.
Most women who go into the hospital come out with healthy babies. Some have to wait a little longer to get theirs home and some, heartbreakingly, leave without a baby at all. I cannot imagine what it is like for Wayde Kelly to leave the hospital with his gorgeous baby boy Kyden, but without his fiancé Kymberlie.
What should be the most wonderful time of both of their lives has turned into a nightmare of funeral plans and worrying about financially supporting himself in his new and unwanted role as a single father.
In today’s day and age (as my Granny always said) it is amazing that these devastating tragedies happen. We liken childbirth to that of any other medical procedure but we can get complacent when we ignore the risks in what is, essentially, a traumatic experience for the human body. Yes, women’s bodies were traditionally built to have babies, but we need to remember that sometimes, things just don’t go according to ‘the plan’.
High statistics of death to a mother during childbirth has (obviously) become something of the past; it’s heartbreaking that these rare occurrences bring the medical inadequacies of the past into our present day.