I was in the bathroom when a sudden, severe pain struck me in my back and abdomen. I hunched over, barely able to keep myself from dropping to the floor. As the blood drained from my nine-weeks-pregnant body, my first thought was that I was having a miscarriage. I was crying uncontrollably as I slowly lowered myself to the floor.
I screamed my husband's name, knowing he would be able to hear me from wherever he was in our two-bedroom apartment. He came running into the bathroom to find me sprawled out on the floor writhing in pain. "I think I lost the baby," I sobbed. "We need to get to the hospital right away." My husband carried our 10-month-old daughter, and I hobbled down the stairs holding my 2-year-old daughter's hand. We didn't have anyone nearby who could watch our kids; our closest family lived more than 400 miles away. So we piled into our car, en route to the hospital.
The ultrasound showed a healthy baby with a strong heartbeat. I let out a sigh of relief. The blood was not from a miscarriage, but a subchorionic hemorrhage, which occurs when blood accumulates between the membranes of the placenta and the uterus — it's a condition that occurs in roughly 1 percent of pregnancies and can put a pregnancy at a greater risk of a miscarriage.
Pregnant women hospitalized with a subchorionic bleed are about three times more likely to have a miscarriage than other women who are hospitalized with symptoms of a threatened miscarriage, according to one November 2013 study. The same study also found that miscarriage is more likely with a subchorionic hemorrhage if the size of the hematoma is large in relation to the size of the fetus, if the mother is over 30 years old, or if the baby is less than 9 weeks old.
I was 37 years old, and being an older mother made me much more likely to have the condition. The hemorrhage was substantial, and I had just hit the nine-week mark in my pregnancy.
I had already had a subchorionic hemorrhage with my second pregnancy, which was only a year before my third. At that time, I was an American expat living in Dubai, where I gave birth to my first daughter. I had an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy at two months, which was considered routine maternity care at the American Hospital in Dubai. By chance, a small hematoma was found on the ultrasound. I had no idea that I even had it, because there was no bleeding or pain. But a week after that, I started to have light spotting. My OB-GYN said I should be fine to fly from Dubai to the U.S. to present at a professional conference and to visit family, plans I had already made before learning about the hemorrhage. But I ended up having slightly more bleeding during and after my outgoing flight, so I opted to stay and have my second baby at home in the U.S. versus flying back to Dubai. I didn't want to take any more chances by flying with an active bleed.
I was too worried about a reoccurrence of bleeding to enjoy a walk or feel comfortable playing with my 1- and 2-year-old kids, who could accidentally hit my pregnant belly.
The subchorionic bleed with my third pregnancy, however, was much larger than the one with my second, and required me to make some significant changes to my lifestyle. I went on pelvic rest, which meant not having sex or otherwise putting strain on the pelvic area. Before the hematoma, I exercised frequently by taking walks, doing yoga, and using an exercise bike. With the active bleed, my OB-GYN recommended I significantly reduce my activity level. I stopped all exercise except for short walks to my car and at my workplace, spending most of my time in my apartment. I was also advised not to lift any significant amount of weight, which was extremely difficult to do when raising two young kids. Lifting my daughters into highchairs, car seats, and cribs was uncomfortable, so I stopped doing that, as well. I continued working, though; as a professor, I could do half of my working hours from home.
Although my work schedule allowed me to take my kids to and from daycare, I could no longer carry them around. And my husband had an inconsistent work schedule, so he wasn't able to do daycare runs. My husband decided to quit his job, a temporary job he had taken while looking for a better position, so he could be a stay-at-home dad while I continued to work. I did have the option to apply for a disability leave if I wasn't able to continue working, but that ended up not being an issue.
I felt so helpless while I continued to bleed on a daily basis, wishing I could do something, anything to resolve the hematoma. I forced myself to think positively by imagining another child playing with my two older children. At one point, I even contemplated bed rest, but my OB-GYN said even that wouldn't heal the hemorrhage. Although the spotting eventually lightened, it took five full months before I no longer bled.
But for the last two months of my pregnancy, I didn't change my restricted routine. I was too worried about a reoccurrence of bleeding to enjoy a walk or feel comfortable playing with my 1- and 2-year-old kids, who could accidentally hit my pregnant belly. When my son was born with an uncomplicated vaginal birth just a week late, I was so relieved — I no longer had to tiptoe through life worried that I might do something to make the hemorrhage worse. I could simply enjoy being a mom to my new baby boy.