Today, February 7, 2019, I celebrate Life. One month from the day that I gave birth to my beautiful miracle babies, Stokely and Sadie, while almost losing my life. Exactly five years to the day that Bakari asked me to marry him. Exactly three years to the day of me losing my dear brother, William, suddenly. You see, many people believe in coincidence. I don’t. I believe that God’s perfect timing is all part of God’s greater plan.
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” -Luke 12:48. I tell my story not for pity but to educate and bring awareness to the voiceless. By God’s grace, mercy, and favor, I am able to share my story.
Black mothers in the US die at 3 to 4 times the rate of white mothers. The disparity between Black maternal mortality rate and white women is appalling regardless of education and socioeconomic status. Bakari and I knew the statistics. My family had experienced loss when my father’s baby sister died nine days after giving birth more than forty years ago. Unfortunately, the mortality rate for black mothers has increased since. All of those factors led me to the choices I made when I found out I was pregnant with twins. As soon as I found out, I switched my OB/GYN to a group of doctors that looked like me. Fortunately, I had personal relationships with this group of physicians and I knew that they would take my pregnancy symptoms and treatment seriously.
Many of you followed my pregnancy journey, which was filled with many highs and very few lows. I was blessed to have had few complications throughout my pregnancy even though I was considered high risk. I had amazing prenatal care. I carried my twins full term to 38 weeks. Stokely and Sadie were delivered via scheduled C- Section at 5:28pm and 5:32pm on Monday, January 7th, 2019. The C-Section was a little difficult in that my doctors had to maneuver around a peach sized fibroid that had grown with my pregnancy. I knew the fibroid was there but none of us knew how large it was and that it would lead to complications. Our twins were born and we celebrated with lots of family. We were all so overwhelmed with joy. The babies were great, I was great. All was well. Until it wasn’t.
Around 11pm the night of my c-section, we sent our families home for the night. Bakari and I were settling in for our first night with the babies. Kai, our 13 year old, had just left the room to go home and was coming back in the morning to stay with me and the babies all day. The lactation nurse was at my bedside helping me master tandem breastfeeding. Bakari was sitting on the other side of the bed. I remember telling him that I was getting hot. I had both babies on my breast nursing when I passed out. As I moved in and out of consciousness, I first came to with Bakari wiping my mouth and saying “Baby, you passed out and vomited, are you ok?” Then, I was out again. The next image I remember when I came to a second time, was of him outside my maternity room door screaming, “will someone come help my wife?!” Then, I passed out again. Bakari didn’t know at the time that I was bleeding out—I was hemorrhaging! He only knew that something was gravely wrong and the nurses on duty were not responding fast enough to his calls. Looking back now on my pregnancy, it is quite eerie. During my pregnancy, Bakari and I would go to child birthing classes. The instructor would ask the fathers what they were most excited about and every man, besides my husband, would mention something like bonding with the babies, smelling their babies for the first time, and so forth. Bakari never said any of that. He would only respond, “I just worry about my wife.” Many nights prior to giving birth, I would remind Bakari, “there will be times that it will be just me and you, and you have to be my advocate. I will need you to be my advocate.” It is like God was already planting the seed in both of us that we would have this battle. In that very moment when I passed out, it was just him and me. All of our family had left and he was my only advocate. Bakari shouted loud enough to get everyone’s attention. He messaged and FaceTimed my doctor, Dr. Cannon, as soon as I passed out. The next time I came to consciousness, the room was full of nurses and an Obstetrician that I recognized because she happened to be my neighbor. Some would say, what a coincidence? She stood over me and said, “Your doctors are on the way. I heard the code over the intercom. I saw it was your room…Ellen, do you know who I am?” I responded, “yes.” She went on to say that she had seen Kai (my 13 year old) earlier in the elevator and that Kai had told her that I had given birth to twins. Whatever she did, she had gotten me stabilized. God’s timing.
Minutes later, not one but all three of the doctors in the practice showed up and were at my bedside. Each one was doing something different to me. Dr. Paige came in with an Ultrasound machine to ultrasound my abdomen. Dr. Freeman checked my cervix. Dr. Cannon was checking my bleeding and vitals and talking with Bakari. They all agreed they were taking me back to surgery. I asked were they sure? They said absolutely. Minutes later, they were prepping me for surgery.
I was conscious going into surgery. I told my doctors that whatever they had to do, I had to live. I had to for my 13 year old daughter, Kai who needs me so much. For my husband and for my twins that I hadn’t even gotten to spend but a few hours of their lives with them. I had to live for my parents that have already lost one child suddenly. And, for my siblings who couldn’t possibly handle another loss. I had to live for myself because I have so much more work to do and so much more life to live.
Drs. Cannon, Freeman, and Paige held my hand and we prayed. And in that moment, I knew that this is why I chose these women to care for me. I knew they would do everything in their power, wisdom and experience to save my life. The female anesthesiologist was also amazing. She had done my spinal for my c-section and we had bonded over our love for lash extensions. She came into the room and said “I hear you lost a few lashes!” I laughed. She said, “Don’t worry, we are going to take great care of you.” She was so good and I was grateful. I heard her ordering all types of blood over a call with the hospital. She demanded their attention. I heard her order Cryo-cell, platelets—all sorts of things… She demanded “I need it now!” At that point, I knew the severity of my situation as I drifted off to sleep.
I was hemorrhaging. My uterus was contracting trying to “clap-down”. But because of the peach size anterior fibroid and my cervix not dialating, the uterus was working and the blood had nowhere to go. So, it pooled inside of my uterus. The blood started clotting. My doctors said once they reopened my uterus, they were pulling out clots after clot. An average adult has between 9-12 units of blood in their body. I had lost so much blood that I received 7 units of blood and 6 units of platelets through a blood transfusion. After they removed all of the clots from my uterus that had formed, in order to stop my bleeding, they inserted a device called a “Bakri” Tamponade. It was similar to a water ballon in my uterus. My doctors filled the ballon up with water to put pressure on my uterus to stop the bleeding. You might say what a coincidence that the device that saved your life was so close to your husband’s name. I say not a coincidence at all.
I woke up fighting. Literally. Fighting so much they had to restrain me. I was put on a ventilator because of having two major surgeries in such a short period of time. When came to, I wanted that thing out of my throat! I vaguely remember Bakari coming in to kiss me and telling me to calm down. He said that I didn’t. I needed to get up, I wanted to be awake. The nurse said that with the major abdominal surgery, she couldn’t believe that I was lifting my body the way I was. The ICU doctors were worried that I would injure myself so they sedated me with Propofol and Fentanyl, both extremely powerful. I vaguely remember Ione, my sister, standing at my bedside. She saw my fight and said “Oh, my sister is going to be ok.” I vaguely remember my best friend,Tara, at my bedside. With the ventilator still in my throat and my hands in wrist restraints, I motioned to Tara to get me a pen. She did. I wrote “This is a shit show”, she laughed. I wrote, “Tell them to take this thing out of my throat”. The nurses couldn’t believe that I was doing all of this while still on the ventilator and medication. But, I was determined.
The ICU doctor finally took me off the ventilator. I had fluid around my heart and lungs, my body was swollen like I had been in a bad accident, and I had tubes going in and out of my body. They told me I would spend several days in ICU and I wouldn’t be able to see Kai and the twins for a few days. I refused that. I said I am getting out of here as soon as possible and I will be back with my babies. 36 hours I spent in the ICU. I saw Stokely and Sadie one time in those 36 hours when they brought them down in an incubator to see me. I told them do not bring my babies any more because I didn’t want them to get sick from germs in the ICU. I knew I had to get well so I could be back with my babies. It was scary for Kai to come to the ICU so I insisted on her only visiting with the babies. While in ICU, I took one dose of oxycodone and it made me nauseous. After that one dose, I told the nurses to just give me regular Tylenol. I was in pain but I refused to be unaware of my symptoms. I didn’t want to sleep because I feared that I would not wake.
I got out of ICU 36 hours later on that Wednesday afternoon. The ICU nurses and doctors we surprised that I had recovered so quickly. I thank God everyday for his mercy. We all left the hospital on Friday, January 11, 2019. I was relieved to be going home. I was weak and sore from my surgeries so getting around was difficult. The first week at home was filled with restless, crying nights. I hadn’t slept more than 30 minute periods at a time. I would dose off and anxiously wake in fear that if I let myself fall into deep sleep that I may not wake. Bakari had arranged for me to have help around the clock and had gotten the babies on a nice feeding schedule while I was in ICU. Our village of family and friends stepped in majorly and made sure we had everything we needed.
Four weeks later, I am well. I am sleeping as much as can be expected with newborn twins. Our babies are thriving. I am thankful for my amazing team of doctors and my circumstances. I know that I was lucky. I know that if one small detail in the chain of events had happened differently, I, very likely, would not be here to share my story. God gave me two miracle gifts on January 7, 2019 in the images of our twins, Stokely and Sadie. God also gave me a test, so I can share my testimony. I thank God every day that he spared my life that night because I have so much more life to live and so much work to do.
Happy One Month Stokely and Sadie- Mom