Willa’s Birth Story

30 Apr

Our lives changed suddenly on April 8th when I went into premature labor and delivered our fourth child, Willa Hope, then started hemorrhaging uncontrollably and came very close to dying in an OR. It’s been three weeks since then and we find ourselves on a difficult and exhausting journey of recovery. As my body heals, my mind has started to process the trauma of everything that’s happened. It was suggested that journaling would be cathartic, so I’ve decided to revive this space for my thoughts as we try to get back to a semblance of normal.

I’ve decided to start with the story of that night. Patrick and I each wrote down our own memories of what happened. I’m posting my own, and then using his to fill in the blanks once I wasn’t conscious any more. I’m only using parts of his story though, because truthfully it’s just too raw and personal for me to share what he went through. I have to warn also that this story is graphic and bloody and it’s Tolstoy-novel long.

So Friday, April 8th.

I woke up that day feeling fluish. I didn’t think much about it, figuring I might be getting sick. Earlier in the week, I’d driven to Las Vegas to spend time with the Andrews and Carriers, who were vacationing there. I’d assumed that maybe I was still tired from the drive back. As for any other symptoms or hints, I had a terrible back ache. I’ve been having back pain all through the pregnancy though, so it didn’t occur to me that this might be anything different. Honestly, I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out if I could have known sooner but it was all just a cluster of small things that were all explainable.

That weekend we were going to stay over with friends in Dana Point. Patrick would be giving a lecture on his book at their house to a group they organized and then we’d be staying to enjoy a few days of beach and fun. I packed us up and after Patrick came home from work we headed out. My pain and fatigue got worse and I fell asleep for most of the hour long drive. I rallied when we got there though. We’d only met these friends, Dean and Joyce, once before but they were warm and welcoming and showed us around their incredible, Monterey-style house on a cliff overlooking the ocean. I was fascinated by the handcrafted furniture and dazzled by the incredible garden that she kept. The kids immediately started exploring and found rope swings and fun things to occupy them.

Meanwhile, I started feeling a little damp. I went into the bathroom and realized that my undies were wet. It wasn’t urine, it was just a clear liquid with a sweet smell. Huh. I cleaned up and then headed back out to the living room. We ordered dinner from their favorite local Italian place. While we waited for it, I went back into the bathroom again, still trying to figure out what was going on. At this point it was hurting pretty badly to sit down and stand up. In the bathroom, my undies were even wetter. I immediately thought- my amniotic fluid is leaking. Is that a thing? Is that dangerous? I found Patrick where he and Dean were looking over some antique books and told him something was going on and I was going to call the nurse hotline. I was bounced around for a while as they figured out where best to direct me- I was usually seen at the Ontario facility, but I was in Orange County, but in between facilities, etc. Although it took a while, I finally talked to a L&D nurse who listened and asked questions and then told me to get to the nearest hospital to get checked out.

I wasn’t alarmed, just unsettled. I told Patrick and our friends that I was going to drive over to the hospital in Irvine and get checked out. I was so unconcerned that I told Patrick to go ahead and start his lecture- I’d probably be back before he was done and I would call if I needed him. Dean, being a doctor, said no way was I driving myself. I didn’t want Patrick to miss the lecture though, so we asked Dean’s sister Julie to drive me over. On the way, the pain in my back was getting worse. When I got out of her car at the hospital, I felt some more fluid starting to soak my pants.

We checked in and were quickly taken up to Labor and Delivery to get checked out. Julie went to the waiting room and the nurse gave me a cup to pee in and then told me which room to go into afterwards. Being pregnant, I was a champion cup peer, so I got that done and then as I was capping the little cup, felt a gush of liquid pouring into the toilet. I looked down and saw bright red blood and fluid filling up the bowl. I went cold all over, stunned by the realization that this was something serious. Somehow I made it back to the exam room. The nurse walked in, started saying something and then stopped when she saw my face. She immediately told me to lay down and tell her what happened. I can’t imagine how shocked and pale I must have looked. She helped me get out of my bloody clothes and into a gown. I texted Patrick and told him he needed to come to the hospital. I texted my mom and asked for prayers.

The OB and several nurses came in and hooked me up to monitors to check for a baby heartbeat. This was terrifying. At this point, I was sure I was losing or had already lost my baby. They poked around for what felt like an endless amount of time before the whooshing heartbeat sound popped up. I started crying.

The OB, who was pregnant herself, examined me to see if I was dilating. She wasn’t able to tell though because she couldn’t see my cervix. Instead, the amniotic sac was bulging out, making it impossible to do an exam without breaking it. The OB did what she could, the gently said, “looks like you’ve found a home here.” My heart sank. I was an hour from home, I was not mentally prepared for this to happen, and at that point I was still on my own.As I was processing all this, I started to feel contractions in my lower back.

The team started the process to admit me and get me ready in case they couldn’t stop labor. They set up an IV with fluids, injected steroids to mature the baby’s lungs, and gave me a few other medicines that I can’t remember, one to prevent cerebral palsy. Magnesium sulfate was one of them and it made me feel warm and queasy. The contractions were painful but entirely in my lower back. There was none of the tightening of my belly that I had experienced with regular contractions. The monitor had a hard time picking them up because of this. Patrick arrived around this time and the doctor explained what was going on to him.

We were operating under the idea that I was in early labor, but that hopefully it could be slowed down or stopped- the scenario was me staying in the hospital flat on my back as long as possible to keep the baby in, whether that be days or weeks, while I kept taking things to help prepare my preemie as much as possible to be born. It didn’t feel doomsday, our OB was reassuring and everyone seemed confident in what we needed to do.

At one point, they asked my blood type. I couldn’t remember, so they were going to check, but then I realized I had my donor card in my wallet. O positive. This would be important later.

We were moved to a regular room, where Patrick started letting our families know what was happening. Our kids were still with our friends, who had put on a movie and roasted s’mores with them. We went through all the questions and tests to get admitted and settled in. Our OB and several nurses were in there pretty much the entire time, which was very reassuring. The main nurse, Michelle, was kind and helpful, especially making sure I was comfortable.

Over the next few hours though my contractions kept increasing and the ultrasound showed that I was dilating. It was looking like labor wasn’t going to stop and we’d be delivering soon. The NICU team came in, led by a very matter-of-fact doctor who laid everything out for us- what would happen after the baby was delivered, what they had in place, etc. It was calming to hear that kind of confidence and know that a plan was in place. We told her that we trusted her and would stay out of her way so she could do what she needed when the baby came. And we did feel complete confidence in turning our baby over to her.

Time passed quickly for me, I was amazed looking back at how long we must have been in there. It felt like just a few minutes to me. Then at some point, the OB was going to check again to see if she could tell what was going on. She was still typing some things into the computer when she asked me to turn onto my back (I’d been on my side). As soon as I moved, I felt an endless gushing between my legs. It really felt like a river pouring out, there was so much fluid. I tried to look down and all I saw was blood pooling outwards from my body and over the edge of the bed. I scrambled up in panic, trying to find purchase with my feet but instead slipped on something warm and gooey. The blood just kept coming. The OB ran over and yelled for the nurses, shouting “Code C!” I looked over at Patrick and saw he was still and white behind a crowd of nurses and doctors.

My OB tried to see what was going on and now that the bag of waters had broken, she could see the cord prolapsing. This cuts off the baby’s oxygen and can be quickly fatal. The fetal monitor showed the baby’s heart rate plummeting. So this amazing woman, all 32 weeks pregnant of her, immediately hopped up on the bloody bed, shoved her hand inside my vagina, grabbed the prolapsed cord and held it over the baby’s head. INSIDE OF ME. I have never felt pain like this before and I hadn’t had so much as an aspirin yet. I was screaming as they rushed me out of the room, with OB attached, towards the OR. I caught a glimpse of Patrick as I went out. He mouthed “I love you.”

Inside the OR, it was a party. There were tons of doctors and nurses in there. I thought it must be a quiet night. They started prepping me for an emergency c-section. I had to sign consent forms and get draped and strapped down, all with a human being’s hand in my lady bits, squished next a baby head and an umbilical cord. There is just not enough room for all that down there. At some point, I saw spots and knew I was going to faint. Everything went black but I could still hear. The doctors were talking about what to do. The obvious choice was a C-section- get the baby out and avoid the prolapsed cord issue (you can’t push with a prolapsed cord). But they threw out some other ideas. Each doctor would discuss an option and possible outcomes. One doctor apologized at one point for throwing out so many ideas, but another said “no this is good, it’s a meeting of the minds.” And it really was. I laid there amazed by the calm and reasoned way they discussed the merits of the way forward. I felt so reassured in their expertise and capabilities. I just hoped that if they cut, they wouldn’t do it when I was half-passed out because I was scared I’d feel it. I woke up with an oxygen mask on my face while one of the doctors’ suggestions was discussed. She suggested that they have me push to see if I could engage the baby’s head in the birth canal while the OB was holding the cord above. If they could get the head engaged and solve the prolapsed cord problem, there was no reason I couldn’t deliver vaginally. Wow. What amazing doctors to even give me that option rather than just cutting. Someone said that sounded like a good idea if I was on board with it. I still had my eyes closed but I raised my hand in a thumbs up. They started laughing and prepared for that option.

I was raised up and told to push. This is where my memory gets a little murky. I don’t remember how long it took, I think it was pretty quick. I’m also pretty sure I’d had no pain medication at this point. But soon, the baby’s head was engaged, the cord was back where it needed to be and in a sweet, sweet moment of relief, the OB was able to remove her hand. I was exhausted by this point but we were all relieved. Everyone just took a moment to gather themselves. One of the doctors told the nurse to go tell my husband I was still alive.

Now that we’d avoided catastrophe, everything seemed straightforward, despite concern about the continued bleeding (thankfully at a slower rate than earlier). Despite my pain, I leaned forward while the anesthesiologist administered an epidural, then lay back and waited for it to kick in. When it did, everyone kept complimenting him on a perfect epidural. Everything that needed to be numb was but I could still bend my knees and push down on my feet. It was impressive.

I think Patrick came in around this point. We had three OBs, two anesthesiologists, a half-dozen people on the NICU team, and a legion of nurses. They explained that I was at about an 8 and with the baby being so small and the bleeding continuing, they would need me to push soon. I asked for a quick power nap and was granted it. I closed my eyes and drifted a little until they woke me up and told me it was time. I sat up as much as I could as they directed my breathing. With Patrick behind me, I did two series of breathing/pushing. On the second one, everyone got excited and Patrick said “you’re doing it!” One more push and she was out.

I saw her briefly, all skinny limbs and quiet. She didn’t make any sound, but we’d been prepared for that. She was raised up for us to see and my OB tells me that I said “You’re so little! I love you!” and then turned to Patrick and told him I loved him.  She was then handed over to the NICU doctor who had her team and equipment waiting and warmed in the corner of the room.

At this point, Patrick and I experienced two different things. I didn’t have an out-of-body experience, but I’m certain that my consciousness and body were separated in a way. I’ll tell you my experience of what happened after Willa was handed over and what everyone else saw.

With the baby born, I knew that I just needed to deliver the placenta and everything would be done. I was starting to feel woozy and seeing spots though. I remember snippets and phrases like “all this blood” and “the placenta isn’t coming off” and “the placenta is in pieces.” I waved at the anesthesiologist who was standing behind my head and tried to say I was going to faint.I felt my legs go limp and fall to the sides. Then everything just kind of shut out. I couldn’t hear or feel anything. I felt like I was just breathing inside my quiet body, staring at the ceiling tiles. I knew something was very wrong, but I was calm about it. There was an awareness that I might slip away, but not a sharp realization that I was going to die. Just a calm awareness.

An article that I read in Time magazine years and years ago popped into my head. It was about surviving disasters and I remember it saying that people who were trapped in collapsed buildings or other dire situations were more likely to survive if they thought about their kids. (http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1810315,00.html) So I did that very slowly and methodically. I thought first about Finn, how funny and wonderful he was, his quirks and his smile. Then I did the same thing for Rhett, imagining his sweet voice and perfect hugs and how he likes to collect rocks and sticks and is so generous. Then I thought about my Lucy, my fiery little girl, how she makes friends wherever she goes and creates art with such enthusiasm. I thought about how much I wanted to keep being their mother. And then everything went dark for me.

Now I’ll turn the story over to Patrick’s recollections, starting when Willa was delivered and passed to the NICU team.

The doctors held her up for us to see for just a few seconds, then the NICU team immediately snatched her, moved her to a work station in the corner of the room, and started working on her. I would have paid more attention to what they were doing, except that it became immediately apparent that things were not okay with Melissa. She lost a ton of blood right after delivery, and only a few seconds after seeing Willa and smiling and saying “I love you,” she started vomiting and then went into shock. She was completely non-responsive, lost all color in her face, and started moaning. All this time I was holding her hand, and then holding up her head as the doctors instructed me to do.

The OB’s working on her were trying to remove the placenta, but it became quickly apparent that they were having real difficulties. In the increasingly frantic pace of things it became clear that things were not okay. After a few minutes — it’s hard to say how long — they gently suggested that I go out in the hall, where a nurse escorted me to a chair. A few moments later, one of the doctors came out and said, firmly but urgently, that they were unable to stop the blood loss, and that the only possible solution was to do an emergency hysterectomy. I gave my consent, and she hurried back in the OR.

I sat in that chair for at least an hour, with nurses occasionally coming out to inform me but mostly to console me — and probably to check on me to make sure I wasn’t going into shock or anything like that. I called my mom and Melissa’s parents keeping them informed about what I knew — though at this point, there was a lot more I didn’t know. A couple of times I just completely lost it. Through it all I was praying, pleading, imploring the Lord to save my wife.

Probably around 2:00 AM a nurse suggested I go back to our room to get some rest. However exhausted I was, sleeping was out of the question. At that point the visits updating me became fewer and further between. On two occasions I had doctors come in and basically say, “We’re doing all we can, but we can’t stop the bleeding.” It was so obvious what was happening. They were working their hardest, but I was losing my wife.

Sat, Apr 9, 2016 at 3:48 AM – “Please pray for Melissa”
Melissa gave birth to our new baby girl this morning at about 12:15am. The baby came suddenly at 29 weeks, and right now is in intensive neonatal intensive care, but seems to be stable. We’re so thrilled to welcome her to this world, if a little earlier than we had planned.

Melissa has been in surgery for the past three hours-plus. She has experienced very severe blood loss because the placenta had grown through the uterus and into the bladder. The doctors have removed the placenta and uterus and sewn up the bladder, but the blood loss continues. Right now the situation is critical but they are hopeful. Finn, Rhett, and Lucy are with friends right now, and we’ll figure things out tomorrow.

My head is spinning a bit, so please forward this info to any of our other friends. Thanks for your love and support.

I knew that people wouldn’t read the message for another few hours until they woke up Saturday morning, but it seemed right to ask for their prayers at that moment. The amazing thing is that almost as soon as I hit “send,” at 3:48 AM, I felt strengthened. I also believe that Melissa was strengthened at that time, in the hour of her greatest need. In addition to all the other complications and blood loss that led to the 7-hour surgery, I later learned that while they worked on her she went into “acute respiratory failure”—in other words, she stopped breathing and required resuscitation—not once, but twice.

The next few hours are a blur in my mind. At one point a nurse came and got me and I was able to go see Willa in the NICU. I couldn’t touch her or hold her, but there she was, my new baby girl. She was in an incubator, hooked up to what looked like a hundred wires and tubes —you could barely even see her face. But the pediatrician in charge of the NICU, said that she was stable and responding to all their treatments. She told me that because she came so early, she would have to be transferred immediately to a higher tier NICU unit. The Kaiser facilities in Anaheim and Fontana, both of which would have been closer to our house, were full, so they were sending her to Downey, just southeast of downtown LA.

When the team of paramedics, doctors, and nurses came to pick her up around 7:00 AM, I went to see her off. She was so tiny and vulnerable in that case, and I felt so helpless, but I also felt completely confident that she was in good hands. So I said goodbye to my new baby — for the second time — and went back to my vigil over Melissa.

Around the time that Willa (who formally received her name only a few days later, after Melissa was lucid enough for consultation and a decision) was being transferred, I finally got the news that the surgery was over and they were transferring Melissa to intensive care. I saw one of OB’s who had worked on her all night and she looked completely spent. We later found out that all the doctors and nurses who had operated on Melissa were sent home on leave after the surgery — that’s how traumatic and taxing it was for them.

I had to wait in the intensive care waiting room for a couple hours before a) they had Melissa situated, and b) they remembered about me. In the meantime, I sent the following e-mail to people, many of whom had already responded to my 3:30 AM message:

Sat, Apr 9, 2016 at 8:17 AM – “Update on Melissa”
Thank you all for your overwhelming and immediate response. I sort of hated to write that e-mail at 3:30 in the morning, but I also needed to connect with my friends in what was one of the loneliest, longest, and most fearful nights of my life. So thank you, really,for being with me, even as you slept. And for all your messages of encouragement and love this morning.

Good news: After 7 hours, Melissa is finally out of surgery and is now in intensive care. I haven’t been able to see her yet, but this is a step in the right direction. She went through at least 16 units of blood; the nurses seemed shell-shocked just reporting that fact to me. She was very close to the edge for a few hours, and I’ll be forever grateful to the expert care of the doctors and nurses here at the hospital in Irvine, as well as more than a little heavenly intervention. And of course Melissa herself, who fought her way through. The nurse who just came in put it perfectly: “She is amazing, truly.”

The other player in the deal — The Baby To Be Named Later — is also stable, though of course she faces a very long road ahead as a 29-weeker. She has been transferred to the Kaiser facility in Downey. I was able to visit her a couple of times during the night in the NICU here, and then see her off. For better or worse, it appears she has the Mason nose.

When I was finally allowed in Melissa’s room, around 10:00 AM, she was practically unrecognizable. She was heavily sedated, her face was severely bloated, and she was hooked up to a ventilator, several IV’s and blood, and all kinds of monitors. I learned that she had gone through 16 units of blood during the surgery (the average human body has 8-10); by the end of the day on Saturday she had gone through 28 units. The problem was that she had lost so much blood so fast that she lost all her clotting agents, making it impossible to stop the bleeding. She was bleeding it out literally just as fast as they could pump it in — and they were pumping it in through several lines, including a central line in her jugular vein. They told me that because she didn’t have any clotting agents, she was still having heavy internal bleeding. Her urine bag was full of blood, and she had a tube draining out from her abdomen that would fill a plastic container with blood every little while.

The nurse, Janet — another in a long line of total heroes — worked nonstop treating her and changing out drugs, blood, and liquids. The supervising doctor told me very candidly that because of the massive blood loss, and given what they saw, she suspected total kidney failure. Her prognosis was, “I hope she doesn’t have to have dialysis for her entire life.” The situation was still really dire, probably more than I realized at the time.

What I learned was that Melissa had three separate conditions that had precipitated the crisis. Each of the three was very dangerous to her and/or the baby: a prolapsed cord, where the umbilical cord gets between the baby’s head and the cervix; a placental abruption, where the placenta starts to tear away from the uterus; and a placental percreta, the rarest and most dangerous form of a placental accreta, in which the placenta starts acting like an aggressive tumor and grows through the uterine wall into the bladder. To have all three conditions occur simultaneously is practically unheard of, and certainly a death sentence to the vast majority of women who would experience it, even in this
country let alone the rest of the world. Every doctor and nurse who looked at her chart or heard the story has just kind of shook their head and said it’s unbelievable that she’s still alive.

“Miracle” is not a word I toss around frequently or casually, but Melissa’s survival was literally nothing short of a miracle. She should have died on the operating room table that night. But thanks to the inexplicable, unfathomable grace of God and the expertise and tireless effort of the medical staff at Kaiser Irvine, Melissa is not only alive but on her way, slowly but surely, to a full recovery.

Sun, Apr 10, 2016 at 12:37 AM – “Saturday night update on Melissa & Baby”

Dear friends & family,

I can’t tell you how touched I’ve been by the incredible outpouring of love and support over the past several hours. It has been a roller coaster of a day, but we’re ending on a relative high.

This morning I was finally able to visit Melissa in intensive care around 10:30. At that time she still had a lot of internal bleeding that they were having a hard time controlling. They had used up literally all of the platelets the hospital had in stock, and had to make an urgent order for a special shipment from San Diego. Melissa had gone through so much blood that she had lost virtually all of her clotting agents, and the sutured incisions in her abdomen were “seeping.” Despite various medications, she was losing blood nearly as fast as they could replace it. Furthermore, she was not urinating very much, and most of what she did was full of blood. The diagnosis I received from the supervising doctor this morning is that she very likely was suffering from kidney failure, with the prognosis, “Our hope is that she won’t need dialysis the rest of her life.” She was heavily sedated and only vaguely aware of her surroundings even when “awake.”

Fast forward to this evening around 8:00, when I left her so that she could sleep for the night. The internal bleeding has almost entirely stopped. Her kidney functions seem to be completely normal, with no blood in the urine. When awake she was aware of her surroundings, was able to write short messages on a piece of paper (including telling me I’m horrible at understanding her sign language and that the parts of last night she remembers totally sucked), and actually had life in her eyes. The doctors believe they will be able to remove her breathing tube in the morning and ideally move her out of intensive care in the evening. She still has a significant recovery in front of her, having undergone major surgery, but she’s on the mend.

I can’t tell you what a relief this is. There were many moments last night that I quite literally thought we had lost her. The visits I received from doctors and nurses were along the lines of “we’re doing all we can, but we can’t stop the bleeding.” Last night she went through 16 units of blood during a 7 hour surgery. As of tonight, she had gone through 28 units total.The average human body contains 8-10 units of blood.

Now to Baby Mason. Because she is on a ventilator, they had to transfer her to a higher level NICU hospital, so she’s at the Kaiser in Downey. (Melissa is at the Kaiser in Irvine.) She had as good a first day as could be imagined for a 29-week old. The biggest concern right now is her breathing, and she will require the ventilator for at least another 24-48 hours, maybe more. She can’t take any food right now, and receives all nutrition through an IV. We are hoping Melissa will be able to breastfeed, and given her recovery trajectory she should be able to start pumping perhaps as early as tomorrow night or Monday. I visited Baby tonight, and the doctor said, “She is stable, but she’s 29 weeks, so she has problems.” It will be a long road ahead, with the norm being that she will stay in the hospital until her actual due date, which is over 2 months away. But she’s active and a healthy pink, with a strong spirit — she pulled off one of her leads while I was there and keeps thrashing at her tubes.

Bottom line: 12 hours ago I couldn’t have conceived of being where we are right now. Melissa’s going to have a rough few days and weeks, but she should be fine. The baby couldn’t have had a better first day, all things considered. The word “miracle” gets tossed around a lot, but sometimes it fits.

My gratitude today is endless. First of all to a Heavenly Father who has been kind, merciful, and gracious to my family, encircling us in arms of love and healing. Then to the doctors and nurses at both hospitals, but especially Irvine where the heavy lifting was done. It would be impossible for me to think of how they could have been more professional, expert, and caring. They saved my wife’s life — ’nuff said. Then to new  friends, and now deep friends, Dean & Joyce, who took our other three kids all day  long, and gave them the time of their life. (Donuts for breakfast, trip to the beach,  visit to the Ocean Institute including dissecting fish, McDonald’s for lunch, movie in the afternoon, pizza for dinner, endless Foosball games — my kids will never want to come home.) Also Dean and Brad for sitting with Melissa all afternoon while I went and got a much-needed two-hour nap. And to our family. Melissa’s parents are in the car heroically making the 24-hour drive from south Texas. My mom and brother Nick flew down and spent the evening with me visiting Melissa and Baby. And to all of you for unending expressions of love and offers of help and support.

I feel like we’re well situated for this week, with family taking the lead. Don’t be surprised, however, if and when I call on many of you, especially the local yokels, in the weeks following.

I’m tired and I’m rambling. Words can’t begin to say what I have felt and experienced today. I was feeling very alone last night; today anything but. Melissa sends her love, as do I. We are most fortunate, and most blessed.


Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 12:22 AM – “Sunday night update”
Dear friends and family,

Some of you are hearing about these developments for the first time — if so, you can read below about what got us to this point, and I’m sorry to be late in bringing you into the loop.

Thankfully, I’ve got nothing but good news to share today. The Baby (we’re getting close to a name, promise) is doing great. She had her ventilation tube removed this morning and is breathing on her own. However, in order to do that, they had to give her a pretty substantial dose of caffeine so that she doesn’t forget to breathe — babies in the womb at this age get their oxygen from the umbilical cord. So Starbucks and Red Bull are in the running for at least middle names. The doctors are hoping she can start getting a few mL’s of mother’s milk starting tonight or tomorrow, taken from donors and fed directly to her stomach through a tube, since the suck-and-swallow reflex doesn’t develop until around Week 34. (Melissa hasn’t started producing yet, and even once she does, her milk is going to be a pretty potent cocktail that will go straight down the drain for quite a while.) Mom, Nick, and I were able to spend some quality time with her tonight. I got to “hold” her by lightly putting my hands on her head and her legs. That’s as good as it will get for a while.

Melissa, as you all knew already, is an absolute champion of champions. 36 hours ago she was bleeding uncontrollably and facing total kidney failure (that after facing much worse just a few hours before). Today she got her ventilation tube out, didn’t need any additional blood, is clotting effectively, and has near-normal hemoglobin levels. She can talk, or rather whisper and rasp, so last night’s Worst Ever Game of Charades is blessedly behind us. The obstetricians are taking a very conservative approach with her given everything that her body has gone through. Right now she has none of her own blood — there’s a science fiction / horror movie script just waiting to be written — but is certainly on the road to recovery. Her body is heavily traumatized, and she is on morphine, but she’s awake (in and out) and lucid. The doctors hope that she’ll be transferred out of ICU into a normal hospital room tomorrow.

It’s apparent that Melissa’s case has already become legendary among the hospital staff. Every new nurse and doctor who comes on duty approaches her with wonderment and awe, both at what she went through and also how well and quickly she is recovering. The odds of getting any one of the three conditions she dealt with during the delivery are staggering: cord prolapse (1 in 100), placental abruption (1 in 200), and placental percreta (1 in 10,000-50,000). The odds of getting all three in the same delivery should really only be a math problem on the SAT, not a real-life situation. When I say it’s a miracle that both Melissa and the baby survived, I’m not using a cliche. And a huge part of that miracle were the doctors and nurses who applied their years of training to solving the problems in front of them with expertise, composure, and inspiration. We’ll never be able to thank them enough.

I went to church this morning with the kids, to preserve some normalcy for them and then pass them off to friends. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for the outpouring of love and faith I received there. Thank you, Claremont 1st Ward, for your fasting and your prayers and your open-ended offers of support. And thanks to everyone who has been doing the same from wherever you are. We’re getting prayers and love from our Mormon, Catholic, evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, and secular friends (probably some other varieties too). As I said in church today, I can’t explain the mystery of why some people are preserved and healed while others aren’t. We certainly don’t deserve it any more than the vast majority of women who don’t have access to first-class modern health care. I simply know how grateful I am that Melissa and the baby not only got the absolute best medical care but also were touched with God’s hand of healing and empowered by all the love sent our way by each of you. I can’t explain it, only stand in awe and thanks.


Tue, Apr 12, 2016 at 9:23 AM – “Onward and upward”

It’s another beautiful morning in southern California! First off, The Baby finally has a name: Willa Hope Mason. Willa is going strong (as befitting her name), accepting
feedings and breathing like a 29-week-old champion. The nurses say we need to be braced for complications which are almost sure to come — they say she’s been in a bit of a honeymoon period for the first 48 hours.

And what can I say about Melissa? She is a living legend in the hospital. Yesterday when they transferred her from ICU to a regular post-delivery room, it was all the staff could do to help from giving her a standing ovation. (Slow clap would have been even better.) Every single nurse who rotated in yesterday said what an honor it was for them to work with a survivor like her who had fought her way through so much. And the doctors who came in, including one of the obstetricians and anesthesiologists who saved her life, admitted it was nothing short of miraculous that she was able to stay alive through it all — let alone to progress so quickly in her recovery. It helps that she’s amazing. Today the Big Challenge is for her to get into a chair. Then maybe tomorrow a few steps. When she gets home, stairs will pretty much be out for a few weeks. So the Texas Two-Step will be a little ways down the road. We hope that she will be able to be transferred in the next 24-48 hours to the Downey Hospital, where little Willa is hanging out with her entourage.

I will never be able to express my gratitude for each and every one of you — your love, your prayers, your words of encouragement, support, and humor. I know that “we’re thinking of you” feels like a cliche when you write it — I’ve certainly felt that way lots o times in the past — but at least for me, this week, it really makes all the difference.


Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 10:00 AM – “All is well”

Dear family and friends,

I know, I’m tempting fate with that subject line, but things literally could not be going any better. We are so blessed and fortunate — I can only chalk it up to grace and all the good karma that Melissa has sent out in the universe all these years.

Melissa is home!!! I simply can’t believe it. Just Tuesday the doctors were talking about “several days, probably a week” in the hospital (that following the initial prognostications of at least two weeks). Then yesterday morning the doctor came in, checked all her vital signs and tests, and declared her good to go whenever she felt up to it. I spent yesterday in the hospital with her so that she could get some more rest and, more importantly, see Willa twice, then we came home around 7:00. Finn and Rhett were still awake, and couldn’t have been any sweeter — after I warned them within an inch of their lives not to jump on Mom like they usually do. Rhett just couldn’t stop giving her soft kisses. He also explained to several people this morning when I dropped him off at school that Mommy’s uterus was taken out.

I think it’s fair to say that the medical staff at both hospitals, in Irvine and Downey, are simply in awe of Melissa — both her survival and her recovery. We found out that all the staff who worked on her on Friday night/Saturday morning were given leave by the hospital in order to recover themselves — it was that intense and traumatic.We’re still thinking of ways to appropriately thank them, though of course that’s a debt that can never be fully repaid.

Melissa is in great spirits, and just glad to be out of the hospital. As she says, hospitals are a lousy place to get any rest, and she’s a woman who loves (and now really needs) her rest. She’s still in a fair bit of pain — duh — and the doctors have ordered physical restrictions for 6-8 weeks. But she’s home, she’s healthy, she’s eating (carefully), she’s resting, and she’s happy.

Willa is also a total champ; obviously she has her mom’s genes. We spent a couple hours with her yesterday, including holding her for the very first time. Nothing could be sweeter. She’s so tiny and light — about 2.5 pounds right now. She squeaks and squawks, but mostly just nuzzles in and sleeps. This morning I spoke with her doctor,
who checked her out and said that everything looks terrific. She’s eating, breathing, and sleeping just as she should.

My mom and Melissa’s parents are all here and helping, and we have received incredible support from our fellow church members and friends in the area — meals,cleaning, babysitting, etc. THANK YOU everyone! Melissa’s parents will drive home in a couple of days, and then her mom will return soon after getting some work done. My mom will stick around at least until then. One of the bonuses here is that the kids are getting lots of quality time with grandparents, which is a treat for them.

I can’t explain how or why or when God’s hand reaches down and touches us, but for our family and for this week at least his presence has been clearly evident — both directly and indirectly through the many, many people who have saved and supported us.


Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 10:47 PM – “Good News”

Dear family and friends,

So many of you have asked for updates about how Melissa and baby Willa are doing. Thank you, sincerely and profoundly, for all your love and support that you have expressed in so many ways. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to respond personally to every message, but please know how much we appreciate all your kindnesses in
thought, word, and deed. Melissa has been reading through all the messages the past few days, and she has been overwhelmed. Thank you for helping carry us through.

Willa continues to amaze. For all the dire (and clinically responsible) warnings about what to expect from a 29 (now 30)- week-old baby, she simply has refused to conform to medical standards. The sound you hear is me knocking fiercely on wood, but so far she hasn’t had a single major setback or complication. As of this morning, she is breathing entirely on her own — “look Mom, no tubes!” They have increased the amount of milk she is fed every day, and she has tolerated every increase. After losing weight and getting down to about 2.5 pounds, she’s back up around 2 pounds 14 ounces and steadily gaining a little bit every day. She’s off antibiotics, off lights for jaundice, off all other IV’s. So right now, she’s just growing and developing naturally. She still has several developmental goals to meet before they even think about sending her home, and those things simply won’t come for several more weeks, even in the healthiest of babies.So for the foreseeable future we’ll keep making the daily pilgrimages to Downey (between 40 minutes and 1.5 hours each way, depending on traffic) — but it’s definitely worth it.

One of the highlights of the week is that we were able to take the other kids to meet Willa for the first time. Up until now this whole baby thing has been pretty abstract to them, but now she’s finally real. True to form, Finn was tender and then went into scientist mode checking out all the machines and monitors; Rhett was really sweet but had an attention span of about ten milliseconds; and Lucy was absolutely thrilled to finally be a big sister. Both Rhett and Lucy read Willa stories. Lucy was especially cute, reading each page and then turning around the book to show Willa the pictures.

Next, Melissa, the Miracle Mason. I can’t tell you how many doctors and nurses we’ve heard from in the past several days, who after learning about about her multiple conditions express nothing short of complete awe that she is alive, and at home recuperating. I keep learning more about just how bad it was. For instance, just this week I found out that during the surgery she had multiple counts of “acute respiratory failure.” I guess in the midst of telling me about all the other stuff, the doctors and nurses just kind of forgot to mention that she stopped breathing and they had to bring her back…twice.

Melissa has been home for a week now, but is still on bedrest while her traumatized body heals. Yesterday she had a CT scan, which revealed that her abdomen is still full
of blood, but they expect it to be absorbed by the body gradually over time. (The fact that it’s pretty much all other people’s blood is still both completely amazing and totally creepy to me.) It will take a while yet, but she’s on the road to recovery.

Melissa takes a trip to Downey to see Willa every day. That takes everything out of her physically, but it’s necessary food for her soul. Someone had the audacity of suggesting she not go every day — that bit of advice was not met kindly by her Mama Bear instincts.

As for me and the kids, we’re hanging in there. The twins are having the time of their lives, as their friends’ parents have been picking them up from school and having them over for play dates every day so Melissa can get more rest.Finn has taken it a little harder, but we’re trying to spend as much time as we can with him. I went back to work this week, which means more juggling and more exhaustion at the end of the day, but also a good distraction. And we’ve been so blessed with an incredible outpouring of help from church members, friends, and especially our two Moms, who have taken turns being here for the duration since it first happened.

I heard a definition once that said, “Grace is when you get what you don’t deserve, and mercy is when you don’t get what you do deserve.” Given Melissa’s medical complications, the trail of miracles keeping her here and bringing Willa to us safely, and then the depth and breadth of ensuing support, it’s impossible to imagine us having received more mercy and grace than we have these past twelve days.

And so I’ll close with a poignant passage from 2 Corinthians 1 that a dear friend shared with me this week:

8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in [Irvine]; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

Thanks be to God, to the incredible Kaiser medical staff, and to each one of you.

So there it is. The story of how Willa came into the world and how I almost left it. There’s a lot to reflect on here and I plan to do that slowly. But for now, it’s time again to sleep and heal.


7 Responses to “Willa’s Birth Story”

  1. Anne Hayner April 30, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    Riveting, terrifying,amazing story. The description of remembering each of your children so precisely and lovingly as you were slipping away brought tears to my eyes; I am sure it will stay with me a long time, as will this entire miraculous saga. Love to each one of you.

  2. Tracy M April 30, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

    Melissa, thank you for sharing this. Along with everyone else, I was following Patrick’s updates with fervent prayers; I am beyond grateful you are well and healing, and for the amazing birth of your beautiful Willa. I hope writing is cathartic, and further aids you in your healing. With love- Tracy

  3. Lenora April 30, 2016 at 8:34 pm #

    What an amazing story! I am so thankful you both came through. Willa hope is a perfect name! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Dorothy K. April 30, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

    This was truly amazing. Your faith in God and miracles has sustained you through this trial. I feel honored be called a friend. Our prayers still go out to you and your little family.

  5. kathcahoon May 1, 2016 at 12:51 am #

    Dear Melissa and Patrick,

    I am so grateful that this horror story turns to one of miracles!! God is good! Best wishes for your recovery and a return to normal activity–. It would be pointless to wish a return to your old self, for you will never be the same after such an experience! Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Kathryn Cahoon

    From, Kappie

    On Sat, Apr 30, 2016 at 5:07 PM, State of dNile wrote:

    > Melissa posted: “Our lives changed suddenly on April 8th when I went into > premature labor and delivered our fourth child, Willa Hope, then started > hemorrhaging uncontrollably and came very close to dying in an OR. It’s > been three weeks since then and we find ourselves on ” >

  6. Peggy Mott May 1, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    Melissa–you always were spirit filled and it appears your Willa Hope and Patrick are as well. What a story/special memory you have shared with us all! You– and through you, we–are blessed. Praying for healing and peace.

  7. Kathryn May 2, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your story, Melissa. Your family has been in our hearts and minds over the last few weeks. We are so grateful for your impressive recovery, and look forward to meeting Willa, when she is ready. You are so blessed, mama!

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