'I Nearly Died 12 Days After Giving Birth To Twins'

When I arrived at the hospital in January for my scheduled cesarean section, I couldn't have been more ready to undergo major surgery, even though I was aware it would completely alter my life. I had carried twins to full-term, all 38 weeks, and I couldn't take another day living as a heavily pregnant woman.

My feet and legs were so swollen I could hardly walk and my back was in so much pain I couldn't stand for more than five minutes at a time. At best, I was sleeping in two hour increments and crying each time I had to roll over. Any nervousness or anxiety I was feeling about delivering two babies was superseded by physical pain and emotional exhaustion—it was time for my children to make their debut.

My pregnancy was, by all accounts, normal. I had mentally prepared myself for a tough journey that never really eventuated and I became comfortable with the fact that my babies would likely spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). While 38 weeks was the due by date, I had a secret goal of simply making it to 36 weeks.

So, 38 weeks later, there I was—truly begging for these kids to arrive. Born into a cold, bright operating room with my husband at my side I gave birth to two healthy babies—a boy and a girl. After an issue-free pregnancy, Ruth and Enzo were here.

The journey that is pregnancy can feel like a lifetime, yet the next three days were over in the blink of an eye. I went from being prepped for surgery to caring for two babies in less than six hours. The cosmic shift that happened between delivery and discharge felt both unfathomable and completely natural.

Three days later, we were back at home with two tiny babies and not one clue as to what we were supposed to do. There had been no NICU time like I expected and the process to get checked out was seamless. Unfortunately, they didn't send us home with an instruction manual.

"Postpartum bleeding is totally normal," my nurse told me. "You can expect it for the next few days or even weeks but it's nothing to worry about. If you start passing blood clots bigger than a golf ball, call us but otherwise, it's expected." It was so simple, I almost didn't catch it. A brief but cautionary note in an avalanche of information provided the morning I went home.

Nine days later, I found myself sitting on the toilet in my guest bathroom thinking someone pushed the bleed button on my uterus. And then the nurse's comment echoed, and I remember asking myself: "Are these clots bigger than a golf ball?"

I called my obstetrician's office immediately and since it was after hours, got in touch with the on-call doctor fairly quickly. It wasn't long after that conversation that I knew things were taking a turn for the worse. I had been bleeding non-stop for almost an hour. I was starting to feel faint. My gut told me something was very wrong.

So, my husband and I drove to the local emergency room (ER), leaving our 12-day-old twins in the care of our friends. We thought we would be gone a couple of hours at most, home by midnight at the latest. We held hands the entire drive there, both trying to cut the tension with bad jokes and positive affirmations.

As I was lying in the ER a few hours after check-in and well after fainting, a sense of foreboding washed over me like a tidal wave. I had already had three blood-soaked adult diapers changed, taken part in a failed pelvic exam and a successful ultrasound as well as multiple blood tests. When midnight passed and we still didn't have a plan in place, my gut told me that I was going to die and it was time to pray.

"Please, 12 days isn't enough time to be their mom," I repeated to myself over and over.

In the early hours of the morning, the situation seemed less bleak, so I sent my husband home to take care of our babies thinking a discharge was on the horizon after I received a blood transfusion. Shortly after, I was signing off on a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure after being told their thinking was it was likely remaining tissue in my uterus causing the heavy bleeding. I was told it would take 15 minutes.

twins, childbirth, postpartum hemorrhage
Kelsey Nelson with her twins. Nelson is pictured during her time in hospital after having a postpartum hemorrhage. Kelsey Nelson

More than four hours later, I woke up surrounded by a team of nurses, doctors and anesthesiologists debating whether or not I needed to be transferred to the main hospital for faster access to blood and platelets. I didn't realize at that moment, but I had experienced a postpartum hemorrhage—a rare but extremely serious condition that occurs in an estimated three percent of childbirths in the U.S. I know now that hemorrhaging is in America's top five leading causes of pregnancy-related death.

All I can remember from after the procedure is an intense thirst and begging to see my husband and kids. "I have the twins. They're only two weeks old," I said over and over.

Once I stabilized, I was told to open my eyes. I saw my husband and babies. They were by my side, but only for a few moments before I had to be transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU). By this time, my parents had driven eight hours through the middle of the night and my husband finally had help.

I spent two nights in the ICU and another two back where it all began, in the labor and delivery unit. I wasn't able to see my two-week-old babies at all while I was in the ICU. Even heavily medicated, with blood pressure and oxygen levels sinking, all I could think about were Ruth and Enzo at home, without their mom. I had carried them without issue for 267 days and just 12 days after their birth I had almost died.

I cried with my mom when the obstetrician explained how much worse the bleeding got in the operating room. My uterus wouldn't contract and she couldn't stop the bleeding. She called in a massive blood transfusion protocol and told me she was seconds away from performing a hysterectomy. If that didn't work, she would have been out of options to save me. But in the moments it mattered, after she had already called the surgical unit in for the hysterectomy and was ready to make that decision, my uterus started contracting again. She didn't have a reason why. I can't say for sure, but I swear that I saw her fighting back tears.

As soon as I was back in the labor and delivery unit, my babies were able to visit me at all hours of the day. I loved having them with me, but I was conflicted between spending needed time with them and doing whatever it took to get my blood pressure where it needed to be. The latter was what would allow me to go home.

pregnancy, twins, post partum haemorrhage
Kelsey Nelson with her twins, Ruth and Enzo. Kelsey suffered a postpartum hemorrhage 12 days after giving birth in January, 2020. Courtney Malone Photography

Even as I became more stable and a return home was on the horizon, I wasn't able to be excited. All I could feel was confusion and fear. I felt robbed of almost five whole days with my newborn babies. I was full of questions: how I was going to recover from what just happened to me while taking care of my kids? How would I cope with being a new mom while sleep deprived, physically exhausted and healing from two major surgeries? At the time, my postpartum hemorrhage felt like something I couldn't come back from. If I was on the edge of the postpartum depression cliff, this hemorrhage pushed me right over it into a place where I wasn't mentally healthy for a while.

Now my babies are 10 months old. I got support. We are all healthy. They're wild and full of wonder. As exhausting and mentally draining as the days can feel, I still can't believe they're mine. That we're all here together.

But I can't begin to explain the weight of this experience and how it has affected me. By the time I was allowed to return home, I was told that every ounce of blood in my body had been replaced with that of donors. I had been given multiple bags of platelets, plasma and cryoprecipitate. To this day, I'm still working through the effects this trauma had on my mental health.

It was five days I would give everything to forget, but know I never will. This experience, like most of motherhood, made me realize how important it is to listen to the advice of medical professionals and how essential trusting your gut is. No one knows your body or your babies better than you.

When I wake up each morning, I give my babies a kiss, tell them today is going to be a great day and thank my lucky stars that I survived. Twelve days just wasn't enough time to be their mom.

Kelsey Nelson is a freelance communications consultant and mom to twins. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina. Connect with her at kelseyjnelson.com or @twinsaresofun.

All views expressed in this piece are the author's own.