Did you know that one of the biggest uses of blood is for mothers during childbirth? In collaboration with Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin and Aurora Health Care, please join survivor Abby Bar-Lev Wiley to help save the lives of mothers and others who require blood transfusions. The Heroes for Moms blood drive will take place on October 28th from 1:00 to 6:00pm at the JCC in their Community Hall. Learn more and sign up for a time slot to donate blood at heroesformoms.com/wisconsin.
Trigger Warning: Today’s guest post includes descriptions of pregnancy and birth complications. If this is a topic that will be difficult for you, read with caution.
My husband and I were thrilled when we found out we were pregnant with our second child. My first child was born prematurely at 33 weeks, in a fluke incident during a healthy pregnancy that meant at 10:00am we were told we could go home, but at 11:00am the doctor returned and said, “Actually, we think you should have your baby today.” We spent the next two hours desperately trying to wrap our minds around the situation and what it meant to have a premature baby. At 1:00pm I was given an epidural, and less than an hour later, our baby was born. The joyfulness of a healthy birth was crowded in with terror, uncertainty, panic, and a sense of loss.
So when we became pregnant for the second time, we had low expectations. I told my husband, “All I want is for this pregnancy to go somewhere near term, with a birth experience that isn’t terrifying and traumatic.” Although everything felt fine and I was doing well, the 20-week anatomy scan revealed that I had placenta previa and likely placenta accreta. I had never heard of accreta before; it is a placental disorder in which the placenta grows deep into, and sometimes through, the uterine wall, typically via existing scar tissue (from my last c-section). The placenta cannot be safely removed from uterus. It is a rare disorder, but previous c-sections are a risk factor, and accreta is becoming more common as more women need or opt for c-sections. “You’re going to need a premature birth and a hysterectomy,” we were told. So much for our low expectations.
We learned that 90% of women with accreta need a blood transfusion, and that there was a 50/50 chance that I could bleed or hemorrhage any time in the third trimester without any warning signs. We were stunned. We were devastated. We were terrified. Thank goodness, the baby seemed to be doing fine, and my pregnancy was being closely monitored by the incredible multi-disciplinary team of doctors with the Placenta Accreta Spectrum Disorder team at Aurora Sinai in Milwaukee—our care was so spectacular and the doctors were so caring and skilled that we felt like we were getting the best care in the world. I dubbed my placenta The Placenta of 2020, which felt appropriate for ending 2020. My due date had been December 23rd. Now, we were desperately aiming to make it to November 11th.
On the night of October 10th, I had a scary bleed at 1am that sent me immediately to the hospital. The bleeding stopped, but I was admitted for the duration of my pregnancy. With COVID visitor policies in place, I was not allowed to see my toddler, parents, or friends. I got to see my husband once every 24 hours. Because of the bleeding risk, I essentially was not allowed to leave my room. The nurses and doctors became my second family, and with a couple more bleeds while I was hospitalized, we moved my surgery date to October 28th. Now, we were hoping to make it safely to 32 weeks.
When I woke up on October 28th, I was overwhelmed with relief to have made it for the planned surgery. Our baby, Micah, was born healthy, and then it was time for my hysterectomy. The placenta had nearly grown through the uterine wall; the wall was so paper thin that it burst when my doctors touched it. I hemorrhaged and lost 4 liters of blood. I received 9 units of blood, along with other blood products, to keep me alive and stable. I am alive today thanks to the care I received at Aurora Sinai and the anonymous donors whose blood saved my life.
Before my previa and accreta diagnoses, I had no idea how frequently mothers need blood in childbirth. Rates of obstetric blood product transfusion have increased by 33% since 2001. Tragically, the rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. has more than doubled in the past few decades—and Black women are three times more likely than white women to suffer a maternal death. Postpartum hemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal mortality. The availability of safe blood products can save a mother’s life, giving her the chance to meet her baby and return home to her family.
How you Can Help: Heroes for Moms Blood Drive
To honor the lives of all mothers, I am hosting a blood drive on my survivor anniversary, and celebrating that I get to see my baby turn one year old. Please join me, along with Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin and Aurora Health Care, for a Heroes for Moms blood drive at the Jewish Community Center at 6255 North Santa Monica Boulevard, Whitefish Bay on Thursday, October 28th. The blood drive will from from 1:00pm to 6:00pm, with goodie bags for all who show up to donate. Please sign up for a slot in advance by visiting https://heroesformoms.com/wisconsin/ and clicking “Schedule a blood donation appointment.”
I will never know the names of the people who gave me the gift of life by donating their blood, but I am grateful to them every day. I don’t know who they are, but they are my heroes. Please join me on October 28th and become a Hero for Moms.
What does being a blood donor or recipient mean to you?
About the Author:
Abby is a local mom and policy attorney advocating on behalf of Wisconsinites with low-incomes. She moved from Washington, DC to Bayside to be closer to family six months before the pandemic with her husband James, two cats, and toddler Isaac. They welcomed “Baby Micah” into the family in October 2020 and don’t get out much these days.