Just a hemorrhage kind of night

Last night was a very strange night. It wasn’t that busy, and yet, somehow, neither the other midwife nor myself were able to take a break. The pace was very steady. We kept expecting it to settle down, but it never did. Just as we were thinking “oh, as soon as this woman is discharged, we’ll be able to rest for awhile”, then another woman would walk through the door.

There were two deliveries. One was a grand multip (G6P5005) who came in 9 centimeters dilated with a bulging bag of waters. The other midwife ruptured her membranes at 3:40 am and she delivered at 3:41 am. I love deliveries like that! It’s always amazing to me how QUICKLY a baby can actually exit the human body, when all the conditions are right. It’s as if they’re on a greased slide, and they just whizz on out. If only all births were so quick and easy.

The woman I delivered was 16 years old, having her first baby. She was newly immigrated, and the father of the baby was back in Santo Domingo. She had her mother and grandmother with her, though, and they were a tremendous support team for her as the contractions were picking up, fanning her face and feeding her ice chips. She progressed remarkably fast for a first baby. We forget, sometimes, that teenager’s bodies are meant to give birth, and probably more so at this age than at any other time in their lives. Even though they might not be emotionally ready, their bodies are, and they often open up through labor as if it were the easiest and most natural thing in the world. This girl was having a labor like that.

When I came on at the start of the night she was 4 centimeters dilated and in a lot of pain. We discussed her pain options, but she didn’t think she needed anything just yet, and carried on with the support from her family. Two hours later, she was ready for something for the pain, and was thinking that she wanted an epidural. However, when I checked her, she was a whopping 8 centimeters dilated, and the head had moved down to zero station. I told her she was a superstar, she was doing amazing work and the birth would be really, really soon. I told her that she could have an epidural if she really wanted one, but that by the time she got it she would probably be fully dilated and ready to push, and that an epidural would just slow down the birth in the long run. She didn’t believe me (I can’t really blame her….the contractions were pretty intense at this point), but her mother and grandmother exchanged a look, and both of them rolled up their sleeves. We coaxed her into a sitting position, and her grandmother went behind her, rubbing her back, while her mother continued to fan her face. Less than half an hour later, she was fully dilated (there is a Russian doctor at our hospital who likes to call this moment “fully delighted”), and was pushing beautifully.

The baby came down quickly and was delivered 11 minutes after she was fully: a beautiful little girl with a really tight nuchal cord which had to ultimately be clamped and cut in order to allow for the birth, and a compound right hand that extended as the baby delivered and unfortunately tore the girl’s left labia, leaving a tender, open gash. The pediatricians were there to check on the baby due to the moderate meconium which had been in her amniotic fluid, but the tracing had been overall reassuring (we’re calling this Category II now…has anyone else moved onto the new NICHD guidelines? Our hospital has finally made the switch officially, despite the fact that these guidelines have been around and endorsed by nearly everyone [ACOG, AMA, ACNM etc. etc.] since 1997, but I must admit, I’m still finding it a bit strange) and the baby came out vigorous and screaming, waving her little pink arms around. An altogether beautiful and uneventful labor and birth, which took less than 5 hours in total. You couldn’t have asked for a nicer first birth than that.

The eventful part came next, unfortunately. Everything was looking good. I was checking her perineum (intact! the only tear was the labial laceration) and waiting for the placenta when there was suddenly a pretty forceful gush of blood. I figured it was a sign that the placenta was starting to seperate, so I gave a gentle tug on the cord, and the placenta quickly began to descend. Instead of coming out with the shiny, fetal-side showing first (Shultz presentation) it came out maternal-side first (Duncan presentation) and I immediately noticed that the membranes had been completely sheared off on one side. There was a thick tendril of trailing membranes which were still firmly attached somewhere up in the uterus, and were taut and unmoving when I tried to gently tease them out by spinning the placenta a bit. Rather than tearing the membranes and losing them, I cut the placenta away and put a ring forceps on the trailing end of the membranes, so that at least we had them. I quickly inspected the placenta and saw that there were hardly any membranes present, only the cotelydons of the placenta, and the cord. Which meant that most of her membranes were still inside, either retained or trailing, I wasn’t sure which yet. And all the while she was gushing blood.

We moved pretty quickly. I called the attending doctor, we asked the family to step out a moment, and started the IV pitocin running. I gave fundal massage and felt absolutely no fundus! I couldn’t find it anywhere (later on, the attending pointed out that that is exactly what an atonic uterus feels like…as if there’s nothing there). The attending began to remove the rest of the membranes by traction, gently teasing and working them down. We administered methergine, then hemabate, and finally 1000 mcg of cytotec rectally. We started a second IV line and used a catheter to help quickly drain her bladder. I was doing firm fundal massage all this time, and finally, after what seemed like quite some time, but was really about 8 minutes, I began to feel a hard, firm fundus balling up under my hand, and the bleeding had slowed down to a trickle. The doctor had managed to extract what looked like the rest of the membranes, and his sonogram later confirmed that the uterus was empty. And then, just as quickly as it had started, the bleeding stopped. The total loss was estimated to be between 800 – 1000 cc. But once the trailing membranes were finally out, and the fundus was finally firm, she was absolutely fine. I repaired the labial laceration, cleaned her up, and helped her breastfeed her beautiful girl.

Her hemoglobin and hematocrit dropped pretty precitously when we checked her CBC four hours later, but it was still in the range of normal (10.0/ 30%), so in the end she didn’t need any kind of blood transfusion. In fact, I’m still kind of astounded by the entire thing. It’s as if a huge emergency had been averted, and yet, at the same time, it felt really routine. We drill our hemorrhage protocol pretty regularly on our unit. It was really nice to see that when push came to shove, we were able to go down the steps of the protocol one by one, and amazingly (or perhaps not), they worked just the way they were supposed to, and lo and behold, the bleeding stopped! Nobody panicked, the nurses were prepared, the doctor was calm. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, and we just did it.

Afterwards I was waiting for the shaky post-adrenaline terror feeling that often comes after emergencies, but it never came. It made me think about how far I’ve come in my first year as a new midwife. A year ago, this would have probably left me crying or near tears, shaking in the chart room, totally freaked out. Instead, I finished the paperwork, checked her bleeding again (it was fine) and carried on with the rest of the non-stop night. I guess this is what midwives do. They don’t panick, and they stop the bleeding, and that’s that. It was just a hemorrhage kind of night.

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