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A Near-Death Birth Experience

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

I nearly died giving birth to my child—more accurately, right after giving birth. I describe it in the essay, "Your Birth Plan," recently published in Fatal Flaw.

Nobody tells you that if you give birth in America, you’re more likely to die in childbirth than someone in Europe. While I wasn't one of the 700 Americans who died in childbirth that year, I was one of the 49,000 stricken with severe maternal morbidity—a.k.a. almost dying during or right after childbirth. Those are the heart attacks, renal failures, shock, hysterectomies, and persistent hemorrhages—like mine.

It almost ended my life

The day before I went into labor, I had a check-in with the midwife at the birthing center. My water leaked a bit and they wanted to make sure that the baby was chill and that we could keep waiting for my body to go into labor on its own.

My fiancé took this photo:

I could never have imagined the course of events that took place the next day. I was motivated to avoid a medicalized birth, which is why I wrote a birth plan and arranged to give birth at a birthing center. I even knew the reason why I was trying to avoid medical intervention: to avoid being induced and having a C-section. But I didn't question why I was avoiding a medicated birth—I just had a vague notion that the more natural it was, the better it would be. Even if someone had said, "Try to avoid induction and a C-section in order to avoid death," I wouldn't have believed them.

Just before the baby came out, the obstetrician reminded me that it should have been a C-section. I could feel her frustration and impatience. She wanted things her way. I wanted them mine. In the end, I got my vaginal birth. And she saved my life. It's impossible to accurately pinpoint where things went awry (was it the nap I took during labor, my age, or laboring for twenty four hours?) I've long since given up finding the answer.

I almost died. But I didn't die.

This is everything I didn't know.

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