For Part One, click here.
For Part Two, click here.
Mike and the nurse helped me into the adjoining bathroom and sat me on the toilet. I was anxious because I could feel that I actually had to go, and peeing for the first time post-catheter made me tense up. The nurse coached me, telling me to just release and let go, and she and Mike never left the bathroom.
The instant I released the pressure to urinate, I felt a searing pain as if I’d dropped a match on an internal line of gasoline, ripping through my abdomen like nothing I’d ever felt. It was acid – a sharp stab – it was unmistakable that something had gone wrong inside of me. I screamed.
Mike and the nurse stared in alarm as I screamed louder, hollering that something was wrong, that something had ripped me apart. They both froze for what seemed like minutes but I’m sure was only seconds, trying to understand what was happening. I couldn’t believe I was actually screaming, and that no one was doing anything. I yelled, “Get a doctor! Call someone!” And, to show you how truly freaked out of my mind I was, I yelled, “WHAT THE F— IS HAPPENING?!” Because I honestly couldn’t comprehend how no one had pressed an alarm, or gone shouting down the hall, or rushed me somewhere urgent.
Maybe it’s my years of journalism school, but I don’t trust myself to be completely accurate and objective with my recall of such a traumatizing event. So I asked my sister Erin, who was the only other person in the room (holding Hunter for us), if she would share what happened.
“What I remember most is the scream that came from your mouth,” she said. “It was guttural and horrifying. A short time after you went into the bathroom with the nurse and Mike, I heard a scream of pain unlike any I have heard before. Simultaneously I had three thoughts: 1) I have to do something to help you; 2) I have to find my mom and; 3) I have to stay calm for Hunter. I started praying immediately because that’s the only thing I could do.”
The nurse told me they were going to move me back to the bed to be examined. I started to cry from the pain of having to move, not believing that I could.
Erin said, “You were stuck in the bathroom for several minutes because you were unable to walk through the pain. The nurse and Mike were finally able to help/carry you back to the bed and you were in agony.”
They hoisted me up and I walked to the bed and got in, trying to answer their questions and describe what I’d felt. I was hysterical, and I’m never hysterical.
After asking for the doctor repeatedly, Mike put his hands over me and started praying out loud that the Lord would intervene, help me, help us to understand and know what to do, that He would bring healing. I calmed down as he prayed and was surprised to see the nurse standing next to the bed praying with us, tears rolling down her face. She was truly scared and felt helpless, and kept trying to think of what more she could do.
Around this time, my mom came back down the hall with the twins. Erin told me they wanted to come in, but I said no because I didn’t want them to see me in such distress.
My mom had to stay with them, and Erin wasn’t allowed to leave the room with Hunter, so we were all trapped where we were.
When my doctor arrived, I described what had happened and she stood by my bed and listened. She hadn’t performed the c-section simply because of scheduling, so I hadn’t seen her since first being admitted.
She was immediately condescending, saying, “You’re fine, your body is still fresh from surgery and in pain, there’s nothing wrong with your vitals and you’re okay.”
I knew she was wrong, and I don’t say that lightly because I had enormous respect and trust built with her, as she was the same doctor who’d delivered our twins. I knew she wasn’t listening to me, and was being dismissive, and it made me feel small and insane.
Erin said, “You had to fight your doctor for an exam and she finally did, begrudgingly. The doctor barely touched you and after 4.5 seconds, concluded that nothing was wrong and you were overreacting after your C-section.”
I asked her several times, “Please, just examine me, please, I know something is wrong, something happened.” And she would just repeat again, “Abby, I am examining you, I am assessing you right now, and you’re okay.” As a person who takes pride in being reasonable and having all of her faculties intact, I backed down and began to accept that I wasn’t going to convince her of anything. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was just pain at my bladder releasing the first urine after surgery.
After she left the room, I told my family that I knew something was wrong, but what was I going to do? The nurse said we’d monitor my urination output and pain. And that was the end of that.
I was still very upset and cautious that something was wrong and would only worsen, and I was gobsmacked when later that afternoon the nurse came and started discussing my departure that evening, which was Tuesday.
“WHAT?” I replied, as she looked over paperwork.
“The doctor says you can discharge on time this evening,” she said evenly.
“There is no way that I am leaving this hospital hours after one of the scariest moments of my life, that I’m not at all convinced was nothing,” I said to her. “You can tell her that.”
She got a look on her face that acknowledged she would not fight me on this, and backed out of the room to tell the doctor my message.
The rest of the day, in between snuggling sweet Hunter, nursing, eating, and trying to rest, the nurse would help me to the bathroom to pee. Barely a trickle would come out. They put a measuring device in the toilet to see that I was peeing an adequate amount, and I wasn’t.
I was still hooked up to an IV, so we knew I was properly hydrated, but we all said maybe the nursing was draining my fluids or my body just needed the hydration and wasn’t creating a lot of urine.
All night and the next morning I’d report my teensy amounts of pee to the nurse and she’d write it in my chart. I didn’t have any remaining pain in my abdomen like I’d had when it occurred, so the next day I was sent home.
At home, I became unwell. My abdomen grew larger instead of smaller, my color turned from healthy to pale to gray, and I was in inexplicable pain.
I’d had a c-section with the twins so I knew what healthy recovery felt like. This wasn’t it.
It’s incredible what we’ll tell ourselves, the mental hoops we’ll jump through to deny that anything is wrong. I wasn’t peeing, but I told myself and whomever asked that it must be all the nursing and fluids my body needed. My belly was huge and tight, but I told myself that it was just swollen from such a large baby and would take more time to decompress. I was in so much pain I couldn’t lay down, sleep, or let the kids touch my stomach in any way, but I told myself it was just a lousy recovery and I’d be fine soon.
The photo below was taken early afternoon on Thursday, one day after arriving home. The boppy pillow is sitting high on my oversized abdomen, and my skin is beginning to pale.
Finally on Friday morning, the day of my follow-up appointment, I felt an alarm bell ringing in my head that physically I couldn’t wait for the mid-afternoon appointment. I had been up all night, sitting in a chair, staring into my dark bedroom, unable to function or sleep from pain, and in the morning I just knew.
I called the hospital and described what I was feeling and the nurse said I needed to be admitted immediately. I paused. I didn’t reply. She sensed my hesitation.
“Abby,” she said. “Will you go? Will you do what I’m telling you to do?”
I couldn’t answer. In my head I thought, “I’m probably overthinking this. I’m probably fine. I’ll look like an idiot if I go in. I have to feed the baby, I can’t be away from him.”
“Abby,” she said again. “Are you going to come in? You need to be seen.”
I couldn’t lie. “I don’t know,” I said. “But thank you for your help.”
I called my dad. I’m not sure why; I just needed to hear his voice. I told him about my conversation with the nurse and he sounded like he would reach through the phone and shake me by the shoulders. Go IN, he said. This is NOT negotiable.
To this day my mama-in-love says she’ll never forget the sight of me that morning when she came by for a visit. My skin was grayer than gray, a blank expression on my face.
So I went.
Amazingly, the doctor who had performed my c-section was present that morning instead of my regular doctor (who had dismissed my concerns), and able to see me right as I arrived. He took one look at me and I knew instantly that I wasn’t insane. It was like his stunned expression gave me permission to admit I was deeply unwell.
He rapped his fingers against my abdomen and stood back, eyes wide.
“It’s solid,” he said softly, to the nurse or maybe to us. Then he gave quick instructions to the two nurses present, for a catheter and a bladder ultrasound. After examining me using those and asking me exactly what happened that day after my c-section, that incident, he quickly concluded that my bladder had ruptured.
Mike and I couldn’t believe this — my bladder burst? THAT was pain I’d felt?! We stared at him in shock.
He rushed me to surgery, first to the emergency room and then up to the surgical floor. All I could think about was Hunter, who we’d brought with us to the appointment. Who would feed him? Who would care for him? He’s not even a week old and he’s to be separated from his mother?! I was devastated.
My family assured me they would take shifts; they would care for him. My best friend Siri said she would give him her frozen breastmilk so he’d have plenty. We all prayed he would take a bottle.
After surgery, the doctor met with us and told us several facts that we continue to marvel at to this day:
- the urologist repaired a six centimeter tear in my bladder
- they removed nine liters of urine from my abdomen; nearly two and a half gallons.
- the surgical room was filled with unnecessary surgeons, OBGYNs and doctors who wanted to observe what not a single one of them had ever seen before in their careers — bladder rupture from a birth
- my liver was in great distress from being overwhelmed at having to process the toxins
- I was gray because my body was being poisoned from the inside out. If I’d continued to ignore my symptoms it could have been life-threatening.
But, by God’s grace, it wasn’t. Jesus rang the alarm in my head, He prompted me to call and get help. He provided care and milk for Hunter, and grandparents to care for the twins. He rescued me when I was too blind to help myself.
What I know for sure: I was never abandoned. The Lord was very near; through every uncertainty, His faithfulness never wavered. We serve a God of love and great compassion, and His presence carried me through the darkness.
The change in my health was immediate — my color restored, the light came back to my eyes, my abdomen started to shrink considerably and my liver began functioning properly. The doctors, nurses, and my family all couldn’t believe the difference in my appearance and behavior.
Saturday morning I was well enough for the children to visit, and I would’ve leapt out of that bed at my baby boy if I’d been able.
I laugh looking at him here because he’s a day short of being a week old and he covers my body like a three month old.
Being with him, holding him, smelling his newborn smell and feeling his unspeakably soft skin broke my heart afresh. The excruciating physical ordeal was nothing compared to the agony of being separated from my baby in his first precious days. I couldn’t even nurse him when he visited because the drugs in my body were too strong.
Luckily he had no complaints about taking a bottle, and I pumped every three hours every day to be sure I wouldn’t lose my supply.
On Sunday morning the whole family came to visit again, and we could see our ordeal was coming to an end.
The doctor said I could leave that night, and I went home Sunday, May 17, one week after Hunter’s birth.
I walked into my home and my mom and mama-in-love greeted me with baby Hunter, a clean house, sleeping twins, and a little table next to the couch with water, snacks, and a new People magazine for the long recovery ahead. I felt so loved and reassured.
Mostly I felt overwhelming peace at being reunited with my baby, able to hold him, feed him and care for him.
The weeks that followed were some of the hardest of our lives thus far. I was on strict order to spend every day seated or lying, focusing only on healing and feeding Hunter. This left whomever was with me to care entirely for the twins, as well as carry Hunter to and away from me based on his needs (I couldn’t pick him up yet).
For at least the first week we had to have three adults there (including me) to manage all of this, and help care for me, too. My mom and mama-in-love were at our house very often, but Erin was the most present of all. We were all amazed that because she was between jobs, God arranged for her to be such an enormous help to us in this intense season. She was with us nearly every day for months, and we can never thank her enough.
Part of this help involved the utterly humbling task of emptying my catheter bag, which I couldn’t do for myself because it was strapped to my lower leg and I couldn’t bend down more than a few inches. Never have I known such limited mobility, or such helplessness. Nor had I ever had to swallow my pride so acutely for this humiliating task, several times a day.
When we took our vows, Mike and I never imagined that not in our eighties, but in our early thirties, he would be escorting me to the bathroom first thing in the morning and emptying my very full catheter bag, cleaning it, and reassembling it. Never did we imagine that he’d help me down the stairs, while also carrying an infant and making sure two 21-month-olds were following safely behind. Never did we know that he would have to adjust to a new baby with a wife who literally couldn’t pull her weight, instead needing almost as much care as the infant.
But we did it. We asked God for grace and strength and hour by hour we walked out of that bomb shelter, not into glorious light, but certainly into the dawn.
And to prove how quickly we bounced back, on June 6, a mere 22 days after the bladder surgery (and once the catheter was removed for good!), we packed the kids in the car and took a day trip to Anacortes.
Mama-in-love took the lead and we couldn’t have gone without her.
It was the first day that we felt we’d turned a corner.
Thanks be to God that the bladder is the most easily healed organ in the human body. Today I don’t have a trace of a sign that any of this happened.
…apart from the precautions and modifications my doctor is taking as we prepare for baby number four. A scheduled c-section is non-negotiable, and we’ll be staying at the hospital an extra night to be sure all is well before we depart for home.
With that, I welcome your prayers on March 23 for an uneventful experience — apart from the life-changing event of meeting our fourth baby, of course! We are excited and thrilled and nervous and hopeful.
We call on Psalm 91, where David writes (changed to she),
“She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
Note: There are huge swaths of the story I chose not to include: several MRIs, internal ink-bladder scans, countless trips to the urologist, much scarier pre-surgery photos, the details of the second hospital stay, our follow-up meeting with the doctor who ignored me (!) and much more of the recovery process at home. Instead I wanted to share the essence of the story, and the emotional elements. Otherwise this could have been a dozen-part tale, and nobody wants that (least of all me).