I CAN’T SEE A WHITE LIGHT BUT I KNOW I AM ABOUT TO DIE By Tova Leigh
Tova Leigh is an actress and a writer. She currently lives in London with her husband and three daughters. Tova has written, produced and directed several short films that have been successfully screened in film festivals around the world. She currently writes a funny and heart-warming blog about her experience as a mother. This particular article, I CAN’T SEE A WHITE LIGHT BUT I KNOW I AM ABOUT TO DIE went viral and has recently been published by the New York magazine A Plus.
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It’s Friday night. I am lying in a hospital bed in the intensive care unit after giving birth to my twins, at 35 weeks and three days. My blood pressure is 240 over 120 and my whole body is shaking. I have lost control of my muscles and I can’t speak when the doctor asks me if I can hear him. Three other doctors rush into the room and stick a second IV in my other arm. I am now being pumped with drugs in a desperate attempt to reduce my blood pressure which is out of control. I can’t see a white light, but I know I am about to die.
Rewind eight months. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant. We have a beautiful one and a half year old daughter and we want her to have a brother or sister. We do a pregnancy test and it is positive. We do ten more (as you do), and when we finally have our first scan the technician says: “congratulations is due” and then adds “how many congratulations would you like?” We both reply almost in perfect harmony “ONE!”, “well, it’s two as far as I can tell” he says. I burst into manic laughter and my husband just stands there in total shock. After a few moments of silence he says very matter of fact “I need to get a second job”.
I won’t bore you with details on the pregnancy, but let’s just say that having twins inside you is no piece of cake. I am massive at week 12, I have morning (afternoon and evening) sickness till week 26 and I cannot for the life of me find TWO names I like!
But the big blow comes when I go in for a routine check-up at 28 weeks. I am running late for the appointment so when I finally sit down and get my blood pressure measured, I am not surprised it measures high. The nurse asks me to wait for a few minutes so she can check again. Annoyed and thinking she is just being fussy I agree and wait to be called back in.
The second time she measures is even worse. She looks at me and I can see she is worried. “Is your eyesight blurry?” she asks. You immediately know it’s not a great sign when someone asks you that. She makes a phone call and I am asked to give a urine sample. After the results come in I hear the word ‘Pre-eclampsia’ for the very first time.
If you don’t know what Pre-eclampsia is, it basically means that your inner organs might fail and your blood pressure is so high it can even cause a stroke. In short, it’s a life threatening condition (for mum and baby) which you can only get during pregnancy.
I am admitted into hospital that same day, where I spent the next two months. Each day experts come into my room and tell me how I am most likely going to be delivered in the next 24 hours. Of course at twenty eight weeks this is not what I want to hear. I know that if that does happen then the twins, who are tiny at this point, will need immense amount of care and have to spend the first few months of their lives in hospital.
I am a big believer in ‘mind over matter’ and decide to focus my every being on good thoughts. I ask lovely ladies on social media groups to share only good stories with me. I read a lot about the condition because I want to understand what my body is doing and I want to know what my options are.
I drink lots of water and tell myself that it is cleansing my body (this is by the way a theory I make up and is not based on any facts). I think of my babies and how they are growing inside me and I see myself lasting till week 35. This is the goal I set out for myself. I know that if I make it to 35 weeks the babies will be fine.
During all this time my eldest daughter Ella, who has just turned two, is at home without her mummy. This is the hardest bit. I can take being in a hospital forever knowing that I am doing it for my unborn babies. I can stand the horrid food, the boredom, the fear, the lack of privacy the constant noise, the daily blood tests, the medication, the whole shebang! The one thing that totally breaks me is being away from her. In my lowest moments I find myself wishing the babies would just come already so I can get back to her.
But against the odds, and I do mean that, I somehow last for nearly two months. During this time I meet so many brave ladies. It’s actually amazing to see how strong women are. I see new mums squeezing their tits so hard, till they nearly bleed, just to get a few drops of milk they can then give to their premature babies down in intensive care. And mums to babies that are smaller than mine are going to be, keeping positive and sitting by their babies holding their tiny, tiny hands. I meet so many incredible people during this time and hear many inspiring stories and although this is by far the hardest challenge I have ever gone through, it is also one of the most eye-opening and building experiences that changes me forever.
And so, at 35 weeks, I say to the doctors “that’s it, get them out”. My C Section is booked and I am so excited to finally meet them!
When I first see the twins I start to cry. They are so small. I do not expect them to be so small, especially after all the hard work I put into keeping them in for as long as possible. Dani weighs exactly 2KG and Arielle is not even that. At 1.9KG she is honestly the ugliest baby I have ever seen but I love her with all my heart. I love them both and I am so relieved the ordeal is over.
That night as I lay in intensive care, I wake up to a feeling something is not right. I call the nurse and ask her to check my blood pressure. The machine confirms that my blood pressure is already alarmingly high but what is more concerning, is that it is racing higher by the minute. My husband who is asleep on a hospital chair by my bed, wakes up and is surprised by all the commotion in our room.
Within minutes I am surrounded with doctors and there is a lot of noise. I know exactly what is happening cos I had read about it and I know what the risk is. I am about to enter the world of Eclampsia which is a condition in which one or more convulsions occur, often followed by coma and sometimes death. Just then the shakes start. I have lost control. My whole body is jumping on the bed and I am scared. I think to myself ‘this is it’.
I look at my husband and I can tell he has no clue what is going on and I suddenly really panic! I mean how the hell am I going to leave my three girls with this guy who can’t even tell I am about to die?!
So I decide not to.
I closed my eyes and imagine I am on the beach drinking a cocktail. I have a Pina colada followed by a Margarita and it is lush. I can hear the doctor ask “are you okay? Can you hear me?” but at this point I am in Paris eating lovely cheeses I have missed eating during my pregnancy. My body is still shaking and more drugs are being shoved into my veins, but now I am at home with my girls. I can see them all so clearly. Their faces, their eyes, their hair, I can smell it, and I know that everything is going to be okay. I find myself smiling and at this point I think the whole room thinks I have lost my mind.
The doctor keeps pressing the blood pressure machine’s button every few seconds and it seems like no one in the room is breathing. Except me of course. I am having a great time snowboarding in white powder screaming “woo hoo” at the top of my lungs.
Just then my blood pressure starts coming down. My body settles and I open my eyes. I am not dead.
All I can think of is how lucky and blessed I am to have so many dedicated people around me. This includes my darling husband who looks like shit right now, as he finally realises how close he was to losing me and having to raise three kids all by himself.
It’s the longest night of my life and although the worse is seemingly behind me, I know that the real challenge is yet to come. In a few days I am allowed to go home with my babies and life in the fast lane of parenthood (to three kids) begins.
From that point on, I decide that humour shall be my secret weapon and positive thinking my shield.