When Erica Freeman went to the hospital at 32 weeks pregnant, her son Maxwell in utero, she knew something was wrong. She’d already suffered two losses prior: one a stillbirth at 39 weeks with her son and a miscarriage at 18 weeks with her daughter.
“I knew what labor felt like,” Freeman tells POPSUGAR. But this wasn’t it. “I arrived at the hospital and within 15 minutes, they put me in the operating room to take the baby out [via C-section],” she says. The next thing she remembers is waking up, five days later.
She’s later learn that five hours into her surgery, her husband had been asked to make a tough call. Freeman was experiencing severe placenta abruption, a serious condition where the placenta detaches from the uterus and causes internal bleeding. “My son’s father was called back with the ob-gyn and she said, ‘In order to save your wife’s life, we need you to sign off to give her a hysterectomy,'” Freeman says. He signed off – and Freeman spent the next five days in a coma due to the blood loss.
At one point, she had to be airlifted from the hospital in which she had the C-section in order to receive more blood. She’d go on to receive a total of nine blood transfusions.
“I had to grapple with the fact that I wasn’t even 30 yet and I wasn’t gonna be able to physically have any more kids.”
She woke up disoriented from the traumatic childbirth, surgery, and having been intubated. When she saw her grandfather in the corner of the room, “I asked him where my son was, and where was my cell phone,” Freeman recalls. She would soon learn that not only had her uterus been removed, but her son was in the NICU at another hospital, fighting his own health battle.
Maxwell had been deprived of oxygen in the womb, which resulted in brain damage and later a diagnosis of spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy (the most severe form of spastic CP, affecting all four limbs, the trunk, and the face, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). He spent almost a month in the NICU before Freeman could bring him home. Processing this and her recovery at the same time was difficult, to say the least.
Image Source: Erica Freeman
“I had to grapple with the fact that I wasn’t even 30 yet and I wasn’t gonna be able to physically have any more kids. But then I had this bundle of joy that I had been waiting for, that was in the NICU fighting for his life,” Freeman says. It was overwhelming to figure out what she should focus on – the baby in front of her or the others that she’d never be able to give birth to another.
Today, she calls Maxwell her rainbow baby, a term used to describe a child born after a previous loss or losses, often despite the odds. “He’s the light of my world,” she tells POPSUGAR, adding that while her biological fertility journey is over, “the possibility of growing my family other ways is still open.”
But that transition is “something I have to grieve,” Freeman says. In doing so and in hoping to help others grieve a similar journey, Freeman created a platform and podcast “Sisters in Loss”. It’s there that she has been able to foster a supportive community of other Black women sharing their stories and processing their own experiences with infertility, as well as pregnancy and infant loss.
“Being able to share these stories and give a platform for people to really shape their journey to becoming mothers and becoming parents, allows us to normalize this conversation,” Freeman says. It also helps to humanize some of the data around maternal health and infertility, she adds. “We know one in eight couples experience fertility, we know one in four people experience a loss, like we know these numbers. But it’s good to actually put voices behind it.”
This content was originally published here.