I submitted this to the Modern Love section of the New York Times and got the universal rejection. But rejection does a lot for me. It adds fuel to my fire, determination and voice. Without it, I don’t think I would be here today. So I turn things around, because, what other choice do I have? I choose to learn from it. Maybe the writing isn’t up to par, maybe the subject matter was not interesting, maybe the timing was off? I will likely never know the reason, so why spend time on it. I’m moving forward and releasing it here.
Prince might not have meant it literally when he wrote “I would Die For you,” but I did. This year marks 2 years that I died while giving birth to our second child. One of the last things I thought as I was being prepped for delivery was “I would die for my love.” I just didn’t think it would have to come to that.
Jonathan and I met 7 years ago. I was working as a TV producer and he was a PhD economist from University of Chicago – two people who would likely never meet. It took a Yenta friend to introduce us to each other. On the very first phone call we both sat back and realized this was it for the rest of our lives.
I had always focused on my career. I was uninterested in family, marriage, children or settling down. That sounded like a punishment after all I had done with my life. I worked for WNBC, executive producing shows like the New York Magazine Awards show and the Puerto Rican Day parade. I ran a division of one of the largest production companies in the world and EP’d Deal or No Deal in Spanish for Telemundo. My career was on the rise. I tell you this not to boast of my accomplishments, but only to have you understand that my priorities at the time were of me succeeding in business, working on bigger shows and getting to the next level in my career, definitely not the “traditional family life” of the 1950s.
All of that changed the day I met Jonathan Arnold. And June Cleaver’s life didn’t look so bad. I couldn’t marry him fast enough. Jonathan had a daughter from a previous relationship. We were “older” and wanted to add to our family. I stopped working to prioritize my family. We had our first daughter, Adina, within a couple of years. No issues, no complications. The next pregnancy was not that easy.
I didn’t want to die. I wanted to be with Jonathan for the rest of my life and then some, but it wasn’t going to happen. I was sure of it.
Twenty weeks into my pregnancy of our second child, Jacob, I started having premonitions that I was not going to make it through the delivery. Everyone I spoke to told me to relax and said I needed to “think positively.” I had detailed premonitions that my organs were going to merge deeply into one another, that I was going to need a hysterectomy, that I was going to hemorrhage, that I would need to be put under general anesthesia, that Jacob would be fine, and I would die. This wasn’t normal pregnancy fear; I had delivered a baby and had a cSection before. This was different. I had a visceral reaction to these thoughts. They were real, they were daily and they were terrifying. They were so specific that I sought help from doctors who would perform those procedures in a worst-case emergency scenario. My doctors told me my visions had a “less than a one percent chance” of happening. All of my ultrasounds, MRIs and tests came back negative. Everyone, including my husband, thought I was crazy. But just as I knew in my heart that Jonathan was my destiny, I felt this too was meant to be. The only difference was, it wasn’t going to end in ‘happily ever after.’ I was headed down a dead end. I kept telling anyone who would listen about my overwhelming sense of foreboding, but no one heard me, so all I could do was wait for D (delivery) – day. Something told me I needed to prepare for goodbye.
I started to write “goodbye letters” to everyone – my unborn son, my daughters, friends, family – but every time I tried to write a letter to Jonathan, I did not know how to start. I knew he would cling to this letter in his moments of deep despair, but how do I START it.
Jonathan had taken an amazing job as the Chief Economist at the New York Attorney General’s office and I was going back and forth to Chicago, where we had built our life and were prepping to sell our home, moving to NY permanently. It was during one of my round trips that I was grounded in Chicago due to some spotting and it was decided I would deliver the baby there. Jonathan would have to fly back and forth until Jacob was born. That day came one week shy of my scheduled c-Section.
I started bleeding all over the kitchen floor. Jonathan was in NY. He raced to the airport, texting and chatting with me the entire time. I was in the Labor and Delivery room when my doctor told me we are going to the operating room. I told Jonathan to take care of the kids and that whatever happens, “he had made me the happiest woman in the world.” I kissed my daughter goodbye, everyone said “we will be back soon with your brother,” and as they wheeled me out of the room, I broke down crying, convinced it would be the last time I would see her. As I was being moved to the OR, I told my doctor, “Julie, there is something wrong with me. The baby is fine, but I am not.” She said “Stephanie, I know you are probably nervous because Jonathan isn’t here, but I will take care of you, you are in good hands.”
That was one of the last things I remembered. Apparently, after delivering a perfectly healthy little boy, I had a seizure. I stopped breathing. I was intubated and put under general anesthesia. I hemorrhaged and had a hysterectomy. And I died for 37 seconds.
My premonitions came true.
I didn’t have a name for what would happen to me, but medical science does: I had an amniotic fluid embolism, a rare 1 in 40,000 birth condition where amniotic cells get into the mother’s bloodstream and, if you happen to be allergic to it, you go into something resembling an anaphylactic shock. In many cases, it is fatal. For those who don’t die, many are permanently and severely impaired. Where did I stand among those stats? My husband was about to find out. I had heart, lung and kidney failure. I had blood transfusions to the tune of three times my blood supply. And as I was being prepped and stabilized to be put into a medically induced coma, Jonathan arrived at the hospital.
The worst part of what happened to me occurred before my death.
Having daily visions of what would happen and waiting for it to happen, that truly was the most painful part. What Jonathan was about to go through would be the most challenging experience of his life. It would put the ultimate test to his faith in our everlasting love.
Jonathan sat next to my body in the ICU with no certainty for how I would fare. Would I ever speak, walk or function again? It was all excruciating for him. Jonathan knew he had three children who needed him. But he couldn’t leave me and take the chance of losing me if he left for too long. So he split his time between the ICU and our home and the maternity ward where Jacob was being held by others who were not his mother. It was heartbreaking for him. I had to get better. He had to believe there was no other choice. He also knew he would take care of me if I became another statistic.
After six days of not speaking, I was brought down off the meds and the first thing I said was “Am I still f#@ing Pregnant?” At that point Jonathan knew I would be ‘ok.’ We still didn’t know what lurked behind the initial trauma, but he felt I knew why I was in the hospital and I was cursing, so it was headed in the right direction. Jacob was perfect and happy, my daughters were grateful I was alive and Jonathan was relieved and just cried. Next to our wedding day, those tears were the happiest tears I had ever seen.
After all of my conversations with many friends and doctors telling them what I believed would happen and thinking no one had listened, one anesthesiologist from a consultation two months before I gave birth had actually listened. I didn’t know it, but she had flagged my file and incorporated extra units of my rare blood type, monitors, and a crash cart in the operating room at the time of delivery. She had no test results or any hard evidence, she just used her intuition, and that, I believe, along with a quick thinking medical team, are the reasons I am alive.
For the next few months, my stoic, former Air Force pilot, husband went into survival mode. I wanted to talk about what he went through, what he had witnessed and see how he was doing. But every time I tried to bring it up he would say “Sweetheart, I am good, we got past this, let’s live now and not dwell in the past.” I understood him not wanting to relive it, but I also knew if we didn’t deal with his pain, our pain, head on, it could linger and we could suffer in the long run. I gave him his time and space until it was the right moment.
Almost a year after I gave birth, we finally had our conversation. He started to cry. He had been scared I would have died, exhausted emotionally, and relieved he could still hold my hand. He understood, more than me, how close a call it truly was. I was his one and only love and he couldn’t deal with the possibility of losing me. He felt guilty he didn’t believe my instinct and said he would never doubt my intuition again. He actually came up with the motto we live by today, “If you SENSE something, SAY something.” He believes, as many do, my intuition saved my life.
I finally did end up writing that letter to Jonathan. It just took the form of a manuscript that was released by Harper Collins a few weeks ago titled 37 Seconds. But it wasn’t a goodbye letter, it was my homage to this incredible man, who is more than my love, he is my life. I would die for my love and stay dead if it came to that, I’m just glad I didn’t have to.