Kiwi mum’s brush with death after giving birth: ‘I was saved by strangers’

After the joy of giving birth, Carterton mother Jessica had a terrifying brush with death.

For Jessica and David Walford, little Hendrix Rose is the miracle baby they always dreamed of. The couple had been trying to conceive for eight long years and were thrilled when their second round of IVF treatment was successful.

As a first-time mum, Jessica, 32, was excited to meet their baby but was anxious during her pregnancy. “Having gone through IVF, I was always a bit on edge,” she says. “I could never truly relax as a part of me still expected the worst.”

After experiencing gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, she was induced near her due date. Labour went smoothly and all seemed to be going to plan, until British-born Jessica started to feel unwell.

“I was feeling really cold and shaky,” the Carterton resident recalls. “They told me it was probably shock as I’d just had a baby, but I knew it was something more.”

Jessica says what happened next was a blur and something she’s tried to block from her memory, but she knows she suffered a massive post-partum haemorrhage resulting in major blood loss.

“I didn’t see too much blood, but my husband saw it all,” she tells Woman’s Day. “I’m quite surprised he didn’t pass out! I remember people rushing into the room, some were compressing my stomach to stop the bleeding, while others were putting in IV lines. David was standing there holding the baby, watching in horror.

“Doctors manually removed the placenta, which was painful, but the bleeding didn’t stop. They gave me meds to stop the bleeding, but this didn’t work either.”

As the trauma unfolded around them, Jessica shared a heartbreaking moment with her husband, 35, that will stay with them both forever.

“At one point, we just looked at each other and you could tell in our eyes we were both thinking the same thing – that we might not ever see each other again.”

Drifting in and out of consciousness, Jessica was rushed to surgery. “I remember going down the corridor, lights going past above me, people rushing around and talking fast. The last thing I saw was the anaesthetist in my face. I truly thought I was going to die.”

On the operating table, Jessica was given three units of red blood cells, donated
from everyday Kiwis who undoubtedly saved her life. She went on to spend another week in hospital, including time in the high dependency unit. Battling flashbacks and nightmares from the ordeal, nurses gave her sleeping pills so she could rest.

Despite feeling ill for months afterwards, Jessica knows she’s lucky to be alive.

“If it wasn’t for the people who donate blood, I definitely wouldn’t be here today. I want my story to help people realise how important this is.”

With baby Hendrix now 16 months old, the Wairarapa couple have started to relax and enjoy life as a family. Both have emotional scars that will take time to heal, but Jessica’s now focusing on the positives.

“One thing I hold on to is the fact I had a beautiful birth,” she says. “I had essential oils going, I was doing positive affirmations and I was in a very Zen place. For a while, I could only think about the bad things that happened, but that started to shift after Hendrix turned one.”

With time, the family has also started to reflect on how close they were to tragedy had it not been for the kindness of strangers.

According to NZ Blood, demand for donations is outpacing supply. Only 4 per cent of New Zealanders who are eligible to give blood currently donate, while every 18 minutes, a Kiwi facing a medical emergency needs blood to survive. Each year, blood donors save or improve the lives of 30,000 Kiwis and just one donation can save the lives of up to three people.

Recently, the organisation has been shining the spotlight on the “hidden emergencies” like Jessica’s. NZ Blood says that while Kiwis step up for the cause during a crisis, there’s still a huge need for donations for everyday medical events, including injuries, surgical problems, transfusions for mothers and babies, and even severe nose bleeds.

For Jessica, David and Hendrix, blood donations are a precious gift the family will never forget.

“It’s still hard to believe it all happened, but we’re moving forward and loving
our life together,” tells Jessica. “Bringing Hendrix home from the hospital was the best feeling and she’s growing up to be a cheeky little thing!”

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