Mom who nearly bled to death now fights for others

Corie Hess walked into the obstetrics unit, shaking. She was terrified. The COVID-19 pandemic was raging, she was entering the hospital alone, and the last time she had been pregnant, she’d had a miscarriage and almost died. 

That experience had been traumatic, and even though she had spent years going to therapy and educating herself on mental health, the anxiety would not fade. Hands trembling, she called her husband on video to steady herself for her appointment. 

Hess felt alone, but her story is far from unique.

Thousands of Hoosier women exhibit mental health conditions after pregnancy or childbirth. Experts estimate that more than half of women who give birth experience some shift in their emotions after delivery. Of those, 15% will develop long-lasting depression.

In Indiana, mental health conditions such as depression contributed “significantly” to the number of women who died in the year after childbirth, according to the state’s recent Maternal Mortality Review Committee Report. In 2010 alone, more than 20 recent moms died as a definite or probable result of their mental health.

Oftentimes, these conditions can combine with others such as substance use disorder and become deadly. But even when the results aren’t so dire, for some of the hundreds of women who undergo serious complications in childbirth annually in Indiana — Hess included — mental health conditions are a tormenting reminder of a near-death experience.

Mom who nearly bled to death now fights for others

Hess’ journey to building the family she’d always dreamed of was filled alternating moments of hope, joy and tragedy.

More than four years ago, Hess experienced a series of miscarriages before she gave birth to her first son,  Alex, in 2017. 

A year later, she found out she was pregnant again.

To celebrate, she and her husband drove from their home in Muncie to visit family in Massachusetts. On the way back, two months into her pregnancy, she noticed some bleeding. She rushed to the doctor, where she was given the heartbreaking news that this baby, too, had passed away.

“It was devastating,” she said.

Corie Hess with her sons Alex (left) and Evan.
Corie Hess with her sons Alex (left) and Evan.
Corie Hess with her sons Alex (left) and Evan.
Corie Hess with her sons Alex (left) and Evan.
Corie Hess with her sons Alex (left) and Evan.
COURTESY OF CORIE HESS

Doctors gave Hess two options for handling her miscarriage: She could go into surgery, or take medication that would allow her to let the process happen at home. She chose the medication, because she’d already used it before and wanted to be in a comforting environment.

She prepared herself for the sadness and mental taxation of the experience. But when the time came, the medication didn’t work. She called her doctor, who prescribed her another dose.

A few days later, the bleeding started again — a lot of it.

“There was just a lot of blood,” she said. “I couldn’t stand up without it gushing out … so I yelled for my husband, and I was like, ‘We need to go, now.’”

At the nearby emergency room at Ball State Memorial Hospital, doctors put Hess away in a room immediately, but nobody examined her. She kept saying “I’m bleeding a lot, I’m bleeding a lot,” to the nurses who checked her in, but nobody seemed alarmed.

To her, this signaled that she shouldn’t be too concerned, either. Hess told her husband to go home and put their one-year old son to bed.

About 20 minutes later, a doctor finally came in to check on her. After chatting with her for a bit, he left to get another doctor, leaving Hess alone in the room yet again. When another doctor finally came back to check on her about 15 minutes after that, she started feeling weak, her vision blurring.

By now, Hess had lost so much blood that she started going into shock.

Luckily, the obstetrician needed to treat Hess’ severe bleeding was on call and in the building. Emergency room doctors buzzed her down immediately.

“Thank God she was actually in the building, because if she hadn’t been, I don’t know what would have happened,” Hess said. “She’s the one that really kind of fought for me, took things over, got me the care that I needed.”

committee’s recent report  recommends health systems increase screening for mental health conditions, expand resources for addressing mental health crises and improve linkage to mental health care when treating women post-pregnancy.