'Blood Was Pouring Down My Face and Down My Throat'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader has a startling story for our abortion series:

I don’t imagine you will use this, but I had to write it. I have never had an abortion, but if I become pregnant again, I will, without hesitation.

I have had two pregnancies, and I now have two daughters who mean the world to me. I loved being pregnant with my older daughter (now 9). I was 27 and strong and felt fairly good. I had pain in my ligaments that made it hard at times to climb stairs, walk, etc, but I managed. I kept working as a nurse until the week before she was born.

I did have one painful scary blip, though.

At 20 weeks, I had several severe nosebleeds that required ER intervention, failed episodes at cautery, and eventually painful nose packing for several days. By the end I was getting severe headaches.

We checked for bleeding disorders and none were found. I chalked it up to a fluke. Her birth was beautiful and uncomplicated.

But my second, much-wanted pregnancy 4.5 years later was harder. I had more joint and ligament pain, and had it earlier, which took me off work or on modified duty several times. And the fluke nosebleeds returned, earlier and worse. This time I was 16 weeks. We called 911 because blood was pouring down my face and down my throat, making it hard to breathe. Again, they were hard to stop, and I had several re-bleeds over three days. The pain from the packing this time was excruciating and constant for five days. Strong opiate painkillers only helped somewhat.  

I thought about abortion then, but I wanted this child so much. I was afraid I might be forced into the decision if my health worsened.

The pain only stopped when the packing came out. I was weak and dizzy for months and never felt recovered. For months afterwards, my husband would sometimes wake up terrified in the middle of the night, because he thought he heard me choking. I had one repeat bleed, which we were able to stop late in pregnancy.

My daughter was born easily and healthy. But my husband begged me to never try this again, as did my family. My midwives agreed.

I tell this story in this context not to complain about my pregnancies (which I do not regret), but because this is one of those situations where my health was in danger. I have never had a nosebleed when not pregnant. But it would be beyond irresponsible to put my body or my family through that again.  

We use birth control and are seeking a vasectomy.  But until then, pregnancy is possible.

You might be asking yourself, as I did, if nosebleeds are more common during pregnancy. Yep:

When you become pregnant your circulatory system must expand in order to accommodate your baby. With this expansion, your body creates more blood and the circulation of blood increases. These changes may lead to some problematic side effects such as more frequent nosebleeds while you are pregnant.

Furthermore:

About one in five pregnant women have nosebleeds, compared with only one in 16 women who aren’t pregnant. Nosebleeds are so common [especially from the second trimester onwards] because the pregnancy hormones progesterone and oestrogen make your blood vessels open wider (dilate).