Dr. Mona Amin wondered whether posting a picture of her belly on Instagram was “too vulnerable.” Sure, people encounter tons of pictures of bare midriffs on social media, but Amin’s photo showed her cesarean section and surgical scars and told the emotional story behind them.
“It’s a very personal photo of my stomach with all the scars that I had after my surgery,” the Florida pediatrician told TODAY Parents. “It really, honestly encompasses the feelings.”
The photo shows the C-section scar from Amin's traumatic birth, as well as scars from subsequent procedures related to the secondary infertility that resulted from it.
When Amin delivered her son Ryaan in December 2019, there was a plan in place to induce her, but her water broke before that. When she arrived at the hospital, doctors gave her drugs to help labor, but Amin wasn’t dilating fully. For six hours she was stuck at 9 centimeters.
“Nothing was moving at all so we made the decision to go with a C-section,” she said. “Because of the Pitocin, which essentially helps with contractions a little bit, the baby had basically transcended down my pelvis and he was almost ready to be delivered. It’s just that I wasn’t 10 centimeters.”
That meant that after Amin’s doctor made the C-section incision, Ryaan wasn’t where he should be.
“He was stuck,” she said. “So my uterus was basically contracting around him so they couldn’t get him out.”
The doctor called for assistance as Amin and her husband, an emergency room doctor, waited helplessly.
“It was very traumatizing because you’re literally laying on the C-section table. You can’t see what’s going on. All you hear is commotion,” Amin explained. “(The doctor) needed to have another physician push my son’s head up from below so that she could pull from above from the opening.”
Amin didn’t see that her son was born “blue and limp” before doctors rushed him to the neonatal intensive care unit. He later experienced a stroke and a seizure and took seizure medications for about a year.
“I’m just very grateful I never saw him like that because I think it would have made my healing much harder,” she said. “I didn’t even get to see him until he was about 12 hours old.”
Three days later, Amin felt unwell. Her stomach felt “bloated and heavy” with a tightness. Her heart rate increased to 160. The staff dismissed it as just nerves.
“That’s probably part of it but I’m feeling very winded like I just felt sick,” she said. “I was vomiting bile the Thursday after delivery.”
As it turns out, fluid abscesses had developed in her abdomen and she needed to undergo surgery again.
“They had to take me back one week after my delivery to open me up and drain the fluid, clean everything up, make sure the uterus was OK,” she said. “I got better the next day.”
As she and Ryaan healed physically, she started grappling with intense emotions.
“It’s been a tough journey especially going from that to a pandemic and being in health care. It’s constantly felt like trauma,” she said. “Me and my husband had talked about that — we went from birth trauma to the trauma of working in health care in a pandemic.”
Added to that, Amin learned she has secondary infertility, which is a type of infertility that occurs after someone has had a child.
“I had all this scar tissue from the C-section traumatic delivery and then they had to take out my fallopian tube because the scar tissue was so bad and in order to get pregnant in any way, you have to take that out,” she said. “I have no fallopian tube on the left.”
Her fertility doctor scheduled ultrasounds to see if she would ovulate on the right so that she could become pregnant. But for five months she only ovulated on the left.
“We're doing IVF so that we can just get the embryo implanted in the uterus,” Amin said. “The uterus is fine, hopefully. Then we can grow that baby.”
Sharing her story, having friends who understand her experience and working with a therapist has helped Amin.
“I understand that it’s not my fault. I understand that I’m doing all I can do and I understand I can’t control everything in the situation and I just have to focus on what I can control,” she said. “I understand it is not going to be easy and I’m not going to beat myself up.”
There’s so many emotions that come with spending (money) to try to have another baby when there’s no guarantee that any of this is going to work at all.”
Dr. Mona Amin
She said the surgery to have her fallopian tube removed reawakened some of the feelings she experienced during her delivery. But she trusted her doctor who listened to her and understood her fears. The hormone stimulation process also felt difficult, Amin said, because she was a “slow responder” and it took her 15 days of hormone stimulation for 12 eggs. It reminded her how her body didn't react to the dilation medications.
On top of all that, she said she's struggling with many of the doubts people experience when they're facing fertility treatments.
“I felt a little bit like: Is this thing going to be something that wasn’t worth it?” she said. "Is this all for nothing?"
Through sharing her story, she’s learned a lot of people struggling with infertility also wonder if the time and money make sense.
“There’s so many emotions that come with spending (money) to try to have another baby when there’s no guarantee that any of this is going to work at all,” she said. “That is a really hard triggering thing to kind of just say, ‘Well, I have to do what I can and leave everything else up to the doctors and my body.’”
While it can be tough being so open on social media and on The PedsDoc Talk Podcast that she hosts, Amin said she is grateful to have people respond to her story. Helping others makes it easier for her to cope too.
“My voice is helping so many more people and in small ways they’re able to process their grief,” she said. “It’s so powerful to hear people’s stories … I’m inspired by people who’ve gone through the struggle to see how they’ve navigated their struggle.”