116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Mary Tull was on a plane the day her daughter Laura Adams was rushed into surgery for the first time.
She had flown to Detroit to pick up Laura's grandmother, Theresa Ehlke, 90, who wanted to be there when her great-granddaughter was born. When Mary stepped off the plane, a text was waiting for her: Laura had a C-section, two weeks before her due date. Josephine Teresa Adams, whose middle name comes from her great-grandmother, was born healthy, even as the seriousness of her mother's condition was revealing itself.
A gallstone had caused damage to her pancreas. What followed was a spiral of infections, close calls and surgeries.
'People think pregnancy is perfectly safe nowadays. But pregnancy still is life-threatening,' Laura's husband, Darin, said in February.
For the vast majority of cases, pregnancy in the United States is safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, of more than 3.9 million births per year, around 600 lead to the mother's death.
However, more than 65,000 women in the United States have a potentially life-threatening maternal condition or complication every year, a number that has been rising steadily over the past 15 years. The reasons for the increase are not clear, but factors could include increases in maternal age, pre-pregnancy obesity, pre-existing chronic medical conditions and caesarean delivery.
People don't get the other aspect of childbirth...You have to care about the mom, too."
The numbers of serious complications statistically may be low — less than 2 percent of births — but for the individuals facing them, they can be dire.
'I just feel like a lot of times people don't get the other aspect of childbirth. It's always just about the child, not the mom,' Laura said. 'In America, we think pain and suffering is OK as long as the baby is fine, but I don't think that's true. You have to care about the mom, too.'
Twice, Laura was transferred from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to Covenant Medical Center's Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation Center in Waterloo in hopes she was on the road to full recovery. Twice, she had to be sent back to Iowa City after relapses in her health.
'The medical team warned us early on to expect two steps forward, one step back, four steps forward, two steps back, but as long as there are more steps forward, progress is being made,' Mary wrote at one point to supporters in an online update on the family's GoFundMe page, which seeks to help the Adamses' offset mounting medical bills. They plan to donate any excess funds to the American Pancreatic Association.
After Josie was born — with Darin spending his days and many nights at Laura's bedside — Mary and her husband, Lloyd, took Josie home to Waterloo with them. Laura's brother Eric Tull and his wife, Jessica, and their two-year-old daughter moved in for three months to help care for both visiting grandmother Theresa and baby Josie.
'At the time it was what we needed,' Mary said. 'For a while, we just took things for about an hour at a time, then a day at a time. Now we're at about a week at a time.'
Lloyd retired when his daughter went into the hospital, and Mary retired in May from her job as a reliability engineer at John Deere in Waterloo.
'We weren't planning to retire yet — Lloyd planned to work for a few more months, and I'd probably have worked a few more years,' she said.
But they decided it was more important to them to spend time with their daughter.
After Darin exhausted his leave and returned to work, Josie went home with him. As with any new father, he is learning the ins and outs of parenthood, but without his wife by his side.
'It really makes me appreciate single parents,' he said 'I kind of empathize with what they go through.'
Meanwhile, he was getting their house ready for Laura's return, installing railings that would help her make it up the stairs from the front door to the living room.
On May 9, five months to the day since that emergency C-section, Laura went home. To celebrate, Darin planned a party with friends, family and neighbors. On a Saturday morning, May 28, a home health aide helped her put on makeup, while Darin deftly managed Laura's pills — she was taking 12 different medicines, from painkillers and antibiotics to vitamin D to compensate for the lack of sunshine while she was confined to her bed.
From her recliner, Laura watched him prepare for the party. It was nice being home, she said — she gets to spend more time with Josie, though it doesn't feel like enough.
'It's a little bit frustrating,' she said. 'If Josephine cries, I can't go help at all. It feels like I should be able to be taking care of her.'
But there are rays of hope. The stars marking her many steps forward have been moved to the hallway wall, where she can see them. Her voice continues to improve.
'I can actually sing now, which is good,' she said.
As they prepared for the guests, however, her face became drawn with pain — something, once more, wasn't right.
Mary looked at her daughter, and her own eyes filled with tears.
'The hardest part is not knowing how to help her,' she said. 'She's got a lot to go through yet.'
Late that Sunday night, May 29, Laura and Darin had to return, once more, to the hospital, first in Marshalltown, where they live, and then back to UIHC. Doctors believe she pulled several muscles and needs more rehabilitation to build them back up before heading home again.
She also will has five or six more surgeries in the future, the first one likely in July or August, each of which will mean more hospital time.
On June 9, Josie's six-month-birthday, Laura returned from UIHC to the rehab facility. Darin hopes she will only be there a few weeks before being strong enough to come home again.
'The length of illness does make you weary. It wears you down,' he said. 'But I love my wife, and she will persevere.'
How to help: To help Laura Adams and her family, go to her GoFundMe page.