Warning: this post contains some TMI about vaginal bleeding. And other things that, if you’re new to this whole pregnancy gig, might freak you out.
I was determined to have a healthy, non-medicated, 100% exercise pregnancy, and a beautiful, natural birth. I was healthy and young and was going to give my baby the best possible start in life! (Exclamation added to represent the excitement I felt over having the opportunity to do this “perfectly.”) No one in my family had any history of pregnancy issues, so I expected a pregnancy similar to my mother’s – the standard morning sickness and other common pregnancy ailments, but nothing serious. I had a small bleeding incident at 6 weeks – just an hour of red blood – and we went to the ER, where we sat for 8 hours (overnight) for them to tell us everything looked normal and the baby was doing great.
All proceeded then as normal until just after Thanksgiving (around 19 weeks). The baby was moving, all prenatal visits had gone swimmingly (A+, my midwife said), and we were designing our birth plan – no medications, waiting 90 seconds to cut the umbilical cord, vaginal birth, midwife driven at the family birth center (not at the hospital), home visit 24 hours after the baby was born (they discharge you after only 12 hours so you can bond with the baby in a familiar setting). Of course, best laid plans and all that….
The day after Thanksgiving, I started feeling really bloated, like I had eaten too much and the really full feeling wouldn’t go away (I did eat a lot on Thanksgiving, but by the next day it should have subsided). On 11/29/13, I started having some brown spotting. I went to my doctor, who reassured me that it looked very minor and was “old blood,” maybe even leftover from the six week bleed. It got a little heavier as the week progressed, but as it was still brown, I was told not to worry unless it turned bright red. On 12/6 as I was lying in bed reading around 9:30 p.m., I felt like I needed to pee very badly. I just made it to the toilet when the blood gush started, followed by a large blood clot the size of my hand. We headed to West Suburban Hospital, where I was monitored overnight, given an IV, and first diagnosed with a placental abruption. Now, many times these are mild, and you only have one incident; the placenta doesn’t reattach to the uterine wall, but it doesn’t get any worse, either. I was having contractions, but I couldn’t even feel them, and they weren’t opening my cervix, so the doctors released me with the instructions that I was on pelvic rest and should go back to the hospital if I had any more bleeding, about a 50/50 chance.
We headed to DC the following week, as bleeding isn’t a contraindication for travel and I had a big work meeting. Plus, we figured, if I had another bleed, at least we knew where the hospital was and we had a great support system around us. And lo and behold, that next Friday night I started bleeding again, and we headed to Virginia Hospital Center, thanks to a car borrowed from a friend. The bleeding was less, but since it was the second time, we got a bit of a stern talking to by the doctor, who told me to go home and stay there – no travel, modified bed rest, and “be prepared for the likelihood of a miscarriage.” By this time I was so close to the magic 24 weeks, we heeded her advice. I went home, stayed on bed rest… but proceeded to have 4 more bleeds, this time going to Rush, as we knew they had a Maternal-Fetal Medicine staff of specialists and a level III NICU (the highest level, able to care for the smallest babies). The bleeds were scary, as they often happened at night and waking up in a pool of blood isn’t very fun. K joked I would get a complex about falling asleep, and she was right – I definitely didn’t sleep well in those weeks.
Fortunately, I was feeling pretty good on Christmas, so even though we were in Chicago and not in Connecticut as planned, we were able to Skype with the family and open gifts virtually, so that was nice. I had another bleed, but also made it through “second Christmas” with K’s family on New Year’s Day. On January 3rd, however, I started feeling cramps, just like menstrual cramps. I called my new specialist doctor (whom I had only seen twice – once for an ultrasound to confirm the chronic placental abruption, and once for a regular prenatal visit) and was advised to check myself into Rush that day. It was Thursday, and I was scheduled to be admitted on Saturday anyway, so no biggie – my suitcase was already packed for a long stay. As soon as I hit 24 weeks, I was to be kept at Rush until I delivered, which would be anytime between admission and 36 weeks. They don’t let abruptions go much past that as a complete abruption is more likely closer to the due date and requires an emergency c-section.
So, on Thursday, January 3rd, I was admitted to Rush. Since my cramps had turned into painful, “white-knuckle” contractions, I was taken to Labor & Delivery, where a neonatologist met us to talk to us about the baby’s viability options before 24 weeks. We were warned that he would likely not survive and we were asked what lifesaving methods we wanted them to take, since they could cause permanent damage. I was given indomethacin to stop the contractions, but told there was only a 50% chance they would work, and I was started on a course of steroids to help mature the baby’s lungs should he happen to come that weekend.
Fortunately, the contractions stopped, and I got the full course of steroids. For most people, the indomethacin stops the contractions for several weeks – or for good – but on Sunday afternoon, just about 6 hours after it had worn off – at 2:45 p.m. and 24 weeks and 1 day of gestation – I started having cramps again. I buzzed for the nurse, who hooked me up to a monitor and told me not to worry until she started worrying. I could hear the baby’s heartbeat – it had always been fine – and tried to relax. Irene (the nurse), however, heard something I did not – the baby’s heartbeat was having decelerations. She came hurrying back in – and I only got nervous when a cadre of about 8 other nurses came with her. I was instructed to lay on my side and breathe deeply from the oxygen mask they put on me. They dropped my bed flat and started rolling me to labor and delivery. Irene still told me not to worry yet – often this happens and they prep people for surgery only to have it be a false alarm. I started getting nervous when the door to the OR area was jammed, and when they had to go the long way around, the nurse pushing my gurney started running so hard she was out of breath. I think that’s when I realized how serious it was.
The OR was a bit of blur. I was only conscious for about 10 minutes, enough to worry about my belongings that were on the bed (including a sentimental teddy bear, my cell phone, my glasses). There was a lot of bustle in the room, so I appreciated that Irene, who was supposed to be off starting at 3, stayed with me and held my hand – she knew that hers was the only face I would know, and that I was overwhelmed. Oddly, I wasn’t that scared – I don’t think I had time to be. They moved me to the table, and I can remember being very cold, which was worse when they stripped off my shirt and poured iodine (I think) all over my midsection – and I was having a painful contraction at the same time. That was the worse moment, and it wasn’t until then that I asked, “So, am I having the baby now?”
They laid me flat and the anesthesiologist asked me rapid fire questions in a Russian accent about when and what I had eaten last; a kind nurse held consent papers over me and asked that I sign (she was impressed that my hand was so steady; again, I didn’t feel scared, just really cold and uncomfortable), and Irene and another nurse held my arms out to the sides (think crucifixion) while they inserted a catheter (“Can’t you wait to do this until I’m under anesthesia?” I asked. Apparently not. Though it was much less painful than I thought it was going to be). I was relieved that the MFM on call was my Dr. P, who smiled at me and told everyone to wait for a second, as the baby’s heartbeat had steadied and he didn’t want to cut unless he absolutely had to. Everything paused for a minute or so, but then, moving on some signal I didn’t see or hear, he said, “Ok, go.” My oxygen mask was replaced by a larger one, and the male anesthesiologist told me to take three deep breaths while the Russian one told me I would feel them pressing on my throat as I fell asleep. I didn’t. Breathing in anesthesia is a bit scary as you choke a bit on the exhale since the air is so thick. But by the third breath I was out for good.
I should mention that K was there. I had been stable for so long on Sunday that she had left the hospital to bring her parents home and have lunch. I knew it was serious when Irene came into my room and said, “You should call K now.” I panicked a bit when she didn’t answer my text to “Come now” or my call – but even though her phone was on vibrate, she was back at the hospital in 12 minutes. I hadn’t wanted to scare her with the text, but I didn’t really have time to do much else with them moving me and putting on an oxygen mask (etc.). She was outside the OR as they were prepping me, and she was almost allowed to come in, but it’s probably better that she didn’t, though it means neither of us saw Ander’s birth. I needed two pints of blood and I guess it was a messy procedure, and the placenta was all in tatters.
Ander was a little rockstar. He came out kicking and screaming, and was stable enough for them to pause in the hallway so K could get a picture. The nurse even came out and smiled at K and told her to get the camera ready, which I’m sure was a big relief for her. I don’t think she was waiting long; it took less than 10 minutes to get Ander out once they started (Dr. P said it was a 3-5 minute procedure) though another 45 to finish the work and stitch me up.
I remember not really wanting to wake up, as I was “sleeping” so soundly. I had a self-controlled morphine drip and Demerol, which made my arms feel like lead. I remember that I was worried about where my teddy bear was, and my glasses and my cell phone, and whether or not I could overdose on the morphine if I pushed the button too many times (of course not). I think it still didn’t hit me that I had just had a baby. It was very surreal; I didn’t see him born so it was weird to think I had “given birth.” K filled me in, though, and the recovery room nurses were both very sweet and chatty and kept us company for the several hours I was in recovery (K says it was more than 4 hours and that she remembers because she was sweating her ass off in her snow gear. It was polar vortex weekend, after all, and we had a foot of snow! Thank goodness her dad was able to drop her off safely at the hospital).
I was so lucky – as soon as I was alert enough, before they took me to my room, they wheeled my gurney to the NICU so I could see the baby. I couldn’t sit up yet, and his isolette was a bit high, so I didn’t see much of him that day – but it was enough to know that he was alive and stable and perfectly okay for now. The first thing I said was, “he’s so big!” Of course, 1 lb 9 oz, 12 3/4 inches isn’t that big, but to me, he was huge! I couldn’t believe he had fit in my stomach. The second thing was looking at K, and then at the nurse, and confirming that “his name is Anderson.”