Pregnancy, while of course completely natural, is such a delicate thing. Thursday morning, I was at the gym, doing 30 minutes of brisk cardio on the ellipticals and pushing 100 pounds on the leg press as usual. Friday morning, I was in the hospital hooked up to an IV and monitors. The two have nothing to do with each other, except to illustrate in stark contrast how a pregnancy can be healthy and complication-free one day and in danger the very next.
Last night I went to bed after a completely uneventful day. No downhill skiing, boxing, horseback riding or car accidents to speak of. My day had consisted of toddler time at the library, the same workout regimen I’ve been doing five times a week since January (save five weeks of reduced activity in the first trimester), and a completely commonplace afternoon spent playing with and feeding Maddi. I’m not sure what woke me up at 2:15 this morning, but as I lay there still half-asleep and working on getting all-the-way asleep again, I felt a warm gush that I was pretty sure wasn’t me peeing myself (although one never knows what one’s pregnant body is capable of).
As much as I didn’t relish the thought of having wet the bed, I went into the bathroom to change my pants and hoped that when I sniffed them, they’d smell of urine rather than amniotic fluid. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to try to determine the source of the fluid, because when I turned the light on and slid my pants down, I was confronted with a large amount of what was very obviously fresh blood. As I sat there on the toilet wondering, still half-asleep, what on earth I had done to the baby and why was this happening and what was I going to do, another gush splashed into the water below.
I racked my brain for causes of bleeding during late pregnancy. Cervical irritation is one, but this was a lot of blood and it had been two nights since I’d done anything that could possibly have irritated my cervix. The only other thing I could think of would be a placental abruption, and after being awakened by something that pregnant women dare not imagine will happen, I began hyperventilating a little and ran to the bed to wake Chris. From finding the blood to awakening my husband, total elapsed time was probably 15 seconds, but it felt like 15 minutes. If the placenta had completely detached, the baby would have but a few minutes to live without oxygen.
I ran back to the bathroom and fumbled in the top cabinet for maxi pads — something I hadn’t used since before we moved. In my haste, I managed to bring down the humidifier (while failing to find any pads), waking Maddi. I rolled up toilet paper and grabbed a pair of underwear before Chris’ conversation with the 911 operator reminded me that I should be lying down, not racing around the house like a chicken with its head cut off. As I lay on the living room floor, bleeding and sobbing, I looked back on my day and wondered what I had done to bring this about. Was it reracking the 45-pound weight after my calf presses? Letting Maddi playfully smack my belly? Rolling over to a semi-stomach-sleeping position in bed? All these things I do every day, secure in the knowledge that the baby is protected by an ocean of amniotic fluid and the placenta is safely tucked behind the baby rather than out in front as Maddi’s was — yet I refused to believe that I was not somehow to blame for what I, by this time, assumed was my baby’s horrible demise.
As I was heaving with tears and shivering from shock, Chris packed my prescriptions and readied Maddi for a trip to the hospital. The ambulance took what seemed like an eternity to arrive, and I was irritated with their questions. Couldn’t they fill my chart out on the way to the hospital? My little boy, I thought, was in grave danger if not already dead, and we didn’t have time for my weight, birthdate and street address. Yet more time was spent trying to insert an IV, but my veins were already a bit collapsed from blood loss and mercifully the paramedics didn’t push it. The trip to Kelowna was made in the time it usually takes me to drive to the grocery store (about a quarter of the distance).
In the ambulance, I thought I felt some small movements from the baby, but the ride was so bouncy I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Knowing that it had been much longer than 10 minutes since the gushes of blood, I realized that if my placenta had completely detached, any movement I was feeling would be nothing more than the pressure of a dead baby hitting my abdominal wall as we bumped over the potholes. I wasn’t sure how much I had bled at this point, or how much blood to expect from a complete vs. a partial abruption, but as much as I wanted to hold out for the best-case scenario, it felt as if I’d be tempting fate to hope for anything more than being allowed to hold my sweet son before burying him.
The paramedics raced me through the ER entrance and into Labour and Delivery where I was quickly given an IV in a larger vein and hooked up to a fetal monitor. I could hardly believe it when my dear baby’s heartbeat sounded from the machine. The rate was quite a bit higher than usual, but the baby was still there. I know I should have still been worried, because I was only 32 weeks, 4 days pregnant and definitely not out of the woods, but all that mattered was that my babe was still alive. And if he was still alive — whatever was wrong with me — now that we were in the hospital he could be rescued if we took a turn for the worse. That little 168-beat-per-minute chugging sound was the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I had lost my baby and found him again.
We spent a tense night in a four-person room that is apparently normally used for mothers-to-be who come in for non-stress tests. Chris and Maddi showed up perhaps 20 minutes after we did — not having the luxury of a vehicle with a siren and a mandate to break the speed limit — and gave me some much-needed moral support as I found out from the OB on call that I was 2 cm dilated and contracting. We viewed our son on ultrasound and no obvious problems presented themselves, so another ultrasound was scheduled for later that morning on a fancier, more high-tech machine downstairs in radiology. I sent Chris and Maddi home to get a little sleep — although I knew that Chris probably wouldn’t — and the nurses drew more blood and conducted a non-stress test on the baby. I managed to get a few hours’ sleep between 6 and 8 before expectant mothers began arriving for their much less stressful non-stress tests. Not knowing whether I was going to deliver my wee one that day (in fact, the OB had ordered that I not be given anything to eat or drink given the possibility of an emergency C-section), I couldn’t help but envy these 40-week moms as they listened to the heartbeats and movements of their fully-developed and ready-to-come babies and talked about scheduling inductions. Up until now, I’d expected to be one of those full-term moms mulling inductions. But after the events of this morning, instead of hoping that he’ll make it as far past Christmas as possible, I’m now facing the possibility that he could be born within the next few weeks.
Finally, my ultrasound appointment rolled around. The technician was training a student, so everything was gone over twice. Nothing was amiss, save that the baby was small for his date — but I’d expected that, as mothers who work out regularly deliver smaller (but no less healthy) newborns. Even a thorough ultrasound examination of the placenta (twice) found nothing visibly amiss. When the OB came by later, he said that it’s quite common for the cause of bleeding to remain a mystery.
(By the way, the ultrasound technician gave Chris some pictures of the baby, who happens to be completely adorable and looks just like his daddy and sisters.)
Around 4, I was permitted a snack. Dinner was an hour out when the doctor gave the OK for food and drink, but my stomach couldn’t take a minute more. After a bit of toast from the nurses, I was moved to a semiprivate room where I am expected to stay until about Saturday afternoon, per the doctor’s orders to observe me for 36 hours from when I came in. Dinner was horrible, but it was the best tuna-salad sandwich and split-pea soup I ever ate, considering that I was pregnant and starving. Chris and Maddi came by after dinner with a John Grisham novel from the hospital gift shop — a godsend as Canadian hospital rooms do not come standard with TVs as they do in the states — and hugs and kisses. I also ran into one of the two other pregnant moms from Maddi’s playgroup, who had just delivered her son the morning before. He was fat and rosy and adorable, and if I hadn’t been in the hospital, terrified of delivering a 32-week preemie, I would have yearned to hold my own little son and kiss his sweet newborn toes.
The doctor came by while I was visiting with Tressa and told me that he thought I would be ready to leave tomorrow, but that he was leaving that call up to the OB who will be taking the next shift. If I do go home, he emphasized, I’d be going home to put my feet up for at least 10 days.
As excited as I am at the idea of going home, I have mixed emotions about the prospect of bedrest. Obviously I don’t want to deliver a preterm baby and goodness knows it had been a long time since I have spent a day in bed and been brought food, but there is also the issue of his very active sister. Chris is coming down with a cold, and on top of that has another job besides playing Mr. Mom, and it is very clear that after nearly 24 hours of dealing with a sleep-deprived, teething toddler that Daddy is in need of a break. Not to mention that three hospital visits in one day, with Mommy wearing a bizarre gown and hooked up to an IV pole — and each visit ending with a goodbye rather than Mommy coming home — have taken their toll on Maddi and she is now visibly upset every time she visits. This is the first time I have spent more than three or four hours away from Maddi and the first time we’ve woken up more than a few steps down the hall from each other, and it hit her hard. I feel helpless to care for either child properly — the one in my uterus is at the mercy of my faulty body, and the one at home, suffering so at the sudden loss of her primary caregiver, I cannot return to without jeopardizing the fragile life of the tiny one within.
Last night, I watched “Ugly Betty” and “ER,” ate lasagna and chocolate cake and went to bed in my own house, my husband and daughter nearby and baby incubating safely (or so I thought) inside me as he’d done for the past seven months. Tonight, I read a cheesy paperback in an adjustable steel bed, dined on hospital food, and missed my husband and daughter terribly. And for the first time since getting a clean bill of health at my 10-week appointment, I lay wondering and worrying about the fate of the little one inside me.
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