Friday, 3 August 2012

Pregnancy story (to be followed by birth story) - Part I

I had my daughter 11 weeks ago now via planned c-section.  I refuse to use the word "elective" even though that's the box they checked on the form at the hospital, because it sounds frivolous and implies that I had a choice - I did not!  I was there at the birth of my sister's firstborn, a homebirth so perfect that the midwives kept exclaiming afterwards "I wish we'd taped that!  I want to show that to every woman considering homebirth because THAT is how it's supposed to go!"
I knew before I got pregnant that I wanted to have a birth at home, and even managed to get my highly skeptical husband on board with the idea (well, at least, he grudgingly said, "Well, since you're the one HAVING the baby, I guess you should have the say in how it happens" - hmmm, simple truth for the doctors and hospitals to take to heart, huh?)
But ... my homebirth was not to be.

We're - Pregnant!

I knew to the day when I got pregnant and had my first symptoms less than four days later.  I was in my office having a very important meeting with an accountant when I was suddenly swamped with a wave of dizziness that almost knocked me over.  That night I had the same sensation while talking to my husband (boyfriend, at the time) - this time it was so strong that I ended up sitting abruptly on the floor in the middle of the sentence.  My boyfriend said one word - "Pregnant?" and I scoffed at him (not because I thought he was wrong but because I didn't know I WANTED to be pregnant until that first wave of dizziness that afternoon, and suddenly I wanted it so badly I couldn't bear to say "yes" and then be disappointed.  Also, he has this incredibly irritating ability to be right on the money about some things - things he knows absolutely nothing about - and I try to ignore that ability as much as possible - y'know, to keep his head the correct size).

The entire theme for this whole pregnancy was going to turn out to be "don't judge other people" - something I wouldn't start to see until much later.  And this was going to be my first lesson in that.  I'd read stories about women who took a pregnancy test too early and then got a negative result.  I had been so scornful of those women - "How hard can it be to read the instructions!  And wait a few days, for pity's sake, before taking it, just to be sure!"

Well, what do you know, I did the same damn thing.  Turns out it's really easy to do, even if you're smart and read the instructions and understand why they tell you to wait - because you're really excited and anxious and you can't even begin to predict the start of your next cycle because they've been all over the place for your entire life.

So - I got my negative result - beat myself up sideways for thinking two dizzy spells = pregnancy, and went outside and walked my dog in the park while I tried not to cry (failed, so was very grateful I didn't run into anybody!)  I told my boyfriend, "nope, not pregnant" and tried not to cry while he looked vastly relieved and tried not to look it (we both failed).

Still, for the next week or too I felt odd - to the point that I was voluntarily foregoing my morning coffee, which for me was a dramatic sacrifice.  Then one Saturday morning I work up early because I *HAD* to clean the entire house and organize every closet, and when I was down I showered off all the grit and grime and dog hair and drove straight to the pharmacy for another test - this time I sprang for the pricier one that also indicated how many weeks along the pregnancy was.

The next morning I woke up very early and took the test.  Then I walked very slowly into the bedroom and woke up my soundly sleeping boyfriend to show him the results in the window - "Pregnant" it said in the lower left hand corner; "three weeks" floated in the top right hand corner.  The second I saw that he'd read it and woken up enough to understand it (poor guy!) I burst into tears, and he just folded me up into a hug and held me for a long time, saying "it's going to be okay" over and over again.  

In retrospect I don't know if he was reassuring me or himself, but it worked (for me!)

9 Weeks - Testing

At 9 weeks I went in for a CVS as I carry a major genetic disease.  I knew somewhere deep down that the baby was a girl, and she was just fine, but my boyfriend wanted a little more reassurance than "I know in my heart" so off to the hospital I went.  This was my first experience having any kind of procedure in a hospital, and I remember thinking "This is so clinical.  Hmmm.  I'm sure glad I won't have to be in the hospital again!  Yay homebirth!"

The doctors told me it would be about a 3 week wait for results, which meant we were scheduled to hear back on December 24th.  I kept asking about holidays - "when do they take holidays?  How long are they off?" - terrified because I was sure they'd all be skipping merrily off to have a great old Christmas & New Year while I shivered in a ball on the sofa, chewing my nails and twitching, waiting for the phone to ring.

The day after the procedure the doctor called me and let me know that they'd gotten a rather small sample size and that they had to "grow it" before testing it or the results would be inconclusive.  She apologized, because that would add another 3 weeks to the delay for results.

I hung up the phone and cried.

All I wanted to do was be HAPPY about the pregnancy!  To take "before" belly shots and pretend to have food cravings and wander through the baby section at the stores, feeling all the baby blankets for softness and welling up at the incredibly tininess of the little outfits.  Now she was telling me that I had to wait until the middle of January?  Six weeks?

Two weeks later I was at work and realized my phone was beeping.  I checked it and it said I had missed a call from a number I didn't recognize.  I took the phone into the bathroom with me (yep, I do that! sorry kids!) and was in the middle of trying to figure out who it was from when it rang again.  I fumbled with it and almost dropped it into the toilet while answering (then almost hung up the call after answering it!).

It was the doctor.  Inexplicably she had results already - a week earlier than originally projected (to this day I have no idea how the got results so quickly).  All was fine - we were having a girl and there was absolutely nothing to worry about.

20 Weeks - Worrying

The pregnancy progressed normally.  Despite a lot of stress at home (boyfriend was still a student and wasn't expecting to finish school until 2 months before my due date - unplanned pregnancy was pretty scary for him!) I was doing really well.  I didn't even have morning sickness or anything, unless you count a peculiar aversion to anything with noodles that lasted for the first half of the pregnancy.  Anything I ate - pasta, soup, even my beloved pad thai - if it contained noodles, especially long, skinny noodles, it was a no-go for me (I shouldn't complain, all I had to do was stop eating noodles, but somehow I kept feeling the urge to test it -- "hmm, can I eat ... pad sew?  Let's try.  Um, nope, that's not a happy thing for me.  Scratch pad sew off the list.  Hey, what about macaroni and cheese?")

At 20 weeks I went for our routine obstetrical detail ultrasound and the ultrasound tech spent a lot of time saying "hmm" and going back for second and third glances.  Finally she let me know that the placenta was a lot more low-lying than they would like, a marginal previa, and that very likely I would have to be back again at 31 or 32 weeks to check again.  Odds were pretty good everything would move up the way it was supposed to and I'd get to have that homebirth I wanted.

I went home and woke up my boyfriend to tell him (the u/s had been scheduled for the ungodly hour of 7:15 am on a Saturday).  I ended up in tears (hmm, I'm starting to notice a trend here.  Truly, I am not THAT much of a leaky faucet, I just cried at all the points that are worth relaying for this story!)

"I'm gonna have to have a c-section!!" I sobbed.  

He was deeply unimpressed.  "Didn't you say the u/s tech said that it was a 95% chance things would go back to normal?"  

-- hiccup -- "Ye- yes, but ..." 

"Then let's just wait and see, okay?"

31 Weeks - Scared

I went for the followup scan and this time my boyfriend came with me. He'd finished exams the day before, and sleep deprivation and euphoria/relief combined to make him willing to come along, even though this scan was also set for 7:15 am.  I had been told I was allowed to reschedule the exam if I wanted, but as I'd learned the last time, it wasn't that terrible.  The hospital was quiet and empty at that time (well, the medical imaging department was, anyway) and the techs were relaxed, able to give you a lot of time and attention.  As it would turn out this was very lucky, as we needed to have a very fresh pair of eyes on the screen that morning.

The u/s tech was named Janet.  She invited me in, and told my boyfriend that he could come in after a few minutes for the "guided tour" of the baby.

As ever the first part of the scan was quiet and tense.  I chattered about how I really wanted a home birth and was hoping the placenta had moved outta the way, and she smiled and nodded - and then abruptly she was less smiley.  I fell silent as she continued to move the wand around over a shadowy area that looked like nothing to me (I'd had several scans at this point and fancied myself at least a little aware of what they were looking at in terms of the baby, but she wasn't looking at the baby).  Then she excused herself and told me to to clean myself up and put on a hospital gown to pop over to the washroom, and told me to stop by "my hubby" on the way to let him know he'd be invited in very shortly.  I came back and she took even more scans and pictures before excusing herself to go get my boyfriend, and also check the computer to make sure that the scans had come through properly so that she could forward them to the doctor.

15 minutes later she came back, with my boyfriend in tow, and sat down without a word to give us our guided tour.  She was very thorough and sweet and calm, but I was incredibly tense.  My boyfriend could sense it, and finally asked the tech about the u/s.  "Did the - thing - you know - move out of the way?"

The tech looked torn.  She said, "I'm sorry, but I'm not able to say.  I'm not a doctor.  But I did send your scans to be reviewed, so your midwife can tell you in a couple of days."

My boyfriend pressed on.  "But can't you say if the - thing - moved?  You could see, right?  Because Jessica really wants to have a natural birth."

The tech looked very sad, pressing her lips together.  "I really can't say."

Then I realized that she was shaking her head, very slowly, from left to right, her expression tragically eloquent.

My boyfriend seemed to notice it too, and asked again - "Can she have a homebirth?"

She still didn't answer - not out loud - but her head kept shaking - "No."

We drove to Tim Hortons (why, I have no earthly idea) and I ordered a very large decaf coffee and a very large doughnut.  (Oh right, I remember why.  I was depressed and wanted a doughnut! I had been largely gluten-free for the last four years so this was a big crazy splurge for me!)

At this point I was sure I had placenta previa, so as I ate my doughnut, I read article after article on my phone while my boyfriend sat there patiently, listening to me read random sentences off random articles.  I think I posted something on Facebook about how "things don't work out anything close to the way you planned".  Concerned friends messaged me immediately "Is everything okay with the baby?" and gave me a much-needed kick in the pants.  I quickly updated the status "The baby is fine!  I am fine!" and emailed them back to explain what had happened.  I realized that we were incredibly lucky.  Up until that point there was nothing to indicate that anything was wrong and even though something wasn't 100% "normal" the baby was fine, I was fine, and I was in the care of some really excellent experts.  One truly spectacular friend emailed me a list of things that she thought were positive aspects of a c-section (while it's hard to find information on placenta previa that won't scare the pants offa you, it's even harder to find anyone posting about c-sections that isn't judgemental or determined to convince you NOT to have a section because if you DO have a section you obviously don't care if your child is sickly or brain damaged or what have you) which I read over and over again for the next week or two.

32 weeks - Referred

I had an appointment the following week with my midwife.  I went in fully expecting her to say "Well, you're in the 5% of women whose placenta does NOT move up and out of the way."

Instead she started with "I know you were really hoping for a homebirth - but it is just not in the cards for you for this pregnancy."

I sat still, my heart in my throat.

She continued, "what your scans showed was not placenta previa.  It is actually something called vasa previa with a ...."

She kept talking and I honestly don't know what else she said.  There was this dull humming in my ears, and only the occasional words broke through - "velamentous cord insertion" (what?) "c-section" - "hospital" - "referral" - "obstetrician" - "urgent".  All I could think about was that I needed to get out of there and get onto Google (such a bad idea, btw, there is a LOT of scary stuff out there about vasa previa).  I left and I was still in the fog, but I heard her tell me that while they (the midwives) would still be taking care of me, they'd also be referring me to an obstetrician, and that I should expect to have an appointment over the next few days.  She cautioned me against lifting heavy things, against stress, and against sex, and I wandered out the door.

Inexplicably I went to the store and bought soft white rolls, lettuce, roast turkey, and sweet mustard.  All I could think about was eating a giant sandwich - yes, I am definitely a carb addict - which worked out well since for me, coping with bad news usually involved a glass of wine or two - carbs were a nice pregnancy-safe substitution!  I came home with all my groceries, made myself a sandwich, and ate it without tasting it at all, then went into the bedroom to wake up my boyfriend (noticing a pattern here?  He's not a layabout, I swear, I just had a lot of very early appointments) with the news that yes, my homebirth had turned into a hospital c-section - and that we had reason to be worried now.

I imagine I cried :)

.... to be continued .....

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