It’s no secret, my last pregnancy sucked, for lack of a more eloquent term. I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, debilitating sciatic pain, and lack-of-alcohol-itis. So when I started off this pregnancy with excessive nausea and vomiting, losing 11 pounds over the course of the first trimester, I embraced my inner Ally McBeal and let it ride. This was old hat. It wasn’t until my anatomy scan at 21 weeks that I was dealt a new and unfamiliar blow: Placenta Previa. The words rolled off of the technician’s tongue in an almost effortless manner, which made me feel oddly comfortable and at ease. Her nonchalant demeanor was evidence, at least to me, of an extensive history with the diagnosis, leading me to believe that it was common and, therefore, of no concern. I’d later learn that yes, she was familiar with the condition…because, unbeknownst to me, I had been sent to a High Risk facility. But I was ignorant to this at the time. It wasn’t until the Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor entered the room that I had any cause for alarm.
“You have a condition called Placenta Previa, which can cause complications in your pregnancy. Your placenta is currently located over the opening to your cervix, which is why it’s important to avoid sexual activity going forward. Have you experienced any bleeding up to this point?”
“I’m sorry, perhaps we could circle back. You said something about avoiding sexual activity?”
“Yes, you will have to avoid sexual activity for the duration of your pregnancy.”
“Because any kind of stimulation to the area could result in torrential bleeding.”
I’m sorry, is this the weather channel or the doctor’s office?
“I’m going to need you to wake up at 3:00 am every night, in order to ensure that you’re not bleeding out.”
At this point, he looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for some kind of confirmation that I understood. I nodded apprehensively, before looking over at my husband, who seemed to have gone into some form of anaphylactic shock upon the mention of a coital prohibition. Our doctor had just committed a ritualistic assault upon his soul. His eyes had glossed over. He had died inside.
We both walked out of the office in a zombie-like state, not quite having come to terms with what we had just heard. But upon further discussion, we decided that there was no reason to worry. I hadn’t so much as spotted in the 21 weeks prior, let alone experienced a “torrential” bleed. This was clearly nothing more than fearmongering.
The next day, I was suffering from severe constipation, which was pretty much par for the course, only this seemed to reach a new level of awful. After a normal day of eating 11 kiwis and having my husband stick suppositories up my rectum, I began to wind down with the first step of Brooke’s bedtime routine: a joint bath. And that’s when they hit me. The gas pains. Or rather, I assumed they were gas pains, because the feces had created such a barrier at the exit point that I just assumed no gas would ever be able to escape. It was like a nice little flatulence prison, barricaded by steel trapdoors. Anyway, the pains came at steady intervals, and I bucked violently with each one. I briefly considered that these might be contractions and actually called my OBGYN in order to give her the heads up, but decided not to take further action, so as not to appear overly dramatic.
I wish I had been.
A few hours later, I got up from bed in order to go to the bathroom. I sat down to pee, stood up to wipe, and then I heard it: a hearty splash of liquid had just hit the floor. The lights were off, and I assumed it was urine, which was altogether confusing to me, since I felt I had adequately emptied my bladder mere seconds before. It wasn’t until I turned on the lights that I saw it. Blood.
The events that followed are a bit of a blur. All I can remember is yelling out to my husband, “I’M DYING! I’M DYING!” Clearly my hesitation to appear dramatic went out the window, along with my bodily fluids. I was also pants-less, so I calmly (ha) requested that my husband give me pants. He threw me a pair, and I quickly thrust them under my lady parts in order to catch the blood, which had since increased in volume. I then looked back at my husband wildly, screaming, “WHY HAVEN’T YOU GOTTEN ME PANTS?!” He raised his finger and began to speak, then stopped, thinking better of it. Being the smart man that he is, he knew it unwise to correct a hormonal, pregnant woman in the midst of a vaginal tsunami. So he found me an additional pair, woke up our sleeping daughter, and we sprinted out to the car.
We sped to the hospital one block away, and I walked into the Emergency Room barefoot, leaving a trail of bloody footprints in my wake. I can only imagine how the sight must have appeared to a bystander. It was like Jesus had parted the red sea in my vagina, and the two partitions were now running rapidly down each leg. I mean, I looked like I had been plucked straight from the set of Carrie. My husband had handed Brooke off to a random, slightly awkward police officer and gone to park the car, and the staff had quickly ushered me in, ahead of a waiting room full of people (#sorrynotsorry). After a brief wait on a bed in the hallway, they finally brought me back to a room. A few minutes later, a doctor came in and kindly informed me that this hospital did not offer OB services and that I’d have to go elsewhere for a circumstance of this magnitude.
Are. You. F’ing. Kidding Me?
Here’s a helpful tip: If you see a pregnant woman bleeding profusely and know you cannot help her, DO NOT WASTE HER TIME JUST SO THAT YOU CAN BILL HER (which they did, to the tune of $275). There are not enough Ebola curses in the world.
So my husband and I ran back out to the car and resolved to drive the additional 15 minutes it would take to get to the hospital where my OB has privileges and where Brooke was born. My husband no doubt spent those 15 minutes in a panic. I spent them contemplating where I could purchase voodoo doll replicas of the people from the last hospital. In any event, we finally arrived at our destination, where I was quickly wheeled up to Labor & Delivery and hooked up to fetal and maternal monitoring machines. My OBGYN (whom we had since woken up with a frantic call) arrived a few moments later and sat by my side as the nurse attempted to find my daughter’s heartbeat. I studied her face intently as we waited, searching for signs of concern. And sure enough, there it was. With each passing moment that a heartbeat was not heard, her brow furrowed further and further. Finally, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I turned to the nurse and blurted out, “Can you not find the heartbeat?!” I was met with a look of fear and a quiet, “No.”
I burst into tears. In that moment, I was sure that we had lost our baby. I had bled so much and it had taken us so long to receive medical care that I was all but positive that this pregnancy had come to an end. I couldn’t see straight. I couldn’t think straight. All I could do was cry.
And then I heard it: thump, thump, thump, thump. I looked up at my OBGYN and the nurse who had since broken out into smile. I was so relieved to hear the heartbeat, but found myself asking what the heart rate was, when I was told “not to worry about that right now.”
“Just focus on the fact that she has one.”
The rest of the night involved a series of blood tests and ultrasounds to determine the extent of the hemorrhage and the need for further intervention. I had to sign paperwork authorizing the hospital to administer blood transfusions, if the bleeding continued at the same rate, and to deliver our baby early, if the situation turned out to be so dire that it was required to save my life. The following morning, the Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor I had seen at the High Risk facility came to talk to me during rounds and explained that, while they’d normally administer a round of steroid shots in order to speed the development of the baby’s lungs in preparation for premature delivery, at my gestational age, survival without major disability was so rare that they wouldn’t even attempt resuscitation, and thus, the shots would not be necessary.
They really know how to give a girl the warm and fuzzies.
Fortunately, after a day or two, the blood turned from red to brown, and I was finally released on Saturday, after being admitted the prior Wednesday night. I was put on strict bed rest, with bathroom privileges, and told to take it 7 days at a time, as each week drastically improved our baby’s chances of survival outside of the womb.
A week later, I would end up back in the hospital, having experienced another (albeit much smaller) bleed. This time, I would spend 3 days in medical jail, before being sent on my way. But not before I passed a blood clot that my internet friends tell me very closely resembled Darth Vader. Yes, I have internet friends. And yes, I showed them a picture. Take a walk in my shoes before you judge me. Except don’t, because I’m not allowed to walk anymore and that wouldn’t be accurate.
Anyway, this time I was given the steroid shots, as I had progressed to a gestation where viability is possible. Having spent an extensive amount of time on the internet, I knew to expect a shot in the buttocks, so when the nurse came in with the (way too large) needle, I swiftly rolled onto my side to expose my butt cheek, beaming with smug pride over my advanced medical acumen.
“Uh, yeah, we do them in the thigh here.”
Right. Of course.
Later, I would get uncharacteristically angry, my face would flush, and I would eat at a clip that would rival Precious. Ah, ‘roids. Always a pleasure.
So here I sit, in my bed, as my legs atrophy and my muscles turn to jello. Each day, my alarm wakes me at 3:00 am in order to make sure I’m not sleeping in a pool of blood. And checking my underwear has become a near hourly occurrence. I can safely say that I now long for the days where Hyperemesis was the greatest of my problems, but each day brings me one step closer to meeting my hopefully-healthy baby girl. Though I’d like to hold off on that for as long as possible. Have you ever seen a 25 weeker? Those things are better suited for an E.T. sequel than for a trip home to my house.
So keep baking, Blake Olivia. You’re too scary looking yet for the outside world.