Mid-February. We are curled up on the couch with comforters and coffee. By “we,” I mean my daughter and I. She is napping and I am writing. Surreal, I have a daughter. I am a mother.
In June, I did a blog post discussing me being pregnant (and my various thoughts on it), and announced that my husband and I were expecting our first child after Christmas. My baby arrived over a month early. I want to share why she arrived early and my experience with having the healthiest pregnancy turn high-risk (with me getting hospitalized at 35 weeks and having baby a week later), in hopes that others can relate to or just learn something from our story.
The majority of my pregnancy was “quiet”, or as quiet as a pregnancy can be. I had next to no symptoms. No nausea, Braxton Hicks contractions, heartburn (yup, I have a bald baby!), or much swelling. I had an anterior placenta so kicks were even harder to feel. If I didn’t have a baby bump and get a positive pregnancy test so early I could have been one of those ladies who doesn’t even know she’s pregnant until she was 5 or 6 months. I did feel tired and get occasional headaches and leg cramps but, up until the end, it was a pretty uneventful pregnancy. I was grateful, because I didn’t exactly enjoy being pregnant.
Do not mistake my lack of loving the experience the wrong way. I was so happy to be pregnant, and that I was having a baby, but I really wanted it to be over already, and to be on the other side of pregnancy. And now that I am on the other side, I have to say I don’t feel any differently. I’m not one of those ladies that misses my bump or can’t wait to be pregnant again. It was an anxious, long eight months for me. Maybe it was the lack of kicks, maybe it’s just my slightly neurotic personality (ha), or maybe it’s just normal and people don’t talk about it often, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of that “something is wrong.” It was such a mental battle throughout my pregnancy. Despite gaining weight right on track, feeling pretty good, and having normal healthy OB appointments, I was so worried all the time that I would miscarry or have a stillbirth. It happens. I felt so guilty for not revelling in my experience, especially since I wanted to be pregnant for so long, and I know so many women who suffer from infertility. I kept thinking, “how dare I not enjoy this experience 100%.”
Like I said above, I had an anterior placenta. I didn’t feel my baby kick until I was 23-24 weeks pregnant. I remember being at work when I was around 22 weeks pregnant, with my little bump, and a coworker asked “so you must feel her kick all the time.” Um, no. When finding out that I didn’t feel anything, not even a flutter she got this super worried look on her face and notified me that I should feel something by now. Cue panicked call to my OB to notify them that I hadn’t felt a kick yet. The nurse assured me that it could be awhile before I feel any kicks and that my placenta was in the front so it wasn’t anything to worry about until I was 28 weeks. I even got an ultrasound the next day and sure enough, baby was kicking away and I didn’t feel a thing.
Pregnancy isn’t a set in stone, must follow “this template” experience. Every pregnancy is different, as I was learning. My anterior placenta acted like a squishy cushion between me and my baby. It made it really hard to feel (and see) movement from her throughout my pregnancy. It caused me to visit the ER in a panic a couple of times in my third trimester because she didn’t kick x amount of times in x hours. I felt like a crazy lady! Was I normal? Everyone talks so much about the physical discomforts of pregnancy. That was what I was expecting (which didn’t really happen for me). The throwing up, the swelling, the waddling (okay, I definitely waddled). Women talk about that. What isn’t talked about is the mental health aspect of it which made me feel so much more isolated and wrong. I felt guilty for my unborn baby that I was worrying so much. Because I didn’t feel normal I didn’t talk about it much with anyone. Even when I was hospitalized with health complications I STILL didn’t talk about how worried sick I was.
On Monday November 7, 2016, (I was 33 weeks pregnant*) I went to my regular OB appointment and my healthy pregnancy started to take another turn. I had borderline high blood pressure which the doctors informed me is a symptom of pre-eclampsia. They ordered for blood tests and urine tests to see how my organs were functioning. They wanted me to know that I was high-risk for developing pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a “pregnancy disease.” The only way to “cure” it is to get the baby out ASAP. It is characterized by high blood pressure which can affect the mom’s organs as well as the baby’s placenta. If left untreated, it can turn into eclampsia which can result in death. My mom had pre-eclampsia with all four of her pregnancies. I was born at 31 weeks gestation, my brother at 33 weeks. She almost died. We weren’t taking this lightly and I went home with a blood pressure monitor and religiously checked my blood pressure. My OB appointments were increased. I was terrified.
*Just a quick aside. My doctors and I went with different due dates. They had my official due date as January 2, 2017, based on my first ultrasound. I went with December 24 as I felt this was more accurate, based on LMP, conception, and my gut mama feeling. That, and baby was always measuring really big at the rest of my (many) ultrasounds. This matters, as it affects induction schedules, and the “premieness” of a baby.*
I got a call from my OB office on Thursday asking me to come in the next day. They wanted to see how I was progressing, and to check my blood pressure. If everything looked good they would post-pone my next appointment. I was feeling positive that everything must be looking good on my blood tests.
Friday, November 18, 2016. I drove myself to my appointment (50 mins), I thought it would be a quick in and out and then my plans were to head over to my mom’s house to prepare for my baby shower that was the next day. My husband was at work. All I could think about was getting out of my 9:00 am appointment quickly so I could go decorate. I was excited. I was also excited to take my 35 week bump picture the next day, what would I wear? My bump was getting big and my clothing options were limited. Was baby kicking enough? I wonder who will all come to the shower. I was itchy last night, I should tell my doctor. My mind kept going back and forth between my appointment and the baby shower.
My blood pressure was higher than ever at this appointment. We also did a test because of my itchiness for another pregnancy disease called cholestasis (which has itchiness as one of the only symptom). I was disappointed. The doctor ordered more blood tests, and an ultrasound for that day at 2:00 pm to do a biophysical profile and NST (non-stress test) on the baby and make sure she was doing good in there. Okay, I guess I’ll have to decorate in the evening. I did my blood tests and waited around for my ultrasound. The ultrasound was neat, baby looked great, and we got a 3D look. Baby was measuring at about 6lbs.
The nurse informed me that the doctor would come talk to be about my results and that I could wait in the hospital room that my non-stress test was in. The doctor didn’t make it in until after 6 pm. She came in, informed me that my urine and blood pressure indicate that I do indeed have pre-eclampsia. I may need to be induced that night and they were transferring me to the Royal Alexandra Hospital 3 hours away via ambulance to be admitted there, as they did not have the proper NICU facilities to handle a 33 week premie (as they thought I wasn’t as far along as I thought I was). We got steroid shots to get the baby’s lungs to develop more. I was shocked, scared, nervous, unprepared. I guess we were postponing the baby shower! All my “plans” for the birth were thrown out the window. I wouldn’t know what it would be like to have contractions start at home, or have my water break and rush to the hospital. I was terrified but also excited to meet my baby.
New doctors, another ultrasound, and a new hospital. My new doctors agreed with me that my original due date was wrong and instead I was given a due date of December 21, 2016. This is almost 2 weeks further along than my previous doctors thought! They also decided that because my blood pressure went down and baby was doing great that I would just stay there to be monitored until it was time to have baby. That was good news. The bad news was that my tests came back for cholestasis and I did indeed have it. Another reason to monitor me and baby throughout each day.
I had a team of liver specialists visit me daily. The goal was to keep baby in as long as possible until it became too hostile for baby. They informed me that because I had cholestasis there was a chance that my baby could be stillborn. I was heartbroken. Terrified. All my greatest fears. Stillborn. Every day I had multiple blood tests, and urine tests to check my bile acid levels (the liver does not function properly because of the cholestasis). Multiple medications (which increased a tri-fold in the time I was there) to keep my bile acids down and keep the baby in me as long as possible. My arms were bruised from so many needles. Non-stress tests every morning and before bed to make sure the baby was doing well. Non-stress tests if she doesn’t kick enough. During a non-stress test they strap on monitors to my belly that show if there are contractions and also record the baby’s heart rate. It tells us how much she’s moving. They have expectations for what a baby should be doing in utero. Too high of a heart rate, too low of a heart rate, or not enough movement (heart rate accelerations) and they may make the decision that the baby is too “stressed” and would preform an emergency C-section. Some non-stress tests would take a bit longer because the baby would be sleeping and I would have to drink some really ice cold water to get her to wake up. Mostly they were all good and reassuring. I wished that I could be strapped to the monitor the entire time, to ease my anxiety.
Despite it being a fairly quiet stay, and grateful that I was so far along, I couldn’t shake my fear. Every night I cried. I wanted my baby out now. I know inside is good but I didn’t want her to die in me. Every morning when my OB would visit me I’d hope that it would be induction day. My sister Nicole visited me every day and kept me sane. We watched Grey’s Anatomy and she brought me junk food. She is amazing.
November 23, 2016. My 27th birthday. Still in the hospital. I did get a pass to go out for supper with my family. It was exhausting. I bought some tiny newborn clothes for my little baby that I would be meeting soon. I felt so unprepared! I had nothing that would fit a 6 pound baby. I was expecting a 10 pounder (like my husband was). The next day before bed my nurse informed me that my acid levels were really high. I may get induced really soon! My doctor would decide in the morning. I was so excited (but also scared of what the high acid levels meant).
November 25, 2016. Possibly induction day! I woke up feeling so positive. Usually my doctor visits at 9:00 am, after breakfast. I waited, and waited. Finally at noon another doctor visited me. I didn’t recognize her. She informed me that my doctor was sick but that I would be getting induced that day anyway. We just had to wait for some space to clear up. I was elated! I messaged my husband that it was almost baby time and to get to Edmonton after work. The doctor said induction can take days so I told him to finish his shift and to not rush.
Finally at 5:00pm I was induced (using foley bulb and cervidil). My mom was with me. She brought me food and we waited. Still so excited. The nurses informed me (again) that it could be days, and it could take 36 hours for the cervidil to get me to start dilating and contractions started. Husband arrived. It got late and I tried to convince him to go sleep at the hotel. Nothing would be happening that night. He insisted on staying with me.
November 26, 2016.
1:00 am. I woke up. I had a back ache. Annoying. I wanted to try get rest before my contractions started. Back ache kept coming (and going). I decided to go walk, maybe that would help. I noticed a rhythm to my back ache and started timing it. The nurse noticed me walking around and asked me what was wrong. I told her I had a back ache and that it kept coming every two minutes. She informed me that I very well might be contracting and they hooked me up to the machine and sure enough the contractions were lasting about 30 seconds every two minutes. 2:30 am, they checked and I was 3 cm dilated. The pain started to really be (what I thought was) painful. I cried. They gave me a little morphine and that took the edge off and I slept until the pain woke me up again at 5:00 am. I texted family member and gave them updates.
6:00 am I felt a huge POP. I knew my water broke, but there was no water. I sat up, called for my nurse. Shifted a bit, and then there was water flowing out. A LOT of water. How exciting! This show was finally moving! They checked me again and I was still only 3 cm. How disappointing. But still, water! I thought it would take days! Lucky my husband stayed with me.
This is when things really started to get painful. Right after my water broke the contractions were faster, lasting longer, and more painful. I moaned and groaned and cried through them. No more texting or looking at my phone. I asked for the epidural almost immediately. They moved me upstairs to wait for a delivery room.
7:30 am. The pain was unbelievable. Breathe. Where is my epidural? The anesthesiologist was in surgery so it would be awhile before he could get to me. They checked me and I was 5cm dilated.
8:00 am. I finally arrived in my delivery room. The pain is making me crazy. I shake the bed, I cry. I don’t want to be talked to or touched. Where is my epidural? I want relief. I screamed. I’m sure the entire floor could hear me. I was one of those ladies from the movies. My nurse informed me that it could take hours to get to 10 cm. I tried to mentally prepare myself for a marathon, but the pain was very overwhelming. All in my back. Wasn’t my uterus in the front? I kept thinking.
8:30am. 2 hours after my water broke they finally checked me again. 9 cm. I couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t this supposed to take hours? The nurse then informed me it was too late for an epidural. My heart sunk. The pain was so unbearable. She gave me fentonyl to take the edge off. It helped a little, but made me feel so loopy.
9:00 am. Epidural man came! The relief was almost immediate. I could breathe. I could talk to my mom and husband without snapping at them.
10:00 am. I was 10 cm! But, the epidural was too strong. I couldn’t feel anything and they wanted it to wear off a little so I could push.
10:53 am. Finally, time to start pushing. My nurse again informed me that it could be a few hours of pushing. Every contraction I had to attempt to push for 10 seconds, 3 times. My husband and mom were the counters. They didn’t count in sync. At the time it wasn’t very funny but looking back I can’t help but giggle. Pushing was exhausting in its own way. Branden would wipe my brow and leave a cool cloth on it (which would fall and cover my eyes while I pushed, again, not funny at the time, hilarious now). My sister arrived to help coach me to push. “I can see her head, Claudine! She has black hair,” Nicole told me excitedly. Doctors flooded in because she was almost here. NICU came in on standby because she was a 36 week premature baby.
11:23 am. With the loudest, most indignant cry – my daughter was born. NICU left immediately because her lungs were so strong. Her papa cut the cord and up she came to my chest. What a gift. Surreal.
Alba Mae Bull weighed 6lb 3oz and was 19.5 inches long. Perfect. Healthy. She is mine and I am hers. I am a Mother.
Alba is now 3 months old. I am so excited to share my experiences as a mother in my future posts. It’s wonderful, messy, terrifying, and the best role I’ve ever had.
– claudine bull