A year ago today I woke up tired, but feeling a little bit better than I had the night before. My stomach felt a little more at ease, and I was a little less uncomfortable. I thought that I was probably fine, but decided I would at least call the midwife once the office opened just to make sure that what I was feeling was normal. “No need to call the emergency line,” I thought. As I began to get ready for the day, I started to feel a few small contractions. “That’s so weird,” I thought. During my last pregnancy, I had hardly even had Braxton hicks contractions, even at the very end of the pregnancy. Abi was born right on time, right on her due date, so never in a million years did I think that anything was wrong. Just weird. I continued to get ready for the day, and Esteban left for work with Abi. He would drop her off at my mom’s house, since he worked close to their house. I continued to do some unpacking and get ready to go into the office. Today was my intern’s last day, so I had to be there. There were a million things to do before students started arriving in a couple weeks, so there was no way that I could stay home. And anyway, I really didn’t feel that bad. As the morning went on, I started to have a few more contractions. I kept willing them to stop. What the heck was going on??
Finally it was 8:30 and so I called into my midwife’s office. I left a message with the nurse and walked to my office. I went in, said hello to colleagues and sat at my desk. My intern, Carma, and I talked about what needed to be done that day, and we started into the many emails that had accumulated from the night before. Then my phone rang. I gave Carma a 30 second summary of what was going on, and quickly answered the phone. Walking out of the office, I soon noticed the urgency in midwife Jessica’s voice. “You’re having contractions?” she said quickly. “Well, I think so,” I said, hesitating a bit. “They were a lot worse last night, but now they feel better. They are not as frequent.”
“How far apart are they?” Jessica asked.
“Now they are pretty infrequent. I’ve had probably like 10 this morning. Last night they were like every 15-20 minutes,” I responded.
“You need to get in here. How quickly can you get here?” was the urgent response on the other line.
“Ummm. Probably like 45 minutes?” I said, my voice starting to tremble.
“I’ll be waiting for you,” Jessica said, hanging up the phone.
Later, Jessica admitted to me that she knew right when she heard the message from the nurse that I needed to get to the birth center immediately. “You are not one of my cry wolf patients. You never complain about things.” I can’t tell you how thankful I am to have been at a practice where my midwives knew me well enough to know what I, and my baby, needed that day.
I called Esteban and told him what Jessica had said. By this time, I was starting to get a little nervous, but I kept telling myself that surely everything was fine, and that Jessica was probably just being cautious. I walked back into the office and muttered something about needing to leave to poor Carma, who I think was probably quite confused by everything that was going on. I stumbled out of the office and walked briskly to my car. Esteban and I had decided that we would just meet at the hospital, since it was sort of in between his work and our home, and so I hopped into the drivers seat and drove away.
I don’t really know what I was thinking while I was driving, but I remember starting to get a little bit worried. Anyone who knows me, or anything about me, knows that I am not a worrier. I just think that worrying is a useless way to use your energy, so I really don’t do it. When I start to worry, I try to come up with some logical way to think about the situation to take away the worry. So that’s what I kept doing on that drive. Everything would be fine. I had the most textbook, normal, easy pregnancy there ever could have been with Abi. I loved being pregnant. I ran until 31 weeks. Everything would be fine.
I finally arrived at the hospital and walked up to the birth center. Esteban would be there any minute, but I thought I probably should just go up without him. Jessica was ready, waiting for me when I arrived, and they pretty quickly hooked me up to the fetal monitor to find our baby girl’s heartbeat. Remember how I said I am not a worrier? Let’s forget about that for a minute. This is when I entered into my moment of complete panic. You see, when you are only 22 weeks pregnant, your baby is still very, very tiny, and not anywhere close to the size of the babies that birth centers usually deals with. So those fetal monitors? They have a hard time picking up 22 week-heart beats. So naturally, I freaked. After about 30 seconds of sweet nurse Molly looking for our girl’s heartbeat with no luck, I burst into tears, convinced that she had passed away and that was the reason for my contractions. Beating myself up for not coming to the hospital last night. What had I been thinking? My baby!? Just in that moment, we both heard the familiar, “Woosh, thump, woosh, thump, woosh, thump” of a living baby’s heart. “Look, look, she’s right here. She’s right here.” Sweet Molly took my hand and placed it over the monitor. “Listen! She’s perfect!” She said, smiling. I awkwardly wiped by face with the other hand, not daring to move the hand that was holding the monitor that meant my baby girl was still alive. I apologized for my dramatic reaction, and sweet Molly smiled again and said not to worry. She totally understood. It happened all the time. After making sure that baby girl (who had no name at this point; remember how I was only 22 weeks pregnant?) was okay, Jessica came in and explained to me all the reasons that people usually have contractions this early—a urinary tract infection, dehydration, etc… They would check all of those things, and just check to make sure that my cervix hadn’t changed, and then they would hopefully send me on my way. She mentioned all sorts of other tests, but I was having a little bit of a hard time focusing at this point. They quickly hooked me up to an IV, because probably I was just dehydrated and that was why I had contractions.
Everything else is a little scrambled at this point, and I can’t quite remember the order of how things happened. But at some point Jessica let me know that I didn’t have a UTI, which was a serious bummer because that meant that that wasn’t the reason for the contractions. Then she did an internal exam and quietly told me that my cervix was softening—it wasn’t open, but it was “softer than it was supposed to be at 22 weeks.” You see, the cervix is supposed to be hard, long and very much closed before a woman is ready to go into labor, but my cervix for some reason was soft. That meant, Jessica told me, that the contractions had done something. She still didn’t act too worried, saying sometimes that happened, and that hopefully the contractions were just from dehydration and once they stopped, so would the softening of my cervix. She ordered an ultrasound to check the length of my cervix. This took a long time to happen, and so Esteban and I spent the day sitting in the hospital, with lots and lots of fluid draining into my arm through the IV, supposedly, and hopefully, stopping these contractions. Sometime in here Jessica came in to tell me that the Fetal Fibronectin (fFN) test was positive, which was made her “a little more worried.” This test checked for a protein that babies will give off up to 2 weeks before they are born, and sometimes it’s presence in a woman’s blood can indicate that labor is starting. I remember saying something like, “That’s not good.” Jessica told me that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the baby would be born, but that a negative test is a really good sign that she wouldn’t be. So basically, we were still in this gray area of not really knowing what was going on. Finally we had the ultrasound, which showed that my cervix was a little shorter than it should have been—2.5cm instead of 3cm. All in all, there was reason to be concerned, but not really much to do at this point, since the baby was only 22 weeks and “not viable.” Jessica said, “I don’t think you’re going to have this baby, but we need to be careful.” She put me on pretty strict bed rest and ordered me to call her if ANYTHING got worse. I remember feeling contractions as she was telling me this, and she said, “Well just call if they are really bad.” (So, another thing you should know about me. I have a hard time measuring pain. I am pretty good at blocking pain, so it’s hard for me to know what “really bad” is. This is why I arrived at the hospital pretty much ready to push with my first baby.) Needless to say, I was feeling a little worried about going home and being left the sole decider of “how bad I was feeling.” As the nurse was giving me the discharge instructions, I had to go to the bathroom pretty badly, and when I did, there was blood. Not a good sight for a pregnant lady. I came out and told sweet Molly this, and she said if it wasn’t bright red, that it was probably just from the internal exam. “Call back if it’s bright red.” I was totally confused and fairly overwhelmed at this point, and I probably thought something about wanting a color code of exactly what constituted “bright red.” I don’t think they had that.
I remember leaving the hospital with an uneasy feeling. I was still uncomfortable, still having contractions, and still felt pressure. I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right, but I think there was a huge part of me that didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want it to be true. I wanted to go home and feel great, so I pretended that that was what was happening.
It didn’t work. That night I kept trying to pretend I felt okay, but I really didn’t. My mom brought Abi home and I sat on the couch or the bed while my mom and Esteban unpacked the house around me. I would try to get up to do something small, but every time I did, I had another contraction without fail. I tried not to say anything, but my mom kept asking me, “Are you having another one?” Somehow, Moms always know, right? Esteban kept yelling at me to sit down, and I remember sitting on the couch, closing my eyes and praying with all my heart that these awful contractions would stop. I pleaded with God to take them away, not because of the pain, but because of what I was sure they were doing to my body. As the night went on they got more intense. I started to feel them one on top of the other, and to be honest, I was terrified. I felt them in my back, just like I had when I was in labor with Abi. My heart was sure that something was not right. I slept fitfully that night, on and off, through the contractions, begging God to keep my baby girl safe.