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My Story: At 32 weeks pregnant, I had some pretty gnarly stomach pains, nothing like I'd ever felt before. It was like I had managed to swallow a rock the size of my fist, and it was very unhappy with me for doing so. I had had indigestion before, especially since becoming pregnant, but nothing like this. So when that first hospital visit ended with a wave of indifference from the nurses and doctors, after making sure Baby was ok, I didn’t think anything else of it.
Then it happened again, at work. 8 hours of extreme rock-stomach pain while I was supposed to be taking calls and helping people. I ended up sitting there doing nothing, looking like pure hell and making everyone around me uncomfortable. I should have gone home, but I didn’t have any sick days left and I didn’t want to sour the last few weeks remaining before my planned maternity leave. Plus, you know, it was just indigestion, right? I could take it. I had a stronger pain tolerance than I thought! Something that will no doubt come in handy when the little human decided to start poking his head out. By the time my shift was over, the pain had abated, much like it had near the end of my hospital spell two days prior. I really couldn’t think of anything I had eaten that would have triggered the episode, as I’d been eating pretty healthily that week. Unlike other weeks. But whatever.
The third time was a few days later, but it was closer to 2am and Trev and I were sleeping. I woke up with the dull “starter pain”, but I knew by then what was going to come. Eventually my moans and constant rocking back and forth alerted him, and we stayed up together, crying and trying to distract myself from the pain. I found it funny and sad that I had not yet asked him to leave the house in the middle of the night for crazy pregnant lady food requests, but that I was now asking him to go get me some pepto bismol. I had no idea if it would work, but I couldn’t think of anything else, and I really didn’t want to spend the entire night in that state. It didn’t work, as it turned out. We started watching a movie and eventually fell asleep, by what had to be around 4:30am.
On Sunday, April 26th, at 10am, I felt it again. The Starter Pain. The dull ache that carried with it the dread that, soon, I would be in that full-scale hell once again. I didn’t eat anything and drank only water, which did nothing to lessen the pain. By 4pm I told Trevor I was fed up, it had to be more than plain old indigestion, and that we should go back to the hospital. Off we went; I didn’t return home until the following Wednesday.
The nurses at Rockyview were fantastic, from beginning to end. They strapped me into the monitoring stuff to make sure Baby was ok, which he was. They were taking my blood pressure and temperature every half hour, and had taken a urine sample. A few hours in and the pain was still severe. They asked an OB, and she decided to take a blood sample to test for a few things. Based on the location of the pain and my good blood pressure, she assumed it was a gallbladder issue and advised I might have to have it removed after baby was born. She mentioned she was going to be testing for a few other things, very unlikely things, some of which would mean delivering my baby 8 weeks early, but still Very Unlikely Things. I was ok with this and happily submitted my blood for testing.
Very Unlikely Things, those “it won’t happen to me” things… I guess you can’t really escape them your whole life.
The doctor came back an hour later, and said they want to do another two blood tests, one hour apart. One of the unlikely things was called HELLP syndrome, which only happens in about 10% of pregnancies, and it was looking like I was headed in that direction. If the following two tests continued to show the pattern they were looking for, then that was it. My body was sick, and it might start making Baby sick, so the best option would be to deliver soon. How soon? Maybe in the next 48 hours. They said they had thought it was unlikely in my case because high blood pressure is a clear sign of HELLP, or at least preeclampsia, but my blood pressure had been normal throughout my entire pregnancy. If it turned out I didn’t have HELLP, they would keep me in hospital and monitor for as long as they needed until the next decision, or something. I was emotionally checked out at that point, so the finer details from there are definitely on the hazy side.
I remember asking what I had done, or not done, to cause this. Nothing, they said. Completely random. The pregnancy had been normal, no reason to question anything or believe there might be an issue. Oh boy, it sure is a good thing my “mother’s intuition” told me to come back to the hospital today, it’s the best thing I could have done for myself and Baby, yes yes. The nurses said all the right, comforting things, and I didn’t tell anyone that if “mother’s intuition” really just boiled down to rock gut, then the whole concept needed reevaluation and a lot less admiration.
They moved me to another, scarier, hospital room. Scarier because there were less people around, and more quiet in which to hate myself in, as I’ll explain later. Trevor had been talking to my parents, and his mom, about what had been going on. I can’t remember when he said my mom had made the decision to get on the next plane. He was appearing to be completely calm, for my benefit, which was actually very awesome. He was scared shitless too, but acted as if he was totally on board with having Baby come early. So exciting! I was terrified; I wasn’t ready at all. I thought I had two more months of mental and emotional preparation. What if they had to deliver in the next few days? But if Trevor was ready, then I guess we’d be ok.
An hour after they took the third blood test of the night, the doctor came to talk to me. She sat on my bed, held my hand, and told me she wanted to deliver the baby, via c-section, in the next hour. I held in my urge to cry, and let her talk. I had HELLP, and if we didn’t deliver very soon, the baby will start getting sick. I would get worse. If we left it alone, or, if I had not come to hospital when I did, my actual delivery closer to the due date could have been devastating. To prevent any danger to me, and any sickness to Baby, we needed to deliver as soon as possible.
As if that wasn’t hard enough to swallow, she then very gently told me I would need to be under anesthetic during the delivery. As in, I would be asleep for the birth of my baby. I couldn’t hold it in anymore; I sobbed louder and harder than I had in my life. I didn’t expect anything could affect me in such a way, I imagined shortly after, other than probably the death of my parents. It felt like a death had happened, but I didn’t know how to process it, to put it into words, so that my brain might understand the pain my heart was feeling, or the fear in my stomach. It was 100% emotion, and I really don’t know how I managed to stop crying from that point on. I was screaming on the inside from11pm to midnight, when they put me under. I was screaming through the incredibly thoughtful meeting with the lady who was going to be putting me under; I was screaming through the instructions from a lovely nurse to put on the gown and it’s ok, my purse and shoes will be in the room when I wake up; I was screaming while the doctor from the NICU team told me that 32 weeks was usually no problem at all, babies born much earlier than that turn out fine these days, your baby will be in the best of hands, he will most likely be able to breathe on his own no problem (MOST LIKELY, YOU ASSHOLE???); I was screaming while the team of smiling and upbeat doctors and nurses surrounded Trevor and I, and offered to take a picture of the two of us in our gowns right before we went in to the delivery room - the last picture of us before we became parents; and I was screaming when they rolled me in, put the mask on me, and told me to start counting down from 100. I wanted it all to stop, to come to a screeching halt so we could all just stop and think, to come to our senses, to realize that this wasn’t actually happening to me, they had overreacted to some other minor complication, and that I could go home and wait out the next 8 weeks like a normal pregnant woman.
I didn’t know until days later, when my friend Karla put it into words for me. I didn’t know that I actually was in mourning, that I was grieving for the birth experience I had expected, had anticipated, for months. It’s not that I was looking forward to the labour and all the pain, but I was expecting it. I wasn’t going to be there for the birth of my own baby. I wasn’t going to hear him cry, to see his face, until well after he was born. I just simply wasn’t there for him, and I mourned that. I don’t have to explain to women who have had babies about expecting these normal things, and how much you look forward to them even if you don’t realize you were until after it happens.
Read part two, the postpartum story, here.
Anonymous | Canada