In my experience, no matter how much a baby is wanted and planned for, no matter how young and fit and energetic a mama is, pregnancy is miserable for almost everyone. In fact I secretly believe that it’s miserable for everyone and those who claim it isn’t are lying – but I digress. This pregnancy was miserable for me.
I spent the entire pregnancy vomiting. Often and violently. I had burst blood vessels around my eyes from the pressure. We weren’t going to tell the kids anything until we knew the baby would be fine, but I was so sick it became impossible. C was very worried, and said to me, ‘you keep saying you are OK but then you throw up again.’ He started to refuse to go to his classes in the city because I would be so sick on the drive. At one point L said to hubby ‘Mom is either pregnant or dying.’ So we told them I wasn’t dying and indeed there would be a new baby soon. Neither of them was particularly thrilled, and I can’t say I blame them as at 14 and 15 a newborn baby in the house doesn’t sound appealing. I remained convinced that their new sibling would bring them joy they could not imagine.
The wait for the first ultrasound was excruciating. I didn’t want to have it too early and risk there not being a heartbeat so I intentionally delayed it. I kept telling myself I was 8 weeks pregnant but when we got to the ultrasound we saw a 12 week old developing baby, thankfully with a very strong heartbeat. I was relieved and elated and we began telling other people. Things started to feel real.
I was considered ‘advanced maternal age’ which means at higher risk for complications with the pregnancy and the baby, so there was lots of testing. We had what is called a nuchal translucency scan (NT) as well as associated blood tests, the results of which were all good. At 20 weeks we had our anatomy ultrasound. At this scan the tech measures baby’s limbs in detail, looking for markers that might signal problems for the baby. We had an unfortunate tech who was unable to chat and concentrate so she silently measured baby. In fairness, I’ve since come to understand that this very detailed scan takes a lot of concentration and many techs are unable to chat as they do it, but it’s very anxiety inducing when your tech just stares quietly at the screen as she measures your baby. All my hopes were pinned on the expression on her face, and it was not a good one.
The first thing the next morning I got a call from the midwives. The baby was measuring fine, but the radiologist noted a ‘subjective impression’ that there was not enough amniotic fluid. The midwife cautioned me not to panic. After all, this was subjective, no measurements of fluid had actually been taken, and the baby was measuring fine. If there was issues with fluid, we would expect issues with the measurements too. Nevertheless, an additional scan was required with a specialist at Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM).
‘Stay off Google.’ she said. But that’s impossible. As much as Google results are terrifying there’s simply no way to stop yourself from searching when you are freaking out. So I Googled and I freaked out even more. So many syndromes were associated with low fluid, some of them not compatible with life. My anxiety went through the roof. When the MFM office called to book my appointment they wanted to book it for 4 weeks down the line. I completely lost my composure. I was sitting in Starbucks at the time and I had to walk outside because I was sobbing embarrassingly. I called the midwife who was able to call the MFM office and convince them that I due to very high anxiety I needed to be seen ASAP. This was on a Thursday and my appointment was booked me in for the Monday after.
I spent the weekend crying and binge-watching Netflix to keep my mind off of things. Because what better way to make yourself feel better than Orange Is The New Black?
The difference between the technician at the MFM office and the technician we had at our anatomy ultrasound was like the difference between a mouthful of baking soda and a mouthful of delicious whipped cream. Or chocolate. Or chocolate with whipped cream. And maybe some caramel sauce on top too. She was kind, she was upbeat, and she talked through the whole scan. The image was projected on a large screen on the wall and she showed us baby’s arms, legs, fingers, head, belly, heart and brain all the while telling us everything looked exactly as expected and healthy. She also said to her subjective eye the fluid looked fine, but she actually measured it to confirm. Baby was fine. Fluid levels were fine. Our newest baby boy (yes, boy!) was healthy and happily swimming away. I think I fell in love with that technician, as well as the doctor we saw afterwards who assured us we had a healthy developing baby boy who was right on target for growth.
After this scare, the pregnancy was uneventful for several weeks. Uneventful is good. Uneventful means no worrying. My belly, long squishy and bumpy, began to show a definitive pregnancy bump. I developed an issue with my pelvic bones that made walking painful, so my evenings were spent stretched out on the couch watching TV, posting on baby groups, and rubbing my belly. I loved to pull up my shirt and rub my hands on my bare belly, getting as close as I could to my baby. He started to kick, and roll, and bounce and jump. He did kung-fu when he was hungry, and after I ate he’d do a happy dance and go to sleep. Once again, I often caught hubby looking at me, and he’d comment on how happy I was and shake his head a bit. There’s something about growing a baby that is indescribable, and (sorry to men everywhere) I don’t think any father fully understands.
At 28 weeks I went for a routine glucose tolerance test. I had gone for one with both my first babies and passed. With those babies I had gained significant weight, and with this pregnancy I had not, so I was considerably surprised when I got the call that my sugars had exceeded the limits and I actually had Gestational Diabetes. My experience with this is worth its own post, as it was much more emotional and difficult than I could have imagined. For the purposes of this story, I will say that after much effort I was unable to control my sugars with my diet alone, and I ended up on insulin.
As soon as I went on insulin, I became classified as ‘high risk’ which meant that my care had to be transferred from my midwives to an OB. I did not like this at all. I felt that my pregnancy was spiralling out of control and I was terrified where it would end up. However, my midwives work with an excellent OB who was very respectful of my wishes. He suggested he share care with the midwives, so I alternated appointments between him and them. He also called me several times to check up on me and my sugars. This surprised me because my past experience with OBs has been that they hold themselves distant from their patients, so this personal touch was unexpected and very much appreciated. His respectful approach and individual attention was exactly what I needed to start to calm down again.
I’m an avid researcher. I Google, but not just once, many times with different word combinations and I like to go to page two or three of search results to be sure I’m not missing things. So after hours of reading about the implications of Gestational Diabetes, it wasn’t unexpected for me when, my OB recommended an induction at 38 weeks. My first reaction was to say no, and he was respectful and acknowledged that the choice was mine, but said we’d have the conversation again. I was afraid of induction because of many, many nightmare stories I had read about induced births, stories of contractions one on top of the other, incredible pain, and eventual c-sections. And no matter how many positive induction stories I found, the negative ones stuck with me. I could rationally understand that the induction was a safe option but my emotional reaction was stronger: I was afraid.
Another effect of going on insulin was I was no longer eligible to give birth at our local hospital. Babies in utero get their sugars from mom, and mom’s insulin helps regulate it. There is a risk that when the baby is born, and is suddenly cut off from mom’s insulin, it can take some time for baby to start making enough of their own insulin to regulate their sugars, causing baby to have sugar spikes. This is a risk my local hospital is not equipped to handle.
The plan was this: if I went into labour on my own I would call the midwife and if I had dilated beyond 3 cm, I could stay local, but if not, I had to make to 40 minute drive to the next biggest city where they were equipped to handle the risks. If I agreed to be induced it would be in the next biggest city. I began to fervently hope I would go into labour on my own and that it would progress quickly, so I could stay local.
When I hit 34 weeks my OB ordered a weekly non-stress test (NST). These involved going into the hospital and being hooked up to monitors for at least 20 minutes. The monitors generate a printout of baby’s heartbeat, activity, and any uterine contractions. It’s a good way for doctor’s to monitor how baby is doing, based on how active baby is and how baby’s heart rate does when baby is active and when there is a contraction. I went weekly and there were never any concerns. However, on my second to last visit I was lucky enough to have a nurse who was a friend of mine. We talked briefly about how I wanted to stay local and how I was afraid of the induction. She didn’t judge, she didn’t push, and she didn’t have to say much but she chose the right words, and I came out of that conversation with my perspective completely changed.
I understood then that my desire to stay local was about me, not about my baby. If anything were to happen, it would be far, far better to be in the hospital that was prepared and equipped for it than to be in the hospital closest to home. Yes, the local hospital had trained nurses, but they didn’t have the experience with high-risk pregnancies and newborns that would really give them the expertise I wanted for my baby. I also understood better the risks of not inducing the baby, even with excellent NST results, because things happen incredibly quickly and I could have a good NST one day and lose the baby the next. My placenta was at risk for early deterioration and every day I pushed beyond the recommendations I was putting the baby at risk. I understood that resisting the induction was also about me, not about my baby. And while I strongly believe that a woman’s desires for her birth experience are important, I also could see that I was being short-sighted and selfish. I had been putting my birth experience wishes above baby’s needs. This was a difficult realization, but I’m glad I came to it.
The next time I saw the OB, when he brought up the subject of inducing, I agreed. By this time I was 37 weeks, so we started talking about dates, booked one, and all of a sudden I was having a baby in just over week.
There’s something to be said about scheduling a birth. You no longer have ‘when will it be?’ running through your mind. You no longer wonder if you will go past your due date. You no longer feel envious of moms delivering around you because you feel caught in an endless pregnancy torture loop. You have an end in sight, and it makes the heartburn and the sleepless nights and the pelvic pain and the hugeness and clumsiness and general overall discomfort that you feel that much more manageable.
There’s also something bittersweet about scheduling a birth. You become very aware of the privilege that you have, being the only one in the world who feels your baby kick and gets to know his emerging personality, and that it is coming to an end. Your time as the one and only holder of this baby is almost over, and even though you are looking forward to not having your internal organs squished up anymore, even though you are looking forward to finally seeing what his little face looks like and smelling his new baby smell, there’s a sadness there.
I began counting days like this: This is the last Friday we are a family of 4 … This is our last weekend with just two kids …This is the last Monday night with just me and my husband in our bed for a long time … This is the last Wednesday that the bassinet will be sitting, waiting.
This is my last night with this belly.
This perfect round belly that calls to the world ‘Look! It’s my son growing in here! This is incredible!‘ This perfect round belly that I have patted and loved and rubbed every night for the last 6 months. This perfect round belly that is the home for a small kung-fu fighter who dances after he eats. This perfect round belly that is his everything.
I cried. And I finally took bare belly photos. And I cried some more. And my husband took more bare belly photos. I packed our bags, gave the bassinet sheets a rub, and I climbed into bed. My husband climbed in behind me and wrapped his warm arms around that round belly, and we both tried to sleep. Tomorrow would be the big day.