Houston, We Have Problem.
I experience small panic attacks when I think about Valentine’s Day 2016.
It started like any other early morning in a typical pregnancy. I woke up to pee. Not to get too gross (spoiler alert: giving birth is way more disgusting), but it was weird down there. And in my sleepy state at 5 a.m., I was tired and so I went back to bed.
At 7 a.m., I got up again to pee. And as I’m sitting on the toilet thinking about random things that one thinks about while peeing at the break of dawn, I heard a plop. You know, the sound that happens when you accidently poop while taking a seemingly innocent pee.
So I start laughing. I mean, come on. I pooped and didn’t even see it coming. That’s FUNNY.
Except I didn’t. I looked in the toilet to discover a clear looking, nickel-sized object in the toilet and I think to myself, “OMG. That’s the mucus plug.”
This is where I made my first mistake. A logical, first-time mom would immediately call the doctor or hightail it to the hospital. This stupid, first-time mom who overcompensates her typical MO of high drama and overreacting with severe underreacting went straight to the Google.
Fun fact, according to the random ass web forum I went to, its normal for mucus plugs to fall out at 24 weeks and can regenerate. But just to make sure I’m not completely crazy, I double check other reputable forums. Consensus was the same: as long as there was no blood, I’m good to go. And like a typical, sleep-deprived pregnant woman, I promptly fall back to sleep.
Later that morning, my husband and I catch an early showing of Deadpool + brunch to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which should give you an idea of the deep love we share for each other. Deadpool is a love story, though a really messed up one.
After that brief outing, I decided to go back to bed. I’m more tired than normal, but I’m pregnant and it’s the weekend. Of course I’m going to take a nap. In the back of my head I know that in less than four months I’m going to have a complete lack of these. I’m taking advantage while I can.
So, my husband went to work for a project, and I proceeded to sleep for three hours straight. I remember waking up, thinking to myself that this was the best sleep of my life.
Little did I know, it was also the last time I’d be sleeping for three hours straight until the following Thursday, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
After waking up from the magical state that only a three-hour nap on a Sunday can offer, I go to pee again. And I see two pin-tip sized bright red blood drops on the toilet paper.
This is where I first think something nefarious is afoot. Up to this point in my pregnancy, I had no bleeding, and I have enough self-preservation to understand that these few drops should concern me.
After consulting Google again (stupid) and a recently pregnant friend (slightly smarter move), she convinces me to give my doctor’s office a call.
About 30 minutes later, I get a call back from a nurse who asks me a battery of questions. Yes, I pee a lot. Yes, there is a lot of gunky fluid down there and I’m pretty sure my mucus plug fell out but Google told me it regenerates. Yes, I only pee myself if I sneeze or cough while standing up.
And then the kicker question, yes, I got my pre-Valentine’s Day freak-on the night before. As awkward as it is to type out, this detail is actually important and becomes quite the red herring throughout the next several hours.
I’m told that what I’m experiencing is likely nothing and likely related to having sex. Plus, I had zero pain and felt normal. That said, she did tell me she’d like me to go to the hospital so they could run additional tests. I said sure thing. I hung up the phone and promptly started crying. Hormones. Sheesh.
The only reason I knew how to get to the hospital in the first place was because my OBGYN’s office shares the same parking garage. I remember texting my husband that I was headed to the hospital for tests — and then the address because he had no idea where he was going. The plan was for him to meet me at the hospital, since his work is about five minutes from there.
Neither of us realized that there was a real chance I could have delivered on the side of the road until our nurse told us later that night, but again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I get to the parking lot at the same time as my husband, thank goodness. You never realize how heavily you rely on someone’s strength until you need it the most. This was the first time I’d even entered the hospital. (Though, we were planning to go on a tour the following week, thinking we would totally be ahead of schedule).
We walk up to the receptionist, and I ask where L&D is, as our doctor’s office has called ahead. My husband has to provide his ID to get a visitor’s badge, and as we start to walk to the elevator, the lady actually yells at us, “Congratulations!”
I remember we looked at each other and my husband said, “She should be more careful, that would be offensive if we were here for something like a miscarriage.” I looked at him and silently nodded my head, while thinking that I was only offended she thought I looked 40 weeks pregnant when I was only 24. That’s some next level pregnancy vanity right there.
So we get up to the L&D area and they put us in a delivery room. The normal L&D testing area is closed on Sunday, so after peeing in a cup, I hopped up on the bed and made myself comfortable, getting hooked up to a contraction monitor and the baby heart monitor.
After telling the story I just shared with you a couple of times, everyone pretty much agrees that this is most likely a result of having sex the day before. My husband then says quietly to me, “Well, this is the last time we’re having sex until after the baby.” And my response was something along the lines of, “I can’t believe I just got cock-blocked by my unborn child.”
Clearly, the mood was jovial because it was obvious nothing was going on. Totally normal heart beat, and not even a slight elevation on the contraction monitor. So, they start talking about sending me home. My husband and I are texting friends and family with an update and my brain was already back to thinking about managing an upcoming product launch at work.
Then the nurse shift change happened.
This is when I meet one of my most favorite nurses in the history of the world — Rachel. In my opinion, she is the person responsible for saving my child’s life. I don’t want to discount the amazing work and effort of the NICU nurses, OBGYN’s and the neonatologists who kept the little man alive, but we wouldn’t have even made it to that point without Rachel.
I found myself repeating the same story over again to Rachel and the events leading up to being strapped to a bunch of monitors. As part of her questioning, she asked if I experienced any contractions or back pain. I said that my back hurt a little on the drive over, but I’m pregnant. When is a pregnant woman not complaining about some kind of pain?
But whatever I said triggered something in the back of her head. Something that just seemed out of place. She asked my doctor if a pelvic exam could be done.
Fun fact — pelvic exams don’t normally occur during your pregnancy exams because they don’t want to mess down there too much. I was told the hospital doesn’t automatically conduct pelvic exams in these situations until around 32 weeks.
She gets approval to do the pelvic exam. And I will never, ever forget the look on her face. Ever. Thinking about it now immediately puts me back on the bed looking straight at her while she hovered over my exposed lady bits. It felt like time stopped. I remember looking over at my husband, who was mid-text, and we both looked at each other like, uh oh.
And then Rachel says, “I need to go get my charge nurse for a cross-check.”
To be honest, at this point, I’m pretty sure this is when I checked out of reality. I just knew something terrible was about to happen.
The charge nurse comes back in, gives the same blank “I’m in trauma mode” stare and we’re told I’m not leaving this room or this bed until I deliver a baby, which could be in the next couple of hours. I was 24 weeks and 5 days.
I was told I had something called an incompetent cervix, which pretty much meant that my body could no longer support the weight of my child. I was 5 cm dilated (get jealous moms out there… I felt absolutely nothing), had a bulging bag, and was leaking amniotic fluid.
At this point, I was in full-on shock. I remember asking if I could go to the bathroom to pee one more time. The answer was no. What if I have to poop? No. Can you give me a catheter? Nope — risk of infection is too high. Do I seriously have to stay in this negative 45-degree angle position for the duration of my bed rest? Yes. Ugh.
The OBGYN on duty from my practice came by and explained that I had to stay in L&D until the threat of delivery was over — or I delivered. They started steroids to try and speed up lung development and hooked me up to Mag to try and slow down the contractions I wasn’t feeling and protect the baby’s still developing brain. If I did deliver that night — or later that week — it would be in an OR room via a classical C-section.
A classical c-section is where the incision is vertical instead of horizontal due to the baby’s small size. It also comes with a longer recovery period. But hands down, the worst part of that night (other than being told I had to pee and poop in a bedpan for the foreseeable future, which ends up being an important part of my child’s entrance into the world) was the initial consult with the neonatologist.
I’ll go ahead and admit that I didn’t quite understand the role of a neonatologist before that night. This is embarrassing, but I thought it was related to being a neurologist. I mean, the words look really similar!
Not to overdramatize this, but imagine being told that there is a strong possibility that you will be delivering your child 16 weeks early, and then being walked through every major organ system in the body and the worst case scenario. Brain hemorrhage, heart problems, lungs, kidneys, liver, skin, eyes. Worse, all the bleak stats being thrown out were for babies born between 28 and 32 weeks. Certainly not 24.
There was one point where my husband flat out interrupted her and was like — I don’t care about the issues a 32-week-old baby faces, what should we be worried about if Jenni delivers tonight? The fact that I don’t remember the response no matter how hard I try should give you an indicator of how bad the answer was. Or how zoned out I became. I do remember one number though. 40. Only 40 percent chance of our baby surviving if I gave birth that night.
At this point — I’m going to go ahead and throw out a term I learned recently and something that was not in any book or website I read. A Baby’s Urgent Medical Plan — or BUMP — is separate from the birth plan parents create where they think they actually have some semblance of control over the birth of their child.
A BUMP plan is not something that everyone should develop. But if you are deemed high-risk, live in a rural area, or the hospital/birth center you are delivering at doesn’t have a NICU or NICU Transport, consider doing your research and making sure that you have access — or can easily get access — to a medical facility with a reputable NICU just in case you need it.
Luckily, the hospital we delivered at had a Level III NICU (which is one of the highest levels available), so we were covered there. That said, if you know you will likely need a NICU — they aren’t all created equal. One of the hospitals near us has private rooms for the kids — WITH beds for the parents — which would have been awesome given how much we were up at the hospital.
So we settled in for a very scary 12 hours. We emerged victorious — no baby. By Monday night, the high risk specialist at the hospital had upped our chances between 50 and 60 percent. The longer I could keep the baby in me, the higher my chances became to give birth to a viable baby. In a dream world, they wanted me on bed rest (still in that negative angle position) for the next four to five weeks. That said most women in my situation give birth within the week.
In less than 48 hours, it would become apparent I wouldn’t last four to five weeks. Or another 24 hours. Because pooping in a bedpan changed everything. But that story is for another day.
Yesterday, I watched Deadpool for the first time since we saw it on Valentine’s Day — a move I watched while unknowingly in labor. It is still hilarious, and I can’t wait to watch it with my child. Someday. A really, really long time from now. But the fact we will get to watch it together at all is now my favorite part of the movie.