It was January 7, 2000. I was seven months pregnant and headed to the bathroom before the commute home. I looked down and my pants (my favourite Japanese Weekend maternity jeans) were covered in blood.
I wasn’t in pain, no cramps, but there was the blood; lots of it. To be honest, it didn’t occur to me that I was in any danger. I had always been sure that I was built to be pregnant and I was having a happy and healthy pregnancy.
My midwife was very calm when I called her, she told me that I should come straight to the hospital and she would be waiting for me. I called my husband and after a moment of “what are you talking about??”, he rushed downtown to get me.
Even in the car I wasn’t that concerned. I had looked up bleeding on the rudimentary Internet and learned that I was most probably experiencing some bleeding from my placenta. Good thing, I hadn’t kept reading because as soon as we arrived at the hospital I could see that I was being treated as if we, and I mean both my baby and I, were in danger.
Midwife did a quick scan, started muttering about the membranes, contractions and called in a perinatologist. Suddenly, I was having steroid shots to improve the baby’s lungs and being monitored closely for signs of labour as I was experiencing mild contractions. My husband and I realized at the same time that in a matter of hours we could be parents of a 32-week old preemie.
Our holistic midwife stepped aside, and our new science-based doctor explained that: yes, I was experiencing a placental abruption which means my placenta had come away from the wall. There is so much blood going through the placenta that if it falls off the uterine wall you have about 8 minutes until death – for mother and baby. The good news is that the baby would probably not be born immediately, the bad news is that I was now an extremely high-risk pregnancy.
There were no causes and no treatment for an abruption. My only hope was that ancient prescription: bedrest and hope. So I had gone from totally well pregnant woman to a “sick” pregnancy in hours?
Once it was decided that I was not in labour and there was nothing medically to be done (and suddenly nothing meant everything). We dutifully went home and made me a little nest so I could stay home and save my baby by doing nothing all day. Their instructions were clear: I was allowed to go from the bed to the couch downstairs. I could shower as long as someone was there, and I could get up to pee. That was it. (I was also on “pelvic rest” but that is another post.)
The problem was that we were living in Seattle away from friends and family and my husband had a job. So I was alone all day. Family members flew in to keep me company and pour me glasses of water but I still felt alone. After four weeks on bedrest, I was experiencing another light bleed (my third) when my doctor told me to pack my pillow and some pajamas I was finishing out my term at the hospital.
My entire world became my private hospital room and the nurses who came into check on me. I had a TV, VCR and a phone. I ate unhealthy hospital food and existed on a diet of VH1 “Where Are They Now” shows. Unfortunately, the Internet didn’t exist like it does today and so the web did not provide me with any distraction or support. (Nowadays there are sites for women on bedrest.) The only time I left my room was when they wheeled me down for an ultrasound (and when I snuck into the room beside me to visit Eileen who was expecting triplets). I could hear people in the waiting room talking and laughing but I never realized it was just around the corner from my room.
I’m not an overly active person so I could lie around all day and survive. I had a steady stream of nurses, an OT to make sure I didn’t atrophy and my phone to keep me busy. I had complete trust in my doctor who would often visit me at the end of the day and myself to get to the end of the pregnancy. It was a surreal time, my whole body and brain just slowed down to the new normal.
My husband would come over every night and hang out, he even slept over a couple of times. We chatted, watched movies but we did not get caught up in a cycle of anxiety. And I think that is what saved my sanity and his; we were able to function well under abnormal circumstances. The whole experience brought us closer and I think made us into parents even before our son was born.
The thing that I hated the most was when people would phone me and say things like: “Oh, you are so lucky. I wish I could have a couple of days off to lie around and do nothing.”
It didn’t feel like nothing, even though I was horizontal I was actively saving my baby’s life and my own.
Or, “You must feel awful, like your body let you down.”
Actually, that didn’t occur to me until you brought it up. But no, I feel like I am doing a great job. Have I mentioned that I am saving my baby’s life and my own?
After eight weeks of bedrest, the doctors decided enough was enough and my son was born by caesarean section at 37 weeks on the dot. My favourite nurses chose to be there for the birth and rejoiced in our healthy little guy along with us. He was 6lbs, 13 ounces and as blonde and blue-eyed as we are dark. (At this point in the story, I always take a dramatic pause and say: without medical intervention of a caesarean both my son and I would have most likely died during childbirth. I would have been a Victorian statistic.)
The worst days were following the birth when the hospital decided he needed three days of observation, which impeded breastfeeding but also meant that after a month of living in the hospital I had to go home alone. I was now dismissed from doctors' care and free to walk around as if nothing had happened. And then the hard work began…