Infertility as Period Drama

WARNING: This could contain Downton Abbey spoilers.

I’m a Downton Abbey fan. Actually, I’m a most things Masterpiece fan. I was weened on PBS, and as a result I have a soft spot in my heart for period dramas.

Downton Abbey had me at hello. Gorgeous costumes, beautiful sets, Mary Crawley who reminds me of myself… if I had been born the daughter of an Earl in the 1900’s. The show is in its final season, and it has taken some truly absurd turns. Sometimes it feels like Dallas set in the English country side, but whatevs…

There is a plot line this season which hits a particular sore spot for me. One of the characters, the long suffering Anna, seems to be having repeat pregnancy loss. According to her count, she has had two– maybe three– miscarriages. This isn’t the first time infertility has been hinted at… My spirit animal, Mary Crawley, was having difficultly delivering an heir so she mysteriously went to a doctor who mysteriously fixed it all up. There is no explanation, just that everything is fiiiiine now. And a few scenes later, she’s pregnant.

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“Leave me so I can die barren and alone in a shanty.”

So… back to Long Suffering Anna… Anna is married to guy named Bates who’s sole purpose seems to be getting accused for murder. (But he is a sweet loving man, honest!) In the past few episodes, Anna has confessed her multiple miscarriages to Bates who is all “You can’t have a baby? NBD. I love you, girl.” Anna is all “I can’t give you what you want. We’ll be miserable and childless forever.” Note: this conversation always seems to happen in the boot room where they are cleaning other people’s shoes.

I’ve had a funny reaction to these boot room heart-to-hearts. On one hand, I feeeeeel this. Though I thankfully have never had a miscarriage, I have had the “Leave me so I can die childless and alone” conversation with Mr. O, as have most infertile people at some point in their journey. Thankfully both Anna and I are married to fundamentally decent people who think more of us than we do ourselves. (And thankfully this is where Mr. O’s similarities with Bates end.)

On another hand, I’m annoyed. Now that I can witness this with some distance, thanks to time and fiction, I just want Anna to stop whimpering. He says he loves you. You’re enough. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Yes, I know this sounds heartless coming from someone who spent YEARS feeling sorry for herself, this blog being exhibit A, B, and C. Still… I’m tired of all the crying in the boot room.

This week, we learned that Anna’s problem is… an incompetent cervix, easily fixed with few stitches. By golly, it is practically painless! She won’t even need to go to hospital! Hoorah, hooray!

And now is when I get annoyed again. At the writers for trying make this something you just solve with a few stitches. Because we don’t really get to see the toll this takes on Anna. We likely won’t see how Anna walks on eggshells during her pregnancy because she is vaguely terrified her baby will slip out of her vagina… likely in the boot room while she is polishing Lady Mary’s shoes.

It’s strange to see something so personal dramatized as entertainment or a plot twist. I wince a little every time.


The Suspense is Killing You

Oh my loyal readers… You’re probably wondering where I’ve been. Sorry to have left you all hanging, but my life got busy again. And in the best possible way.

I am officially off house arrest bed rest!

After my appointment with my doctor last week, everything looked good. When I was hooked up to the NST, Chick continued to perform well and my contractions were really just Braxton Hick– not consistent or strong enough to cause any concern. My cervix, though still wee, has not changed. So I’ve still got enough between Chick and the outside world not to worry about him/her falling out of my vagina anytime soon.

Better yet, I was given the fFN test and it came back negative. In this case, negative is very positive- it means that I have a 99% likelihood of NOT having a baby in the next two weeks. Whew!

For some reason, my doctor/midwife team wanted me to go to a Fetal Medicine Specialist on Monday. The idea was to determine what level of monitoring I might need for the rest of my pregnancy. To be honest, I’m still not too sure why I had that appointment. And said specialist isn’t too sure why either. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mr. O and I met with her, and went over all the details and drama over the last few weeks. She asked a ton of questions, looked over the results, and gave her synopsis of what she thinks happened.

Her guess is that my cervix started to shorten (which is normal toward the end of pregnancy) and in that process a small blood vessel may have burst. This happens sometimes, and is nothing to worry about. There was some concern this might have been signs of a partial placental abruption, but since Chick has continued to grow at a healthy rate and there is no more bleeding, we’ve pretty much ruled that out. Fun Fact: babies only need 50% of the placenta. The other 50%? Leftovers, I guess.

Back to said synopsis: Of course, as I was in the office for the suspicious brown spotting, I was hooked up to machines which found my Silent Contractions. Then I went to the hospital where I was monitored more, and the doctors kept finding more odd things and ordering more NSTs. Each symptom in isolation might have been fine, but because they were all happening within a short time frame we took a more cautious approach.

As she pointed out, there was no way to know from the outset that I wasn’t going into labor. Another fun fact from this doctor– If you are going into real, actual labor, there isn’t really a way to stop it, only delay it. Since mine was successfully stopped with intervention, I wasn’t in “true” labor, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Not that I would change any course we took– you just can’t know in the moment, so Mr. O, the doctors, and I made the best decisions we could with the information we had. Since I was hooked up to that NST machine for between 45 and 1.5 hours at a time, we had A LOT of information.

Essentially, the Fetal Medicine doc diagnosed me with a case of over-monitoring.

After going over our case, she said “How about this… I’m just going to treat you like a normal pregnant woman.” No extra monitoring, just one more ultrasound in a month to make sure Chick is still good, but no additional appointments, NSTs, blood work, blah, blah, blah. Music to my ears, friends.

I’m still on “restricted activity” which seems fine to me since I’m officially uncomfortable. I knew it was bound to happen, and 33 weeks is as good a time as any I suppose. With Chick gaining .5 lbs each week from here on out, my tiny frame is starting to protest under the pressure. I’d much rather be home napping, and now I have a doctor’s note to validate me!

With this information, I went back to work this week– three full days and two half days. I’m planning to ask my manager for a work from home schedule (three days in the office, two days at home) so I can take it easy into the Final Countdown to Babyville. I’m fully aware how fortunate I am to have this option– every once in a while, my middle class guilt creeps up on me because I know so many women don’t have the supportive, flexible work environment I do. Is it odd I feel a little bad about this? Is it at least less terrible that I know and appreciate how fortunate I am?

But this is a post for another day, perhaps.

I also have notes from the Baby Extravaganza coming your way! Stay tuned…

L&D. Without the D

It has been a completely chaotic, exhausting past few days. I can’t even. But you know… this is a blog, so I’ll give it a whirl.

Day Three of bed rest felt pretty uneventful. Sure, I was going a little squirrely, but this is what happens when you barricade yourself in your house for days. And I’m very much a social animal, so hanging out with just me, my cat, and Chick for hours a day was pretty ridiculous. I was reeaallly looking forward to getting the all clear on Saturday.

I was optimistic. I’d had no real spotting, I’d been taking it easy. I was so optimistic, I was so bold as to have PLANS for the afternoon.

You know where is this going, don’t you? We all know what happens when I think I can have plans…

I got to the office, and they hooked up to the monitoring machine. For no reason, I can just sense that something isn’t right. Chick’s heart beat sound erratic. It has never been erratic, so I’m sure the nurse who has hooked me up has done it wrong. I was, it turns out, correct. After a replacement of the paddle, Chick’s heart rate was just fine. My uterus, however, was not. I was having tiny contractions– that I couldn’t feel– that were pretty steady.

Me no likey.

So after about 45 minutes of monitoring, my midwife does a manual exam. My cervix had the audacity to shorten even more. And because it feels like being even more of an asshole, it decided to get its dilation on. Not a lot, but it is a change. Change at this stage of the game isn’t a good thing.

So I won myself a weekend in Labor & Delivery. Before anyone freaks out… I had labor, but thankfully no delivery. Chick is still hanging out in my uterus. I am now, however, a bigger shit show than I was before all this started. Which was considerable in the first place. But where was I…

Ah, yes… When my midwife told me I need to go to the hospital for monitoring, I burst into tears. Look, I have been in bed since SUNDAY (remember, before the bed rest was a head cold.) I was really looking forward to getting on with my life. Not to mention, I didn’t want to have a baby right at that moment. Nothing personal, Chick. I’m looking forward to meeting you and everything, but you need to cook a little bit longer. So STAY IN MY BELLY.

Mr. O drove me to the hospital, and I bawled the whole time. You see, along with not wanting to have a baby that day, I’ve developed a genuine fear of hospitals. This is what happens when your mom spends a year in the ICU after a terrible medical accident. You develop a pathological fear of hospitals, IVs, nursing gowns, etc. (Yes, I realize I’m going to have to deal with this pretty fucking soon. But today I just need to write this blog and take a goddamn nap.)

Crying in public, as we’ve previously discussed, has become a specialty of mine. So I proceeded to cry at every single human being I encountered. The parking attendant. The receptionist. The lady at the check in desk. The multiple nurses who came in and out of my room. I had to ask for a refill on the weak ass tissues they gave me.

Though I was weeping like a maniac, I was also a very charming patient. Again, after spending a year visiting my mom in the hospital, I know the right combination of polite and pathetic that gets you in with the nurses. Fortunately (?) for me, nothing is more pathetic than a pregnant crying lady. And the lingering residue of my southern upbringing has given me excellent manners.

The nurses hooked me up to an IV and got me started on Nifedipine to slow down the contractions. They also hooked me up to the NTS monitor for hours to see how treatment was working.

Interestingly, Nifedipine is a blood pressure medication. As such, it help get your blood moving around which helps ease contractions. It also gave me the most unbearable headache I’ve ever had– a searing pain from the center of my forehead all the way to the base of my neck. A connoisseur of headaches and migraines, I’ve never experienced something like this in my life. And no, tylenol didn’t knock it out though did take some of the edge off.

With every shift, a new set of doctors and nurses would have to be educated on why I was there. I got pretty good at repeating my story: I went in for a check up on my cervix, the midwife noticed I was having contractions I couldn’t feel, and TA DAH! Every doctor– I mean every single one– said “You couldn’t feel them? Well, that’s great news.” Really? Not being able to tell if you’re going into labor is good news? I suppose it means that the contractions weren’t that strong or serious, but still… It’s a little disconcerting to have someone tell you that you may be going into labor and have NO IDEA that it is happening. This strikes me as shitastic news.

The real good news is that it worked. After about 6 hours, my contractions had gone, my dehydration was gone, and Chick was still completely unbothered by all the external drama. (I may just be having the most chill baby on the planet.)

Still, the doctors wanted to keep me on another 24 observation period, so I was transferred from triage to Labor and Delivery.

The observation period was fairly uneventful. NST after NST after ultrasound, everything was fine. The on-call doctor did a cervical check and said I’ve even gained ground on my cervix a little. So I got discharged and went home.

This is part in the story where I lose my mind completely. Prepare yourself.

When Mr. O and I get home, I headed straight to bed. tired, sulky, hadn’t showered… I was just exhausted by what’s happened. Strange how sitting around doing nothing wipes you out, doesn’t it?

I also became completely convinced I couldn’t trust my body. I thought I’d been drinking enough fluids. I couldn’t feel any of those fucking contractions. How was I supposed to know if I was going into labor?

What I could (and can) feel are the Braxton Hicks contractions. So I started counting them, which proved to be the worst idea ever. All this did was make me more anxious and tense. I couldn’t sleep. Mr. O tried to calm me down. Rationally, he explained that they wouldn’t have released me if they thought I was going to give birth that day. What? What is this logic of which you speak? I will have none of it! Instead I will cry some more, and work myself up into a frenzy of anxiety and hyperventilating! Because this helps, I swear! (Note the sarcasm, please.)

At around 2:00, I decided to move to the couch because I was kidding myself if I thought I was actually going to get any sleep.

And weirdly, this is where I found a smidgen of peace. I realized that if this baby was coming, there wasn’t a lot I was going to do about it. Mr. O and I have done what we can do to keep Chick on the inside, but the outcome of all this is largely out of my control. So I as a finally drifted off to sleep, I had my first real heart to heart with my kid.

I know you’re excited to meet everyone, but you can’t come out right now. I’m your mom, and I’ve known you since you were 4 cells old. I know you. You need to be stronger, and that’s what I’m here for. The longer we’re together, the stronger you will be. Every day we’re together, the stronger you become.

Bed Rest, Day One Recap

Yesterday was my first day of bed rest. And because I’m sitting around fairly bored, you will receive a mini report from me on each day. I’ll keep it brief. Honestly, this is mostly just to give me something to do.

Day One Observations:

Nope, not my mom. But this is how I imagined her  pregnant: happy and glamorous.

Nope, not my mom. But this is how I imagined her pregnant: happy and glamorous.

Bed rest is not glamorous. If you read my last post, you may remember that my mom was on bed rest for her pregnancies. My mom and dad were always very open about the difficulties they had with pregnancy and childbirth, so I knew my mom was on bed rest ever since I was little. I always had a vision of what this looked like.

Picture it. Manhattan, 1969. My mother is young, glowing, and excited about her pregnancy. She and my dad lost their first to miscarriage, and are worried they may not be able to carry a child to term. When the doctor suggests my mom goes on bed rest, she immediately goes home and camps out in her fashionable apartment with a view of the 59th Street bridge. Several weeks and stacks of books later, my sister is born.

This is what my bed rest looks like.

Meet my new best friends.

Meet my new best friends.

Picture it. My Fair City, 2015. I am an older, tired, slightly anxious first-time pregnant lady. Though no miscarriages (thankfully), I have over two years of infertility to make me sufficiently jumpy. When the doctor suggests I go on bed rest, I get a steroid shot in the ass, and immediately go home and lay in bed feeling sorry for myself. I roll around watching The West Wing, feeling more and more stiff from the 3 total positions I feel comfortable with. Every time Chick moves, I’m grateful but also worried that with each shift, he/she may be putting pressure on my wee cervix. When I can’t sleep, I decide that Google will clearly help me get through this. I am wrong, and can’t sleep for the next two hours. I eventually make the prudent decision to put down my phone, and pick up a copy of Orlando. I fall into a fairly restless sleep, and wake up with a headache.

Of course, the picture of my mom’s bed rest is pretty much fiction. Oh, she lived in Manhattan in a fancy apartment with a doorman. It was like something out of Mad Men. But the fiction, I now see, is that bed rest is easy. Even in more cushy surroundings, you can’t turn off the voice in your own head that makes you nervous with every twinge or change. It seems nervous mothers are timeless, from 1969 to 2015.

Go on Bed Rest Like It’s Your Birthday

(BTW, I haven’t responded to many of your lovely comments from a few posts ago. Sorry. I will get to them. As you’re about to see, I’ve been busy. And not in a fun, “I won a free trip to Cabo” kind of way.)

You know… there are times where I start worrying if the world has some massive beef with me that no one is telling me about.

If it keeps up like this, I’m going to become incredibly paranoid.

Oh, you think I’m already incredibly paranoid? Would you like proof the Universe is unusually interested in busting my balls? I submit for your consideration the following evidence:

Exhibit A: The Car Calamity

Last Monday, Mr. O got into a car accident. No one was hurt- whew! But the car wasn’t driveable, so we had to deal with the insurance company. You know how much I love insurance companies. On this Monday, we learned that they were totaling our car rather than fixing it. Oooookay…. The good-ish news is that we had already planned to buy a new-ish car to replace the 18-year-old rust bucket that I drive. We’ll just have to wait a little bit longer to replace it, that’s all. (Allow me to brag for a minute: 18 years old, rust holes the size of kittens, 273K miles, and it still has the best pick up of any car I’ve driven. And I haven’t had a car payment since 2007. #bragover)

Exhibit B: The Card Calamity

Last Thursday, Mr. O got a call from our bank to ask if we were currently at a Wal-Mart in Florida. (No.) Did we think some one was making unauthorized charges using our card at said Wal-Mart in Florida? (Yes.) Cue the canceling of cards and lots of paper work.

Sadly, I’m sort of used to this. With all the breaches at stores like Target and TJ Maxx over the years, we’ve had to replace our cards a few times. This is, however, the first time we’ve caught actual charges on one of our cards. It sucks, but this is what happens when we no longer use chickens to barter for goods. (I mean, it’d be pretty hard to pass off a fraudulent chicken…)

Exhibit C: The Head Cold Calamity

This Saturday was a busy day. We had a ton of morning errands to run, then an hour drive out to celebrate a friend’s birthday which was in the country. (This will be relevant. Sorta.) We got there, and about an hour later I started sniffling. Nothing crazy, just the sniffles. It gets worse. I think it is just allergies.

Sunday morning rolls around and I have full-on congestion. As you all know, pregnant ladies can’t take any decongestants. So I just get to sit there drowning in my own face for days. This isn’t fun for anyone, but I have particularly shit sinuses so I get lots of sinus pain and rolicking headaches. This also usually leads to me hating everyone for a few days for no other reason than they don’t have to breathe out of their mouths.

Exhibit D: The Cervix Calamity (which isn’t technically alliterative, but still works)

As if Sunday were delightful enough, I woke up with some light brown spotting. This didn’t send me into an immediate panic, but I still thought of calling my offices. They don’t have a 24 hour help line for nothing. The nurse says it is probably nothing but to call my doctor on Monday if it hasn’t stopped or has increased.

Monday, I stay home from work because of my exploding sinuses, and notice that the spotting hasn’t stopped. I call the office, and they recommend coming in for a check up… “just in case.” Fine. I can do “just in case.” I’m a HUGE FAN of “just in case.” I get an appointment for 3:00 pm.

Yesterday morning, I pee. Brown spotting is still there, but now accompanied by something a little more sinister- about half a teaspoon of brown goo. Like what you get at the end of your period. Soooo, I call the doctor and explain what’s happening, and can get squeezed in at 10:30 am.

At 10:30, I meet with my midwife (who I have vaguely mixed feelings about, but that’s another story.) She checks my vitals, asks me tons of questions, checks Chick’s heartbeat (which is stellar) then performs a manual inspection of my lady bits. Something doesn’t feel right. In the 7 weeks since my last ultrasound, my cervix has shortened quite a bit and has also softened a whole lot. Hence, the extra colorful discharge.

What a Stress Test on your birthday looks like.

What a Stress Test on your birthday looks like.

To make sure I’m not going into labor without knowing it, I am put on a stress test while I wait for the ultrasound doctor to see me (who very sweetly offers to give up her lunch break to fit me in.)

Least you have yet to experience the joys of a stress test, it is remarkably unremarkable. They strap you in with two monitors attached to your belly: one for the baby and one for your uterus. They want to get a baseline for the baby’s heart rate and measure your contractions. It also helps to determine if the baby is under any duress if you are having contractions. Mostly, I sat there reading People magazine…

After about 45 minutes hooked up to the machine, we determine that Chick is completely unbothered by this cervix business as is my uterus. We have a health heartbeat and no contractions. Thanks to People, I also determine that backless dresses are all the rage this season, and celebrities sometimes do their own grocery shopping.

At around 12:00, I’m taken to the ultrasound room. Mr. O joins me from work about 10 minutes in. The doctor is the same person who did our anatomy scan at 20 weeks, and I really like her. She’s calm, not too cute about the whole thing, and patiently answers my “What’s that thing over there?” questions.

Again, we determine that Chick is awesome. All the organs are growing nicely, very active (don’t I know it!) and weighing about 3.5 lbs. The placenta looks fine, there is plenty of amniotic fluid. In short, I have a healthy albeit shy baby who still doesn’t want anyone looking at his/her face.

What I don’t have is a lot of cervix. For unknown reasons, my cervix has shortened to 1.5 cm. This can lead to preterm labor, which isn’t not what any of us are rooting for.

At 30w6d, most of Chick’s organs are in good condition. The exception would be the lungs, which are the last to develop in any tiny human. In case I do go early, my midwife suggested I get a steroid shot that helps Chick with lung development. If he/she doesn’t make it to full term, this could shorten our time in the NICU.

I topped of this awesome day with a shot of steroids in my butt.

Oh, did I mention that it was MY BIRTHDAY? Say it with me… “FML.”

The important bits are this:

  • I am not in labor now, nor does it look like this is imminent.
  • I am on bed rest so as not to put more pressure on my tiny real estate of cervix. This will be re-evalutated on Saturday. If there hasn’t been any more leakage, contractions, and my cervix is playing nice, I can resume normal activities.
  • Chick is just not interested in any of this, and so keeps smacking my insides which I’m starting to actually find endearing.
Guess how I'll be spending my time?

Guess how I’ll be spending my time?

There is an echo here from my mom, strangely enough. You see, she was on bed rest for all three of her kids. (And this was before the Internet!) When I told my father, he sort of chuckled and said “Well, you are your mother’s daughter.” It’s worth noting, she had three healthy (though far from normal) children. This makes me feel better.

Also in the eerie connection department, I just so happen to have my mother’s copy of Anna Karenina. It is the exact copy she read while on bed rest with me. The cover is so 1970’s, I can hardly stand it.

So… got any ideas to keep an anxious pregnant lady entertained and not Googling while she is immobile?