When you are pregnant for the first time in your whole life, there is so much you don't know. Read all you want, but it's hard to know what is considered normal.
I'd read that Braxton-Hicks contractions could start around this time, around the 24 week mark. I'm 23 weeks and 5 days. But I've never had contractions before. What do they feel like? How will I know that it's them?
Yesterday at work, around 4 p.m., I went to the bathroom for the gajillionth time. Peeing is all I do these days. (Baby Girl straight kicked me in the bladder for the first time yesterday.) After finishing I felt wetness, so followed up with more tissue. Before flushing I saw that that tissue was tinged with red blood.
I stood frozen in the stall. "Brown blood is good. Red blood is bad." I'd heard it and read it a thousand times after my last ordeal. So I wiped again. More red blood. A tiny, tiny amount, but still it was bright red. Every time I looked at more clean tissue it come away with little streaks of red. I started to panic.
I called Dominique. My calls went straight to voicemail. So, I texted him instead, told him what was up and asked that he call. Then I called my doctor's office. After pressing 5 to speak to a human, the call was dropped. Frustrated and scared, I headed back into the bathroom. More red blood.
I knew my OB wasn't in the office that day. And I knew that I could call the emergency line and wait for a doctor on call to call me back, but I didn't want to wait. Not when I started feeling cramping on my left side. I was bleeding and cramping, and I knew that even at 23 weeks my baby had an ever-so-slight chance of viability outside the womb if something went wrong. So, I decided to go to the E.R.
I told Dominique I'd go to Roosevelt Hospital on the West Side, where we have our ultrasounds done and where we are scheduled to deliver our baby in September. I left work informing only the woman nearest me of what was happening and ran down to the street to hail a cab. Mercifully, I was able to snag one in under two minutes.
"59th and 10th. Roosevelt Hospital emergency room. And please hurry," I said as I slid into the backseat.
Midtown traffic is no joke. It took a full fifteen minutes to go fifteen blocks, with construction and bikers and pedestrians blocking the way. Seeing people laugh and dawdle in the crosswalks while my cramps grew more frequent was maddening. I tried holding it together at every red light when really what I wanted to do was scream.
Once at the emergency room I walked in to see people everywhere. Two nurses were posted up at a desk and so I walked right up and asked, "Can you help me? I'm 23 weeks and I have bleeding and cramping." And then I finally started to cry.
"How many weeks did you say?," they asked.
"Then you can go straight up to Labor & Delivery. 14th Floor."
A man escorted me to Labor & Delivery while I cried and rubbed my belly.
"Try to relax," he said. "It's going to be okay. It doesn't help anything if you are in distress. Your baby needs you to be calm."
He was right, and it helped me to breathe and to focus.
A nurse took her sweet time asking me questions about Ebola (?!???) and then asked me to fill out a form with my insurance information. No service til they know how you'll be paying. As she made a copy of my insurance form I felt another strong cramp.
After all the formalities, I was taken to a bed and asked to pee into a cup. (This time no blood, which was a huge relief.) Then to take off everything but my bra and to place a tight wrap around my belly. Then I put on the fetching open-backed gown.
Luckily, Dominique had arrived by then and helped me get undressed and hugged me hard, reminding me that everything would be okay.
They took some blood and placed a monitor under the gauzy wrap around my belly to see if I was having contractions.
Then I just had to wait. As I was lying there waiting, I could feel my daughter moving and kicking, so I knew she was alive. But was she in distress?
10 or so minutes later the nurse came back and informed me that I was indeed contracting. The room started to spin. In those few moments everything became grim and I wondered if I'd be giving birth that night. I feared we wouldn't have a little girl to show for it.
They hooked me up via IV to a bag of fluid and electrolytes as they told me that dehydration sometimes causes that to happen. As she was inserting the needle I heard her say, "Oh crap. Gosh. Crap," and I knew that the insertion had gone wrong. Turned out that blood was dripping from my arm and onto the floor in a puddle as Dominique watched. She had to go get an absorbent square thing to soak it all up.
"I drank so much water today," I told her, but she insisted that sometimes when it's hot, water is not enough.
I lied there terrified. I could feel tiny cramps, nothing huge, but I wondered, "Is this how it starts? Am I in labor?"
I'd have to wait to find out. A doctor was going to perform a pelvic exam to check my cervix and an ultrasound to check on the status of the baby. It took what seemed like years for her to get to me. And once she did, I was told that the machine was being sterilized and that I'd have to wait another 15 minutes. It took more like 30. Time inched by.
Finally the doctor and her observing student came for the exams. They could find no blood, which was a huge plus. Also, my cervix was completely closed which means that I was not going into labor. This was the news that finally allowed me to relax a little. But it wasn't until I saw my baby jumping around on the ultrasound monitor that I was truly put at ease.
"She's active!," the doctor told me. "She's moving so much we can barely track her heartbeat."
But finally they did. A steady 156.
Relief came over me like a wave. The cramping was lessening. I wasn't dilated at all. And my baby was doing a feisty jig, just as she always does.
They wanted me to wait two hours to do a second cervical exam, just to be on the safe side. And to give me a second bag of IV fluids. I was happy to do that because I'd finally gotten word that everything was likely okay.
As I waited I listened as a woman beside me came in in obvious pain. She was moaning like a porn star in two minute intervals. She was a week and half overdue and labored at home for a while before coming in. I heard the staff's surprise when she measured 8 centimeters dilated and they informed her, "we doubt you'll be pregnant in an hour." I thought ahead to my own big day some three and half months away. Would my moans sound so sexy? Doubtful. I'll probably sound like a cornered animal.
After settling down, doubt started to creep in. Had I overreacted by coming to the E.R.? Should I have gotten in touch with the doctor on call at the OB practice and waited for word on what to do? Lots of second-guessing began about whether I was one of those overly neurotic first-time mothers who is eliciting eye rolls from everyone on staff.
But red blood and contractions at 23 weeks is a big deal! That's not normal! I have to remind myself that being safe and certain is way better than taking a risk and sitting at home with worry and fear all for the sake of not seeming too neurotic. This is not just my life we are talking about here. This little girl is counting on me to make the right decisions.
Two long hours later the doctor came back to perform a second (painful) cervical exam and told me that all looked good. My cervix was "nice and long," which is apparently a good thing.
I was discharged and sent home with paperwork that told me how to behave in the coming days. Lots of water. Lots of iron. Rest often. And that if I see blood, head straight to the hospital. And with that line I was validated in my choice to head straight to the E.R.
Being pregnant for the first time in your life is a trip. Especially with the little complications I've had along the way: subchorionic hematoma, marginal cord placement, high risk for Trisomy 21...heck, just being 38 puts me in the "high-risk" category right out of the gate. I can read books or Google until the cows come home, but often that just ratchets my anxiety up to previously unknown levels. It's so hard to know what is normal, what is right, when something is wrong, and how to handle any of it.
I just want her to get here. I do not enjoy being pregnant. Some women say they love being pregnant, and I fully believe them to be either witches or lying though their teeth.
She's going to be worth it, undoubtedly. But the waiting for her arrival is the hardest part. Until the new hardest part, which will be loving her with a fierceness unlike I've ever known and then watching the world somehow disappoint her. I suppose for that, I can wait. Because at least for now she's with me, where no one can hurt her.