House Arrest

Since I posted my last blog, I’ve had several concerned people contact me about my condition. It seems that between griping about bureaucracy and picking on a woman I hardly know for doing her job, I let a few kernels of hard truth slip through.

At Baby Girl’s anatomy scan (week eighteen) my doctor noticed she was positioned quite low. He recommended pelvic rest, and though that may not be surprising to experienced mommies, I had never had an appointment where my doctor looked concerned before thirty-five weeks, when it usually becomes clear my babies will arrive a tad ahead of schedule. After I left the office I felt my first Braxton Hicks contractions (henceforth BHC), which are a bit like a charlie horse in your belly. They start low, and if you don’t sit down and relax they spread up over your belly.

I had BHC constantly with my first two babies, but not until around thirty weeks. I chalked it up to anxiety over a less than perfect checkup, and attended an out of town wedding for a dear friend that weekend. I know that BHC are not real contractions, mostly because they don’t hurt nearly as much, and I know that resting will make them stop, so I attempted to proceed as if everything was normal. A long walk in the Baltimore heat followed by a brief attempt at dancing  during the reception confirmed my suspicions — BHC that were way ahead of schedule. I gulped down water and refrained from shaking it on the dance floor for the rest of the night.

To some extent, vanity played a part in my unwillingness to sound the alarm about my condition over the weekend. Maybe it was nothing, and as I’ve never been the fit member of our clique, I didn’t want to be the waddling pregnant woman who has to stop and rest every couple blocks to calm down invisible cramping. In addition, a friend who was a college athlete is eight months pregnant with her first child and there were multiple reports of her sprinting in the hotel gym before serving as a bridesmaid in this wedding, where she wore an un-altered dress identical to all the other slim and beautiful bridesmaids. Forgive me for attempting to power through before I knew what was actually happening.

At my next appointment (week 20) I mentioned my BHC to my doctor, and he asked if I’d adhered to pelvic rest and of course I had. He scratched his chin, and then there was a flurry of activity. He summoned nurses, told me to remove my clothes, and went to direct the women with computers while I prepared. He returned with a serious face and an action plan. It’s too early for BHC, he said, and since they prepare the body for labor we needed to change our approach. Before twenty-four weeks this baby cannot survive without me, so we need to ensure she’ll stay put. He checked to make sure I hadn’t started dilating (I hadn’t) and gave explicit instructions: no heavy-lifting, no prolonged standing, no exercising, and don’t do anything else you don’t absolutely have to do. Bed rest without being confined to a bed, essentially.

I was referred to a high risk obstetrician and until I could get in to see him, my doctor started me on weekly progesterone shots which sometimes help women who’ve previously had early births as I have. The urgency was clear, since he personally went to find samples of the shot he could give me until the staff had time to confer with my insurance and get it approved. Luckily, his office had some ready to go, and I started immediately.

So here we are, one week from receiving my no-marching orders. I went in today for another shot, and I assumed I’d just pop in, get stuck, and leave, but it seems with the shots I am now considered a delicate case and will be having full checkups and ultrasounds every week. It’s comforting to see Baby Girl on the monitor, but startling to know that weekly checks are necessary.

The good news is my symptoms have not worsened over the last week. The pressure in my belly is not stronger, and the shots should keep me from dilating for a while. My doctor seemed reassured that couch-rest was the way to go, and said he’d see me in a week.

BHC are not a problem, and if you’re not miserable it is acceptable to power through them at the end of your pregnancy. You’re feeling your uterus practice for the real deal, and it’s normal. For me, if I start to feel any tightness in my belly, I need to immediately lay on my left side and relax while simultaneously drinking gallons of water, because dehydration can make things worse.

Imagine you’ve got a job where you are a crucial cog in the machine, and your absence is difficult to overcome. Now imagine you’re still at your place of employment and are watching your colleagues do their own work and yours, which makes you feel guilty and question why the company doesn’t just fire you. As I watch my husband get up hours earlier than usual to drag the kids from their beds so he can take them to school before he needs to be in court, then drag them home and attempt to cobble together dinner from a refrigerator that hasn’t been properly stocked since he was able to hit the store over the weekend, I wonder why he doesn’t just fire me. This isn’t logical, they are feelings — the feelings of an emotional and anxiety-ridden pregnant woman who has been told to sit still and stop being anxious.

The stress of our situation weighs on me and on my husband, and all the while he’s performing the tasks of both parents and also saving the country from criminals, so I’m more than a little concerned he will flame out like a child star and shave his head a la Britney Spears. Sure, he’ll eventually get a residency in Vegas baby girl and a functioning wife if all goes well, but it’s hard on him I can tell. And this is just the first week.

There is hope that after the magical twenty-four week milestone the restrictions will ease a tad, but there’s also the possibility that the high risk OB will recommend I have all my orifices sewn shut to prevent early dilation. This is an actual procedure that has been suggested by my doctor as a viable option, and it’s about as horrifying as it sounds, so fingers- and legs-crossed the head honcho doesn’t prescribe this particular fix.

Until then, I wither on the couch binge-watching Netflix and trying not to think about the gravity of the situation, and then I remember gravity and lay on my side or hang upside down to keep Baby Girl from arriving too early. I don’t vacuum, wander around Target, carry laundry, or lift my kids. I don’t stand to make dinner longer than it takes to set the microwave or oven and walk back to the couch. The BHC are less frequent, but reappear if I attempt to break any of my own rules and do anything productive.

So friends, don’t worry about us. We are doing everything we can to keep Baby Girl safe and have called in reinforcements in the form of pizza deliveries and a cleaning service that starts next week — I hope they can find us under all the Cheerios that will have piled up by then. We hope and pray she doesn’t arrive before she’s ready, but at this point we aren’t really calling the shots.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have time for at least one more episode of Madam Secretary before my three boys come home to give me kisses and tell me everything will be alright.

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