On Thursday, May 7, I had my 32 week prenatal appointment with my OB. Everything looked perfect. I was feeling really good- walking 3 miles most days, doing yoga, eating well, and feeling like I had a very solid team for my birth and good communication happening between my doctor and me. I was ready to take on these last weeks of pregnancy and go for my VBA2C.
The next day, I started to feel some Braxton Hicks contractions that seemed a little sharper than usual. I also noticed that the baby seemed a tiny bit less active than usual- still kicking but somehow not as often or strong. It was nothing, I told myself. I had just been to the doctor and been tested- I was fine. Just one of those “off days.” Still, I called Mike and asked him to come home a little early and pick up a cold orange juice for me on the way. I drank the 16oz of ice cold OJ he brought me, and lay down on the couch for the rest of the afternoon, calmed by my baby’s kicking in response to the sugary cool drink and the fact that my contractions subsided and disappeared.
That weekend was Mother’s Day, and all weekend I just felt off, even though I couldn’t put my finger on it. We enjoyed the weekend, though, including a two mile hike to a small beach at a local lake for a picnic, and a half mile walk to church, pulling our little red wagon behind us with the kids in it. I remember Mike and I dreaming about the new baby- would it be a boy or girl? Would he or she look like Olivia or Malachi or be TOTALLY different? “What if we have a little redheaded girl?” Mike wondered aloud. That would be almost too perfect we both decided.
Monday morning the Braxton Hicks, which were pretty much a constant in my life at that point, intensified. I took Malachi to an occupational therapy appointment and then both kids to the library and a quick walk up the road from the library to Mike’s office. At one point, Malachi was having a meltdown and I was carrying him screaming down the sidewalk with my big pregnant belly, contracting every 20 minutes or so, and I remember thinking, “I can’t do this. I CANNOT DO THIS for 8 more weeks.” I went home and laid on the couch with a tall glass of water and cried- how would I manage two kids for another two months and I couldn’t even make it through a simple morning out??
That afternoon the contractions got to the point where I was starting to time them and get a little bit concerned as they also felt sharp. I also felt like the baby felt lethargic. I probably should have called my OB at this point, but I felt like I didn’t want to be “that mom” who panics, and decided to try a few things first and then call if nothing changed within the hour. I put the kids in survival mode- on the iPads- and laid down with a big glass of ice water in bed to count kicks (I got 10 within the first minute), and hope the rest and water would calm my uterus down after a busy morning of walking. It worked, and the contractions spaced back out from every 10 minutes to 1-2 per hour, and were no longer sharp.
That night at bedtime, I remember specifically going in to kiss and spend a few minutes with both kids. I had started to feel so uncomfortable and tired in recent weeks that I wasn’t a regular participant in bedtime anymore- Mike had taken over. But there was something in me that told me I needed to make sure to hug them that night.
I went to bed myself around 8pm.
10pm I awoke to strong and sharp contractions coming every 8-10 minutes or less. I lay there for probably half an hour, trying to ignore them and sleep. I couldn’t. I prayed for a sign… I still felt so in between. Not sure if these were just Braxton Hicks/ prodromal labor that I knew could feel intense and last for weeks, or something I needed to pay attention to. I needed something to change so I would be sure one way or the other.
I got up to go to the bathroom around 10:30pm. There was bright blood. My sign. I felt a wave of relief- I knew exactly what I needed to do. I calmly came back to the bedroom and shook Mike, “Dear, we need to go to the hospital right now. We need to call someone to come be with the kids.” We began going down the list, double and triple calling numbers until finally someone answered- Anna. In the 5 minutes it took her to get to our house I grabbed my doula bag (and thanked God I had listened to the little voice inside that told me not to pack it and put it away even though I had been done with doula work for over a month at that point), and called my OB to leave a message on his answering service.
“Hi Doctor Bowen, just wanted to let you know that I am headed to B North right now with some blood and contractions. We will meet you there,” I told his answering machine as we walked out into the night. I called my doula, Erica, as we climbed in the car under the glowing moon.
“I’m in labor…” I finally started to cry.
“Oh Kate…” she said.
It was a quiet 20 minute ride in the dark. Calm. Still. Contractions every 5 minutes or so, sharp enough to make me wince, but not the tough, all-encompassing ones of active labor. I breathed in deep.
We arrived at the ER, and I opted to park with Mike and walk with him. I didn’t want to be alone.
“I’m 32 weeks plus 5 and I believe I am in labor,” I told the lady at the front desk.
“Do you want a wheelchair?”
I paused. No. No I did NOT want a wheelchair. The plan was for me to go in to labor full-term, come to the hospital, put my BAGS on the wheelchair, and walk it up to Labor & Delivery myself. On my way to rocking my VBA2C.
But everything was different now. I didn’t want to walk and further encourage labor and contractions. My baby was too little still.
“Yes…” I breathed. I would take the wheelchair. But I would keep my eyes open and note every twist and turn. I would not miss a moment of this.
Up the elevator. Electronic signatures at the front desk. Pee in the cup in triage. Change in to the hospital gown in the triage room right next to the one in which I labored with Malachi two years earlier.
I laid down. The electronic fetal monitor went around my waist. The nurse was asking me admittance questions: about my pregnancy, myself, my symptoms. The heart rate was clipping along “bah-boom, bah-boom, bah-boom” at a healthy 180. Then a contraction. “Bah….boom………….bah…….boom……………….”
“Is that my baby??” I bolted upright, wide eyed.
“Yes honey, it is.”
The contraction ended, and the heart rate slowly recovered. The next contraction came and the same thing happened. I asked what was going to happen, what was happening, and as she stared at the monitor she said, “Honey if this doesn’t pick up, you are about to win a ticket straight to the OR.” It slowly picked back up.
The rest of triage was a blur.
Dr. Bowen came in- “I’m so sorry, I was in surgery when you called. I got your message and I thought I would just find you down here with a little stomach bug and dehydration and we would just get you an IV of fluids and then send you home. But it looks like you really are in labor.”
Residents in and out. 4cm dilated. Bag of waters bulging. The IV line started with magnesium sulfate that made the inside of my body feel like it was on fire, and steam was escaping my ears and nostrils.
Erica arrived somewhere in the middle (thank God, I breathed).
Mike finally got through to my mom (4cm dilated, he said. Not going home.)
“I am going to give you a steroid injection now for the baby’s lungs,” the nurse said, and I turned my head just in time to see the long gleam of a needle just before it was stabbed into my left thigh. I screamed. It hurt. It hurt for weeks after.
I looked at Dr. Bowen. I had learned already- I need to speak my feelings and emotions to my doctor. I need my voice to be heard, especially now. “I’m scared,” I said, my voice breaking. “I know you are” he said and patted my leg as he looked me in the eye with genuine concern.
“You won’t be going home until you have a baby. Whether that is tonight, or tomorrow, or today, I don’t know.” Bed rest. At the hospital. Possibly for weeks. I couldn’t even wrap my head around this. It was 1am.
He left, and they settled me in to my hospital room, the contractions spaced back out to a few an hour with hardly any intensity thanks to the magnesium. “But this will only last for so long. If your body is truly in labor, nothing will stop them. They will return. And preterm labor usually goes very fast when it happens.”
Erica left to get some sleep once I was settled in, around 2 or 3am, and Mike curled up on the chair to sleep.
I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. It was like coming to the edge of a deep and dark abyss. I would get my toes right to the edge, but every time I would be about to take the plunge, my whole body would jerk back in fear. “You can’t go there,” my mind would race. “Too dangerous. What if you let go, and the baby dies? Have to stay awake. Have to keep breathing deep.” I was willing the contractions to stop, the heart rate to stay normal, or the baby might die. The baby might die. The baby might die…
Why is this happening? In to the dark night I wondered. Is there something wrong with him or her? What horrible thing is wrong? What if I get up to use the bathroom and the baby slips out? What if the contractions come back so strong and the baby can’t handle it? What if I can’t get the baby out in time? What if THEY can’t get the baby out in time? How can I go for weeks with this agony of fear and wondering? Will I ever sleep again?
I felt completely alone.