This is a piece written for us by AJ Clark, a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter.
The writer wanted us to add that her daughter was born safely last week at 38 weeks, 4 days.
I find it kind of ironic that World Prematurity Awareness Month is in November. I have been pregnant twice, and both babies’ due dates happened to be in November. My first child, now 5 years old, decided that he wasn’t interested in waiting until November to make his debut and was born 5 weeks premature in October 2010. As I sit here typing this at 34 weeks pregnant with my second baby, I am fighting an ever-growing fear that she, too, will join our family too soon.
October 16th, 2010 started out as normally as a Saturday could at that point in my life. Due to the fact that I was 35 weeks pregnant and had been on modified bedrest for the past 4 weeks, my parents were here for the weekend to help my husband do things that I couldn’t, like putting together baby furniture, cleaning, and shopping. My mom was doing laundry and bringing the loads from the dryer to me for folding. I was looking forward to dinner that night; it was becoming a monthly tradition to go to this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant for seafood when my parents came to visit. I was excited to get out of the house and I hadn’t had any seafood in 3 weeks in order to satisfy my quota of “pregnancy seafood” in one sitting. One pound of peel-and-eat shrimp, and one pound of snow crab legs. Yes, one pound of each for the pregnant lady, please, and no one dared bat an eyelash.
We had a great dinner, and by the time we got home, I had to pee—again. So off I waddled for the thousandth time that day. I sat down, trying to determine if my bladder was indeed full or if it just felt full and I wouldn’t be able to go…and then I saw it. My panties. Blood. I wiped. Blood. At 9:00PM on a Saturday night, I knew my only option was to go to the ER. I was not considered full term and I knew this couldn’t wait until my scheduled OB appointment on Monday.
And so began a 3-day string of trips to different hospitals across Central Florida, including an ambulance ride across Orlando in rush hour traffic. I’m going to do my best to portray the terrifying whirlwind that is preterm labor without going into too much detail…otherwise this would be a novel, not a blog post.
Back to Saturday night at the first hospital. I was obviously concerned about the bleeding, but a couple of hours on the monitors and a cervical check revealed that I was not in active labor and there was nothing they could do for me. I was sent home on strict bedrest until my OB appointment Monday.
All through the next day, I was only up long enough to shower, use the bathroom, and move from bed to couch. I was still spotting, and Sunday night I thought I noticed my Braxton Hicks contractions becoming longer and perhaps regular. I waited very impatiently until the OB’s office opened at 8:00AM on Monday to call and relay the weekend’s events to the triage nurse. I was advised to return to the hospital rather than coming to my scheduled appointment in the office. We grabbed our (hastily packed) hospital bags and headed out, making the “be on standby” phone calls to our parents on the way. Here’s where the real fun began.
Once again back in Labor & Delivery, I’m strapped to the monitor and told that “someone” will be in to check my cervix shortly. One thing about giving birth, whether it’s premature or not, is there will be several different “someones” with their hands in your crotch. A nurse came in, did her thing, and announced that I was about 2cm dilated. She was going to talk to the doctor on duty and see what he “wanted to do with me.” This was the moment that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep this baby in much longer. Technically, I knew that some women walked around dilated for weeks before going into active labor, but I was also recording contractions on the monitor and still bleeding. This all added up to a bunch of “what-ifs” running wildly through my mind while waiting on the doctor. What if something was wrong? At 35 weeks, he could be just fine…but, what if he’s wasn’t? What if, what if, what if?
It was ultimately decided that I would be given 3 shots of a medication called terbutaline to try and stop the contractions. An ultrasound was done to make sure baby was doing okay, and I was held in triage until we knew if the medication was going to work. The standard policy at my OB practice was that at 34 weeks, they will take several steps to try and stop labor, but at 36 weeks, they will let you go (as long as there are no complications in either scenario). I was 35 weeks, 2 days, so the doctor took a 50/50 approach. If the terbutaline shots didn’t stop my contractions, they were going to let things progress naturally.
Not having any answers was scary, and the medication gave me major jitters and shakes, so that was a nice, relaxing time. A few hours after the last shot was given, my cervix was checked again and it was decided that I needed to be at a hospital equipped with a NICU, “just in case.”
At around 5:00PM on Monday, I was loaded into an ambulance and transferred across town to the “better equipped” hospital for my “just in case” baby. Is this really happening? To me? This is not the way this was supposed to go! I know lots of women have their babies early, but I wasn’t supposed to be one of “them!” These were just some of the thoughts racing through my mind as I bounced along on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance. Aside from the all-consuming fear that something would go wrong, having no answers was the worst part of this whole experience. Nobody could tell me if I was in active labor or not, so I was given several different scenarios as to how it could play out. This left me and my wild imagination free to roam, and by the time we reached the next hospital, I was shaking with anxiety.
What happened next is kind of a blur, but I was basically kicked out of the hospital as the doctor there couldn’t admit until I was at least 4cm dilated. This hospital delivered micro-preemies all the time, so I’m sure my 35-week belly and baby seemed like no big deal to them, but I was terrified and so let down that I was being sent home again. They were kind enough to give me a shot of something in my butt before I left that would help with pain and my nerves, and I was on my way.
When I got home, my parents (back in town at this point) and husband tried to get me to lie in bed, but I was too uncomfortable. I set up camp on a recliner in the living room and told them all to get some sleep. The shot was making me feel like I could actually sleep for a bit, so I closed my eyes and dozed for an hour or two. Once all of the meds that had been pumped into my body wore off, I was in agonizing pain. It was the middle of the night and I was not going to go back to the hospital just to be sent home again, so I labored away in that recliner most of the night. By 5:00AM, the rest of the house was awake and begging me to go back to the hospital. I was so upset by the way I was dismissed at the second hospital that I told them I’d only go back to the hospital where I was supposed to deliver. The woman in labor had spoken and the decision was made: back to hospital number one.
I was at the hospital for the third time in as many days, and when the nurse who checked my cervix announced that I was 5cm and would be admitted, I cried with relief. As terrified as I was about having my son at 35 weeks, it was obvious that he was coming and I knew I needed to be there. Boy was I right. Only 3 hours and 20 minutes after being admitted, I gave birth to a bright red and screaming 5lb, 7oz baby boy. There were so many people in the room because of our “just in case” status, but our little guy blew everyone’s expectations out of the water and was sent home with me 48 hours later.
This is not how many premature birth stories end, and I am well aware of that. While I was one of the lucky ones, there are so many things that could have gone wrong and they haunt me to this day.
After fighting secondary infertility to conceive a sibling for our boy, I am currently nearing the end of my second and final pregnancy. As the infamous 35-week mark comes racing upon me, I find myself increasingly anxious. Since I am considered high risk for preterm labor, I have been on progesterone supplements throughout my third trimester and up to 37 weeks to hopefully prevent my baby girl from making an early entrance like her brother. This gives me some peace of mind to know that we are actively doing something to prevent another premature baby, but I have days where my “preemie paranoia” gets the best of me.
Here’s the thing: I had a relatively normal pregnancy. Yes, I was on modified bedrest, but it was 100% precautionary. If someone had told me the day before the whole ordeal began that I would have had my son in 3 days’ time, I would have laughed. Some women are aware from the beginning that they are at risk for preterm labor, and then there are others like me who are caught off-guard. It can happen to anyone, at any time, for any reason. As much as pregnancy should be a joyful time, I would caution anyone against being too carefree. It’s important for every pregnant woman to know the signs of preterm labor and what to do should they experience any of them. Listen to your doctor when he/she runs through that list of things to watch for at each appointment, and if your OB doesn’t do this—ask.
Pregnancy is a highly individual experience for each woman, and who knows more about your situation than your own doctor? While I hope you never need to use the information, it just isn’t worth the risk to not inform yourself.
I am forever thankful that my preemie story had the best possible outcome, and that I have access to medications that will help me carry my current baby closer to her due date. Each day that I can keep her safe inside is a victory all its own, because as much as I want to meet her, she is worth the wait. Every baby is.
We are sharing stories on premature birth out of respect for Prematurity Awareness Month, which runs for all of November and is coordinated by March of Dimes.*
“November is Prematurity Awareness Month® and when the March of Dimes focuses the nation’s attention on premature birth. The awareness month kicks off with the release of the Premature Birth Report Card. November 17 marks World Prematurity Day, and the March of Dimes and [their] partner organizations worldwide are asking everyone to help spread the word on the serious problem of premature birth.”
*Disclaimer: Rainbows & Unicorns does not necessarily endorse March of Dimes or any of their services, products, or opinions.