The contractions started just before 5pm. I didn’t know that’s what they were. It was my first pregnancy and I’d never felt a contraction. Everything I read about contractions emphasized back pain. Oh the back pain! I had no back pain. So much for preliminary research.
What I had was pain across my lower abdomen that seemed to come in waves. While watching my students study during the last few minutes of class for the day, I chalked the pain up to intestinal problems. The one classic pregnancy symptom I’d had the joy of experiencing for several months was constipation. I assumed the pain was my intestine finally in revolt, not contractions.
Also, I was only 33 weeks along.
I noted the increasing intensity of the pain as I caught a ride home from a fellow teacher. I thought it odd when I finally scurried into my bathroom at home that I didn’t really have to go. Still, I did not think contractions. It was 7 weeks before my due date. I didn’t even dismiss the thought of contractions. The thought has to enter your head in order to dismiss it and the idea of contractions never did.
By 6:15pm however, I was in sufficient enough pain to ask my husband to call my doctor. My doctor told me to get in a warm shower and sent my husband off to buy some pregnancy safe pain killers. When the shower failed to lessen the pain, I began to think something was wrong. Then there was blood.
I called my husband. He turned back before ever reaching the drug store. He was on the phone with my doctor when he walked back into the apartment. As I was yanking on clothes in the bedroom, I heard him ask “How much blood is there? If it’s just…” He stopped talking. He’d seen the bathmat. In less than a minute we were in the car on our way to the doctor’s office.
Thankfully, Dr. Batistuta’s office is only five minutes from our apartment and he was working late. It was about 7pm and the office was empty except for the doctor and his secretary, as my husband helped me climb the stairs to the exam room. The pain was now so intense I wanted nothing more than to close my eyes and breathe. But there were questions and Portuguese verbs to conjugate in order to answer. I used to think speaking in Portuguese on the phone was difficult. Speaking in Portuguese during a contraction is much harder.
Placental Abruption. That was my Portuguese phrase of the day.
My doctor explained that the baby’s heart rate was elevated and that combined with the blood and contractions made him think the placenta had torn from the uterus and blood was now pumping into the uterus. I was headed for an emergency c-section.
After a flurry of discussion between my husband and the doctor, some quick phone calls made by his assistant, they confirmed no office with an ultrasound was open to confirm this diagnosis so we would be going straight to the emergency room. At least, that’s what I was told happened. I was still lying on the exam table breathing through contractions and pain that went from aching to breathtaking, never completely disappearing.
A little before 8pm I was standing outside with my doctor trying to have small talk in Portuguese while my husband got the car. Twenty minutes later my doctor was wheeling me into the emergency room and pushing me over to some nurses who began giving a flurry of instructions in Portuguese. I was being prepped for emergency surgery 7 weeks before my due date and strangely enough I was not panicked. I was too occupied with breathing through contractions and understanding the directions I was given to really dwell on worst case scenarios. Contractions are a great distraction. Contractions and conjugating Portuguese verbs.
I never thought I would die. I never thought I could die. I never thought my baby would die. In the moment, I never once feared for my life or my baby’s. It was only afterwards, when researching placental abruptions, that I learned just how serious the situation was. Not as much for me as for her. While I lay on my side curled into a ball having a needle stuck between vertebrae, I was worried about the kinds of complications my daughter could have being born so early. Would she have eye or ear problems? Would she have some sort of neurological problem? Would her lungs be working yet?
I didn’t bring any of this up to my husband as he sat by my head in canary yellow scrubs pointedly not looking in the direction of my open abdomen. The c-section is certainly one of the most surreal experiences of my life. To be fully conscious while your abdomen is opened and people stick their hands in and root around your internal organs…well, surreal doesn’t quite cover it. I felt tugging, sometimes hard tugging but absolutely no pain. There was one hard tug and suddenly a baby was crying. I cried for the first and only time all night.
My daughter was born at 8:50pm on July 11. We thought she was 33 weeks but her initial exams put her developmentally at 35 weeks. She was just small so the ultrasounds underestimated her age. She was 2.005kg or 4 1/2lbs. She was on oxygen for a day and then under a UV lamp for four. Some problems concerning her lactose tolerance resulted in her staying in Intensive care for 26 days. But those 26 days are the subject of a future post.
Yesterday, my daughter celebrated her 3 month birthday. She smiles and coos and refuses to sleep during the day anywhere but in a someone’s arms. That’s why there haven’t been many posts recently. It’s hard to type with a baby in your arms. A perfectly healthy, happy, and breathtakingly beautiful baby.
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