Monday, September 8, 2014

Pregnant and Bedridden: Teetering Atop the Roller Coaster, Awaiting the Ride Down

            I love roller coasters.
            Well, at least I used to love them. Not so much anymore. My arthritic neck and back can’t take them now. So, I have a choice to get on and get hurt, or to sit on a bench and watch screaming humans get tossed, looped around and nauseated. For fun!
            This ride I’d been on for three months, I chose to get on. Set my face like flint to ride, get walloped around and live to tell about it.
            Just because it was voluntary didn’t make the end ride any easier.
            I thought I'd been chucked around pretty good up to this point. 

            But the death drop was just beginning.

            The final days of January and first several days of February brought a sweltering heat wave, turning my south-facing room into an oven. The air conditioning brought some relief, but by six in the evening, I was damp, drained and eager to extinguish the lights. With such an early retirement, I awakened in the earliest morning hours, conceding to banal television entertainment with its insomniac lineup of pocket-draining infomercials and worn-out talk shows. Eventually, even the local station couldn’t justify transmitting any longer and vacated the night airways.
            I more frequently listened to Christian radio, opened my Bible more often to study it, wrote letters, filled my journal and signed checks for the constant supply of bills streaming into the house. I also played with Parker—to the best of my limited ability—and managed to crochet two baby afghans, one for my baby and one for a friend’s. Unfortunately, the latter one was lost in transit to Chicago. (I could only hope the unintended owners appreciated my labors.) The liquid diet continued, except for the moments when I broke down and treated myself to solid food—then wished I hadn’t been so foolish.
            I imagined that as the March date of thirty-six weeks approached, time would pass more quickly.
            I was wrong. It only seemed to slow down.
            A friend happily surprised me with several cuddly receiving blankets, which elevated my hopes that I might actually bring a new baby home to wrap them around. Tucked among the blankets were a bath sponge and gel, for me! For the time when I’d be able to soak luxuriously in a tub brimming with steaming water and vigorously scrub my skin into a shiny pink glow. Dr. Landry expected me to come to his office for weekly visits beginning February 8, providing mini-goals that I cheerfully anticipated would eradicate the creeping clock.
            By February 8, I was more than ready to complete the pregnancy, though. I actually had visitors, which meant welcome conversation and companionship, but the animated socializing also delivered unwanted fatigue and contractions. On Saturday, the contractions were so numerous and consistent that I needed to finally break down and ingest some of the Terbutaline, Dr. Landry’s “Vitamin T.” Then I had to maintain a subdued, sequestered afternoon. Sunday brought more inconsistent uterine activity, making it difficult to discern whether I was having Braxton-Hicks or bona fide contractions. My forehead’s worry creases deepened.
            The examination at Dr. Landry’s the following morning told the story: my cervix was rapidly deteriorating—thinned to the thickness of a paper towel—with an effacement increase to ninety percent.  
            “I don’t think we’re going to make it another two weeks,” he pronounced. “I’m going to begin steroid injections today to enhance the baby’s lung development; home health will come out to your house tomorrow, then again next Monday and Tuesday to administer more injections. I do not want you to come in next week; you need to stay in bed. And you need to be taking your “Vitamin T,” he finished with a smile. 
            My head swirled. Ninety percent, hanging by a thread paper-thin cervix, steroid injections… I tried to focus and nod, like I was following along. Good thing Chris is taking all of this in.
            There was one redeeming aspect to the visit: my baby was doing well. “Looked beautiful,” according to Dr. Landry. Doing all of the things he expected a baby to do in the womb at that stage, and the lung development was good. Good weight gain, good growth, strong movement.
            Impending childbirth.
            Suddenly, the clock seemed to have accelerated.
            Tick. Tick. Tick.
            I had spent so many weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds in bed, I wasn’t sure what to think at that point. Lying flat and confined had become “normal.”
            But maybe it’s finally time to pick out baby names and prepare a hospital overnight bag, I thought.
            Juxtaposed among the happy feelings of having a new baby to bring home, though, were feelings of having a tiny, fragile, premature infant in neonatal intensive care for an indefinite amount of time. It was a given. At this stage of development, the baby would be too small to come home, and I’d be released from the hospital long before the baby would be. Even though the baby looked strong in the womb, any number of problems could develop in the ICU, leaving him or her with permanent, physical damage.
            We had made it so far, and even though the survival rate placed us high on the statistics chart, there was no guarantee the baby would survive. There were still an unknown number of pregnancy days remaining, and then the actual delivery. Even a perfect nine-month pregnancy could end with debilitating problems. Or death. Experience told me nothing—absolutely nothing—could be taken for granted. There were no guarantees.
            Call it knowing too much. Stubborn doubt and fear clouds remained parked over our heads. Parker managed to sum it up in profound, child-like fashion. “You’ve been pregnant  a l-o-n-g time,” he observed following that doctor visit.
            Oh, Sweetheart, you have no idea. It feels like a lifetime!


NEXT WEEK: The ride down begins…

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!