Despite everything that had gone wrong—the series of early miscarriages, the iffy first trimester screening—by 22 weeks into my first viable pregnancy, I had gotten cocky.
I was so thrilled to be carrying a healthy baby (thank you, amniocentesis) and a girl, no less, that I was certain all my pregnancy struggles were behind me. So certain, in fact, that when the ultrasound tech slid the wand down past our anatomically perfect fetus towards my cervix, I gloated to my husband, “We’re home free!”
I had clearly spoken too soon.
The trouble was my cervix. I never went to medical school, but I gather the cervix acts something like a bottle stopper, keeping the baby and all that nice amniotic fluid inside the uterus where it belongs. Mine had shortened dramatically and was funneling (I pictured the tornado in "The Wizard of Oz"), putting me at high risk of preterm labor. At 22 weeks, our baby was not likely to be viable outside the womb.
Obviously this was bad news, but I didn’t fully comprehend just how bad until a few minutes later. Fearful that I might already be in labor, the doctor hooked me up to a monitor to check for contractions. I flashed him my new ultrasound photo, offering a peek at our adorable baby-to-be. “I don’t think I should look at that just yet,” he responded.
My eyes filled with tears.
If the doctor didn’t have enough confidence in my baby’s survival to even fawn over a photo, we were in real trouble.
Things got even worse in the waiting room, where I was asked to hang out while they ran some more tests. I babbled my story to some random couple, and the husband casually mentioned that his friend had also been diagnosed with an incompetent cervix at five months pregnant.
“Did everything turn out okay?” I asked, my heart in my mouth.
“No. She lost the baby,” said the emotionally unintelligent stranger I’d mistakenly confided in.
I continued to sob.
Thankfully, I wasn't having any contractions, but the doctor ordered me to drive home, get in bed and stay there. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
The rules of bed rest were that I could get up to go to the bathroom or grab a drink but otherwise needed to remain prone. I should limit my showers and avoid the stairs. Since I was a freelancer, I also had to quit my job, though I qualified for disability benefits through the state of California.
Even harder was quieting my mind. I couldn’t focus on TV or books because my brain was so busy imagining the worst.
Exhausted moms often joke that they wish someone would put them on bed rest, but when you’re in your second trimester with your first baby, laying down feels all wrong. I had this vision of the kind of pregnant lady I wanted to be and it involved lots of prenatal yoga, casserole freezing and enthusiastic nesting. Instead, against every natural impulse, I had to keep my body still.
Even harder was quieting my mind. I couldn’t focus on TV or books because my brain was so busy imagining the worst. I spent way too much time Googling horrible outcomes on my iPad. I had a bonafide panic attack one day and couldn’t even get up to find a paper bag in which to breathe. Another time, I became convinced I was leaking amniotic fluid and begged a friend to drive me to the doctor.
It was pee.
My OB-GYN told me to concentrate on making it to 30 weeks-a safe date for viability. I couldn’t concentrate at all, but I did start scratching off the days on a wall calendar, Shawshank style. As the dates filled with X’s, it became easier to breathe. Kind friends visited, gossip being the best possible diversion. One taught me how to knit, and I crafted a misshapen baby blanket, keeping my eyes on the prize. Online shopping proved soothing, since I could have a whole nursery full of goodies shipped 2-day, and our mailman—a kindly grandfather—started delivering couch-side.
Then, just when I was starting to relax a little, a new wrinkle—at 28 weeks, I flunked the gestational diabetes test. This news would be aggravating in any pregnancy, but for me, barely able to walk to the kitchen, never mind prepare carefully balanced low-glycemic meals, the diagnosis felt overwhelming.
If bed rest had taught me nothing else, it was how much one could accomplish by phone. A nutritionist counseled me and provided an easy shopping list for my husband. It involved a lot of vegetables, plain Greek yogurt and the occasional bowl of berries. My 93-year-old grandmother sent a fat check so I could use a local meal delivery service, coordinated through the nutritionist. I was grateful, of course, but all my pregnant ass really wanted was a donut. And, you know, to leave the house.
We celebrated 30 weeks with Halloween candy that I could not eat but did enjoy watching my husband distribute to neighborhood kids. At 32 weeks, I had a special dispensation to get out of bed for my baby shower. Emboldened by that success, I started cheating on bed rest, taking longer showers and getting up for no good reason.
At 34 weeks, I snuck in a maternity photoshoot. No one outside the inner circle had even seen me pregnant, and I wanted something for Facebook, dammit. (If you don’t post to social media, were you ever really pregnant?)
Finally, at 36 weeks, with 98 days hard time crossed out, I was released from bed rest. Everyone expected the baby to come immediately, but she held on until 39 ½ weeks. I will never know how close I actually came to premature labor, and it doesn’t matter. All that counts is the healthy baby I got to keep, the one I love with all my heart and am sending to first grade this fall.
But whenever that kid gets out of line, my husband still bellows, “Show her the calendar!”