I wish I could shout to each anti-choice person who ever lived about what happened to us

by Meara

September 20, 2017

It was a Friday in September. It was a little windy. I was excited and happy. I put on a bracelet and my new jacket. I met my husband at the doctor’s office. At work the day before, I remember patting my belly and announcing that we would find out if it was a boy or a girl tomorrow. The ultrasound technician was a nice blond lady. She showed us our baby’s heart, lungs, spine, stomach bubble. She asked if we wanted to know the sex, and when we said we did, she showed us three little white lines on the screen. “It’s a girl!”  Alan kissed me. I had been hoping for a girl. Then it was time to check my cervix. The tech handed me the ultrasound wand and instructed me to insert it into my vagina very slowly and carefully. I was watching the screen. I saw black. My heart fell into my stomach. Black on an ultrasound means space. Space where my cervix should be shut tight. I asked, in disbelief, “is that my cervix?”

“It’s open.” She said. She went to get the doctor.

I tried not to cry. We tried to reassure each other. It was at the end of my 20th week of pregnancy. The doctor came in and seemed surprised that I was crying. “You need the stitch!” he announced. Oh, okay then. There was an easy fix. I remember lying in the backseat of the car. I remember the hospital parking attendant gave me a warm, friendly smile.

I called my friend after we got to the hospital around the corner. She had just finished her women’s health nurse practitioner degree, and had spent a great deal of time as a student in triage. I explained to her that I just needed a cerclage stitch. My cervix was open. Her response wasn’t reassuring.

There was a new nurse on orientation with the nurse assigned me. She had to try twice to get my iv in, and I was a trooper because I remember when I was a new nurse. The fellow MD and attending MD were wonderful. They very thoroughly and compassionately explained that yes, they could put a cerclage stitch in, which would be risky since my amniotic sac was also prolapsed. They said that at this stage, the stitch could be expected to give us an average of 4 to 8 more weeks. Four to eight more weeks. I was 20 weeks pregnant. Four to eight more weeks at best. Not enough. Not nearly, nearly enough time for our sweet, precious baby girl. The attending physician said that the cerclage was a good option for parents who wanted “life at any cost.”


Here’s the thing. I am an intensive care unit nurse. I have worked with adults and kids. I have seen the babies who were born at 24 and 25 weeks a year later, still in the hospital, on a ventilator. Those kids are loved. Their parents love them, the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, social workers, child life specialists, volunteers, housekeepers, nutritionists, nursing assistants…we all love “our” kids at the hospital. That’s why we do it. But still. I know about what kinds of things health care providers have to do to ICU patients, and it’s not fun. It’s not childhood. We wanted our baby to be able to be a baby. We didn’t want our precious girl to have to be an ICU patient.


Alan and I cried and held each other. We asked the doctor if we could expect this to happen again, if this was our only chance at having a baby at all. He assured us that the vast majority of women who suffer from this condition go on to have healthy, term babies in subsequent pregnancies. We said goodbye to very loved, very wanted baby girl.


Then they sent us home. Our options at that point were to stay at the hospital and let them induce labor, “expectant management” (go home and do nothing), or surgical dilation and extraction. We opted for surgery, because I wanted to be knocked the fuck out. The doctors promised that they would put up curtains so I “wouldn’t see anything” if we chose to induce labor, but I knew better. I would hear our baby’s heartbeat on the monitor. I would have wanted to see her, hold her, name her. Except I really, really didn’t want to do that. Up until that morning she was just “Baby Nubbins” and we didn’t even know she was a girl. I had felt her moving some. I talked to her in the car on my way home from work. I wanted to pretend to myself that we had lost a pregnancy, not a baby. And if we let the doctors induce labor, there was no way I was going to be able to convince myself that the only thing we had lost was a pregnancy. I didn’t want to make it any more real than it already was.

In the middle of all of this, my nurse came to cheerfully announce that another nurse would be taking over because she and her orientee had to “go help push.” Great! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR EXPLICITLY REMINDING ME THAT I AM ON A LABOR AND DELIVERY UNIT, WHERE OTHER LADIES ARE HAVING BABIES RIGHT THIS MINUTE. What sensitivity and compassion! Yes, I totally trusted that woman to make sure that I “didn’t see anything.”


Okay, so I couldn’t get the surgery until Tuesday. It is still Friday. So we go home. It was a terrible, sad weekend. We called our parents, and they cried. We cried. I took the photo of Baby Nubbins’ new outfit off Facebook, and my Dad removed the happy pregnancy photos of me from the summer. I waited until 17 weeks to announce the pregnancy. That’s supposed to be long enough. That’s supposed to be past the miscarriage danger window.


On Sunday, my water broke. I felt a pop and I was soaked. I changed pants, we packed a bag, called the hospital, went back. I was standing at the desk at triage and the woman working there was the worst, most clueless lady I have ever encountered, aside from the nurse who went to help someone push. I explained that I was 21 weeks and my water had broken so the doctor told me to come to the hospital. She asked if I was in labor, smiling. There were other people in the waiting room. I was trying not to cry. My pants were wet. I had put on a pantiliner thinking that would be enough. I asked for a bathroom. Horrible Lady kept asking me Clueless Questions. “Something has happened?” YES.


We had to ask the doctor to turn the ultrasound screen away from us.


We are discharged home again. I explain to the doctor, furiously, that I cannot have this baby in the toilet.


We still have to go home. We can’t have surgery until Tuesday, for reasons no one is able to explain. That’s just the day that they do them.


After the surgery, I am groggy. I cry to the nurse about what happened, and about how I want my husband to come back but I don’t want him to be scared because I’m crying. I am so grateful to this very day that I was able to be put under anesthesia and have it all end.


Except it didn’t really end that day. We went to Florida as planned, for a family reunion and to celebrate Granny’s 90th birthday. I had bought a new maternity dress which I was so excited to wear. I couldn’t wait to flaunt my belly at the beach. We were so excited to go be happy about Baby Nubbins with our entire family. I wore an old dress instead. I hid under a giant sunhat on the beach and cried. I was terrified that I looked pregnant and someone would ask me when I was due. During Granny’s party I hid in the bathroom and cried.


When I went back to work, my first day back I was floated to another unit- the NICU, naturally. I spent the day swallowing tears. I was sent back to my unit at 3pm, where I was asked by a patient’s grandmother if I had kids. “No.” Terse. I changed the subject.


I called in sick the next day.


We were lucky. I got pregnant again on our very next attempt. At 6 weeks I felt a pop and a trickle. I went to the bathroom and there was a gush of bright red blood. It was about 5:30 in the morning. My husband was a work closing some giant never ending deal. I called him sobbing. He felt awful, and he couldn’t come home. I called the hospital and a nurse suggested I go to the emergency room. But I knew there was nothing anyone could do, so I stayed home. The midwife said” well, it sure does sound like a textbook miscarriage, but you might be surprised. You can lose a lot of blood and still be pregnant.” I called work. We planned for me to take more time off. We went for another ultrasound to confirm the miscarriage. The ultrasound tech was extremely cheerful, and I hated her instantly.


Then she showed us Sloane’s heartbeat. Not another gaping empty black space on the ultrasound.  There on the screen was a little white bean shaped baby, with a fluttering heartbeat.


It was a stressful pregnancy. People ask a lot of innocent questions that were suddenly complicated. “Is this your first pregnancy?” “Do you have other children?” “You must be so excited!” I wasn’t a fun pregnant lady. I didn’t want to talk about it. I concealed my bump the best I could. About once a week at work, I would sneak into the staff bathroom with our ultrasound machine which we used for finding pulses, and I would lie on the floor and listen for Sloane’s heart. I dropped down to part time at work because I went to the high risk obstetrician group once a week after the first trimester. They wouldn’t see me at all during the first three months. I had to make it past that first. I had a prophylactic cerclage placed at 12 or 13 weeks. I received a spinal block but was Wide Awake during the procedure. The wonderful resident anesthesiologist chatted to me the whole time. When I informed him I could see my vagina in the reflection from the overhead lights, he constructed a little tent for me. I asked him what size endotracheal tube I had received when I was knocked out before. He indulged. At 16 weeks I started progesterone injections. Alan learned to give them to me at home, right into my upper butt, every Monday evening. At 26 weeks when I went to see the Ob-Gyns for my weekly checkup, my cervix was a little dilated. I was admitted to the hospital. We had to talk to some NICU doctors. I was there for 2 nights, and I received lots of IV fluids and I received a steroid injection to help Sloane’s lungs. They weren’t entirely sure she would arrive that week, but just in case.

We convinced Sloane to stay in for 6 more weeks. At 31 weeks and 5 days, I was MIGHTY uncomfortable, and wondering if this was my life for the next two months. Sloane was born at exactly 32 weeks. Dr Nelson cut the cerclage stitch and Sloane kicked her hand, and so we went directly into the OR for a C section.  Sloane came out crying, which was a big relief. A quiet newborn is a very sick newborn. She lived in the NICU for 6 weeks.


I never got the unmedicated water birth I was hoping for. I have officially “risked out” of midwife care forever at this point. I asked Dr Nelson what it meant that Sloane still came 2 months early even with the cerclage stitch and the progesterone. She said it means we do it all of those things again.  I was never able to breastfeed Sloane. I pumped milk for her, but preemies aren’t even old enough to try breastfeeding until about 34 weeks. That was when one of her nurses saw her cleft palate.


Honestly, I think I might enjoy having another baby- if it meant that I could have an uncomplicated pregnancy, deliver the baby at 40 weeks gestation, take the baby home and breastfeed on demand. That’s the fantasy. The reality is that I don’t think I could handle another loss at 20 or 22 weeks. I don’t want to have a baby at 26 or 27 weeks and spend the next several months at the hospital, juggling pumping for our second preemie and caring for our busy 4 year old who doesn’t understand at all what is happening in our family. That theoretical second baby might have major health issues, if she survives at all. My body thinks babies are done between 20 and 30 weeks, despite Western medicine’s best efforts to convince my body otherwise.


I have some anti-choice facebook friends who occasionally like to post pictures of babies born at 22 weeks. I report these posts to facebook every time. Each time Facebook reassures me that there is nothing objectionable about those posts. I wish I could shout to each anti-choice person who ever lived about what happened to us, about how sad and awful it was, and about how it was such a relief to have it end. But I can’t because I can’t talk about this without crying. In their hurry to save cute little babies, they completely forget to have compassion for suffering, aching mothers. These self-proclaimed Christians have lost the thread of love and charity in their rush to punish women for sometimes needing to end a pregnancy. I refuse to honor these people with the title of pro-life, because they are sure not interested in the life of the mother. There are too many sad reasons why women might have an abortion, and I just want to tell anti-choice activists, from the bottom of my sometimes still-broken little heart, to please shut the fuck up.

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