Preterm labour is not a vibe

When you are pregnant for the first time, there are lots of new things happening to your body – things that often include pain or discomfort. So how is a girl to know which pain is serious and which is not?

On the morning of Saturday the 25th of July, 34 and a half weeks into my pregnancy, I woke early which was not abnormal as sleep was becoming challenging given the rather large and round beach ball attached to my abdomen. This beach ball made even the smallest movement in your sleep a serious workout. To make this already impossible challenge even more fun, you are told by “the professionals”,  “now mama, you need to get enough sleep, it is really important to stay strong and healthy for the baby, and sleep is key to that.”

Then “the professionals” in the next breathe, say, “but, you mustn’t sleep on your back as it can cause nausea and also it can hinder the nutrients, oxygen and blood flow to the baby.” They continue, “but, you also can’t sleep on your stomach, obviously, haha.”, still talking they say, “the best position is SOS – sleeping on side. So, definitely, do that.” And still talking, “BUT, not just any side, the left side as this will increase the amount of blood and nutrients that reach the placenta and your baby. Keep your legs and knees bent at a 33-degree angle and put a not too hard, not too soft king size Canadian goose feather pillow between your legs.” Ok, ok, so I may have exaggerated some of the last one, but the left side sleeping with a pillow and bent legs are the recommendation of “the professionals” (more on them later). 

Anyway so sleep was an issue, but on that Saturday morning, I woke earlier than normal at about 4 am with a pain on the left side of my body, an abdominal pain. It wasn’t excruciating but it was a bit stabby, almost like period pain or a pulled muscle. I got up, heated up a microwave bean bag to put on my side and got on the couch with my sausage dogs and watched some forgettable television for a couple of hours.

A trip to the hospital was far more drama and opportunity to look like a hypochondriac that I wanted to take on that day.

By 8 am the pain was still there and maybe a little bit worse than it had been when I woke up. Now to some, even the slightest pain anywhere near that region would have sparked them to immediately take a trip to the hospital. But I am a very indecisive person characterised by a lot of self-doubts and an absolute hatred for coming across foolish (which ironically I often do despite myself), so a trip to the hospital was far more drama and opportunity to look like a hypochondriac that I wanted to take on that day.

Also, when you are pregnant for the first time, there are lots of new things happening to your body – things that often include pain or discomfort. So how is a girl to know which pain is serious and which is not?

There is the round ligament pain, which according to WebMD (not the most credible source, but the least intimidating option) is “the sharp pain or jabbing feeling often felt in the lower belly or groin area on one or both sides. It is one of the most common complaints during pregnancy and is considered a normal part of pregnancy, this is often experienced in the second trimester”.

This is a result of the many thick ligaments that surround and support your uterus which obviously has to stretch and relax to accommodate the growing bump and often this process leads to strain and pain for the ligament. I mean obviously logic dictates that there will be a pain when you start seeing a sweet melon, or pineapple, never mind the watermelon, as the fruit of the week on your baby track app.

Another thing I was told to look out for, but actually never experienced, was Braxton Hicks. Again I turned to WebMD for a more factual definition, “These are false labour pains that are your body’s way of preparing for the real thing. Some women describe them as tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes, may feel like menstrual cramps and are often felt during the third trimester or sometimes even in the second trimester.”

So, as you can see my reluctance to rush off the hospital was well founded.

I went to my mother’s house at about 9:30 as I planned on spending the day with her while my husband abandoned me for the day to play golf (just kidding, of course). By lunchtime, the pain had gone from a niggly 3 out of 10 to a solid 5 ½, and the microwave bean bag was not doing much, but still, I downplayed it. “Let’s go for a walk around the block”, my mom suggested, thinking maybe that warm up the muscles and ease the discomfit.

By 3 pm, it was stay-horizontal-on-the-couch-and-try-not-to-move-time as we approached a 7 on the pain scale. Still, I rationalised myself out of going to the doctor. I told myself all sorts of stories, “it’s getting worse cause the muscles are now tired from working hard all day” or “google said as long as it wasn’t coming and going, it’s fine” and “according to WebMD if it didn’t start out spaced apart and getting closer and closer together, it’s not true labour”. Seems silly recounting this now, and quite embarrassing that I was so reckless. I am going to put it down to hormones.

By 9 pm, yes we stayed for supper even, the pain had reached a 9 and I could no longer hide it, as I squeaked every time I stood or reached or sat. By now my husband had returned from golf and the jig was up. He was having none of this brave face stupidity. In fact, he may have been a bit peeved that I had waited till now to own up to the pain. But still I fought him, “I am fine, babe, it’s just round ligament stretching, it’s so late, I don’t want to go to the hospital. What if they admit me?”. The last bit reveals the real reason for my reluctance – fear that there is actually something wrong, so rather pretend everything is fine.

My husband gave me an ultimatum, “if your blood pressure is higher than normal, we are going straight to the labour ward.” My dad has a heart condition and thus has a portable blood pressure machine. So, there I sat in my childhood kitchen at the breakfast nook, a little sweaty and a whole lot freaking out, whilst my dad took my pressure. It was sky high. I can’t remember the exact number but it was somewhere in the region of 155 over 90. In context, my blood pressure errs on the low side at about 90-100/70.

Well, that concluded the debate. Husband 1: Leigh Minus 100 (for bad judgement).

We arrived at the hospital at about 9:30 pm and walked straight up to the labour ward. There my husband explained everything to the on-duty nurse and she took us to one of the labour rooms – luckily it was a fairly quiet night, so the room was empty. There she placed a foetal monitor on me, made me lie on my left side (for reasons as explained above) and began assessing the foetus’ heart rate, my heart rate and my uterine wall for contractions (i.e. labour).

To my shock, but nobody else’s, I was having contractions. Why? the nurse could not be sure. So, I was admitted and put into a four-person ward. They instructed Will (my husband) to shoot home and bring me some things for the night – PJs, toothbrush, slippers, a book.

While Will was away, the nurse inserted a drip into my arm – I hate needles and the fact that this needle would remain inside my body indefinitely made me want to vom – to deliver a drug that’s purpose is to halt labour. I was also given a shot of steroids – the first of a course of five – these shots live up to their rep as being painful as hell. Not the injection so much, but I mean really when is medicine going to develop a new means of transferring drugs into the bloodstream – but the actual drug burns at the injection site.

This two-pronged approach, somewhat, proves my theory that when it comes to motherhood, even the professionals know to plan for nothing to go according to plan. Because what this treatment inferred was plan A was to get my symptoms under control, clear up the infection and send me on my way to finish my pregnancy and give birth on my planned due date four and half weeks later (I had an elective c-section planned for the 29th July).

But there was a plan b set in motion simultaneously in case of plan a failed. Plan b was all about keeping that baby in for as long as possible and getting it as strong as possible should it need to be born early.

I also had to pee into a cup, which when your like eight months pregnant and haven’t seen your vagina for at least three months, cannot put on your own socks, never mind reaching down to get the cup between your legs, is no small feat.

More needles were required, FFS, as they wanted to check there was nothing discernible in my blood. So, after all of this poking and prodding, the next assault on my dignity was about to lumber through the door.

You know how you always hear the stories from women who gave birth naturally, “the morning I went into labour was three weeks after my due date and my gynae was skiing in the Zermatt.” Well, those stories are not just urban legends, they apparently happen quite often, and apparently, they happen to me (although why I am surprised, I am not sure, this kind of shit has been happening to me my whole life).

As I wait alone in my hospital bed, looking at the contractions visualised as little squiggles on a monitor and trying to not panic. In walked Dr Barrow, a bear of a man, in his early seventies with the bedside manner of Shrek. I thought ok, there must be some mistake, where was my Dr Balott, my calm, kind, soft-spoken female doctor who has held my hand from day one?

In a shared ward, your only privacy is a curtain that separates you from your next door neighbour, there is roughly half a meter of space between the bed and curtain all around. Dr Barrow and several nurses clutter around my bed, filling up space around me. And he introduces himself, “Mrs Tayler, I am Dr Barrow, Dr Ballot is away for two weeks in the Kruger National Park, and I am looking after her patients while she is away.”

Fuck.

“The critical thing we need to do is stop the contractions, which the meds you are on should do. Then we need to figure out what caused all this trouble. Once I have the blood and urine results I will let you know what we have found. I suggest we go down to my rooms to check if your cervix is dilating and to do a scan to check on the baby. Is your partner here?”

“No, he has gone home to fetch some stuff for me, he should be back any minute.”, I stammer.

“Ok, when he is back the nurses will arrange for you to be brought down to my rooms.” He gives all the monitors a quick once over, never once in the whole interaction looking me directly in the eyes, I realise later out of awkwardness, not out of callousness, and lumbers back out.

My husband returned a few minutes later, sweaty but totally calm and in control. Not sure where he found it as we normally are together a buzzing ball of anxiety, but this new found strength and matter-of-factness was much appreciated. He alerted the nurse and we were on our way, me in a wheelchair and him beside me, to our new gynae’s rooms on the ground floor.

In his rooms, he first examined me, blood pressure, heart rate, all the usual stuff and then the moment we have all learnt to dread – the snap of the latex glove.

At this point I must admit, I was a virgin until my husband and I married and he was the only man who had ever been “down there”. Well, a seventy-year-old slightly wheezy, very socially awkward man was about to be the second. On telling him that I sometimes find these examinations painful, especially when I am nervous, he applied an inordinate amount of lube to his bratwurst sized fingers and took the “ripping off the Bandaid approach” with speed and force. Ouch. The shock of this rapid entry made me flinch and this caused the pain in my left side to chime in too. Double Ouch.

Despite any of Dr Barrows eccentricities, I have to say he was incredibly dedicated, thorough and almost always available. I mean the man was there before seven every morning and there well after eight every night. I don’t think I could have been in better hands even with my actual doctor.

Anyway, the news was good, my cervix was not dilated so I wasn’t in true labour.

Then we checked the baby and although her heart rate was up a bit, everything else was perfectly fine. At the same time, he checked my abdomen with the ultrasound and saw inflammation in my left kidney tract, Eureka! I had a severe kidney tract infection. This had prompted the preterm labour and given my lack of dilation, it would almost certainly end now with medication and with the cocktail of unborn baby friendly antibiotics that were added to my drip.

See told you, I knew what I was doing, nothing to worry about.

And just like that my birth plan was back on track.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

 


 


 


 

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