One goal I have for Woah Baby is that it be a resource to other moms. Since this is my first go at this pregnancy thing, I know I’m really not much a resource yet. All I’ve got is my charm!
But my friend Letty is one of those fantastically sane and sensible moms whom I admire so much. She’s also fearless (at least by all appearances), funny, and talented. I met Letty through improv – she performs musical improv – that’s right, making up stories AND songs! – with Washington Improv Theater’s iMusical troupe. It’s a weird truth that you’re not that interested in other people’s pregnancies until you’re pregnant yourself, so once I was, I found lots more to talk about with Letty! She is currently expecting her second baby, and we happen to have the same due date, though Letty’s baby will come way ahead of mine due to circumstances surrounding her pregnancies.
And so, here is the first of, I hope, many great posts from Letty Muse Tomlinson.
Around this time of year, two years ago, I had gone in for my 24-week ultrasound. An earlier ultrasound had revealed that I had complete placenta previa, so I had to have more, periodically, to see if it had moved. By the time we’d gone in for my 24-week scan, we knew that there was some other complication, but it wasn’t properly explained to us. Or maybe my husband and I were just too willfully delusional to comprehend what we were hearing. But the high risk Perinatalogist who met with us to discuss the 24-week ultrasound was very clear. I also had vasa previa, a very rare complication that threatens the life of both the baby and, depending on the circumstances, the mother. To give you an idea how rare this is: Placenta Previa occurs in about 1/200 pregnancies. Vasa Previa occurs in about 1/3,000 to 1/10,000, depending on where you get your stats. Many medical practitioners and OB/Gyns routinely see placenta previa, but may work for decades before they come across a case of vasa previa. I had only one nurse who’d seen one before, 30 years earlier; I was my first VP case for my OB/Gyn. I won’t go into the details of what vasa previa is, because it’s truly scary and if you’re curious, you can look it up online. But the recommended treatment is hospital bed rest in the third trimester with c-section delivery at week 35. (Allowing baby to gestate much past week 35 actually endangers the baby’s survival.)
I spent, effectively, eight weeks in the hospital: seven weeks waiting for baby and an additional one recovering from c-section. I feel like I learned a lot in those two months. Below are some practical tips that I picked up along the way and that you might find useful. A caveat: each bedridden mother’s reason for being in the High Risk Perinatal unit of her hospital is different, so each may have different physical restrictions placed on her. I was on modified bed rest, which meant I was allowed bathroom and shower privileges and nothing else. Some of what I share may not apply to you, if you’re completely disallowed to leave the bed or, conversely, if you’re allowed to take a daily walk around the floor. If you’re one of the latter women, consider yourself the object of genuine, verdant envy throughout the unit. Without further ado, and in no particular order:
- Don’t look up information about your condition, for the love of God, don’t do it! I remember when I was told that I had placenta previa. I had heard the phrase before, but didn’t know what it meant. The nurse practitioner that reviewed the results of the ultrasound with me gave me the run down: my placenta is covering my cervix, meaning that, if it didn’t move, a vaginal birth would be impossible. But, it will likely move, she assured me. “You might have to go on bed rest a little later in your pregnancy.” Just, whatever I do, “don’t go on the Internet and look up information on it, because it will just serve to scare you.” I wish I had listened to her. I Googled it and chose links to highly regarded establishments, the folks who just record and recite the cold, hard facts. I read all the “could” scenarios and was promptly terrified. (Incidentally, if you want an example of a terrifying “could” scenario, check out season 1, episode 8 of “Sports Night.” It’s on Netflix streaming!) I took her sage advice when I learned about the vasa previa and only researched it after the baby was born. Had I known prenatally what I knew after birth, I might have needed daily sedation. Ask your doctor what you “need to know” and try not let yourself know more than that. For your own sanity.
- Play nice with your roommate. Neither of you wants to be there. Both of you are hoping to get out as soon as possible. You’re both separated from your loved ones. Both of you are in a state of emotional distress. And you will likely, quickly both learn of each others’ reasons for incarceration since a thin curtain is all that separates you. Be considerate, even if you feel like your roomie isn’t. Keep your TV to a minimally acceptable volume. Try not to hog the bathroom. Invite your roomie to some window time, if you’ve got the window side of the room. Ensure your guests are gone by the end of visiting hours, and try to keep conversation volume down. And if you hear her crying on the other side of the curtain, be gentle. It might be you the next day.
- Give nurses (and your rounding doctors) goodies. My husband is convinced that 50% of the reason I got great care was because at least twice a week, he’d bring home-baked cupcakes, cookies or chocolate truffles with him to share with the nurses. I like to think I got high quality care because they’re pros and they’re genuinely caring. (Which is most likely the truth.) But, seriously, when you consider all the disgusting body-business nurses have to deal with, as well as grumpy patients (because it’s easy to be grumpy), a simple cupcake is as welcome as an eloquent love letter.
- Sleep as much as humanly possible. Depending on your length of stay, this may not be a problem. You’ll be bored and depressed anyway, so why not just crash? You won’t get the luxury of copious sleep when the baby comes. Aside from all that, when you’re asleep, you’re not worrying every minute about the baby or about whatever affliction landed you there in the first place.
- Watch lots of terrible television. Turn your brain off. Do not feel the need to have intellectually stimulating programming. Do you secretly like “Wife Swap,” or maybe the syrupy Lifetime movie of the week? Watch them! Who’s going to judge you? You’re in the hospital for the medical care of you and your unborn child! Also, you can use TV as a time-keeping device. “Time for ‘Cash Cab’? That means my final fetal heartbeat check of the day is next.” (Note: “Cash Cab” is, of course, good TV.)
- If you have a laptop or tablet, keep it within reach. This is kind of a no-brainer in today’s world. But I may as well note it. Netflix streaming. Blog writing. Blog reading. Social Networking. Whatever. Even “work” work. It’ll make you feel less isolated from the outside world. It’s your portal to maintaining a sense of relevance.
- Read books about almost anything other than childbirth and parenting. There’s no way to for you to forget that you’re going to have a baby. But you’re in the HRP unit; don’t dwell on it any more than you have to. If you must read some book about childbirth or parenting, I highly recommend What to Expect When You’re Expected. It was written by a Daily Show staff writer and is a hilarious, irreverent send-up of the What to Expect books, as told from the point of view of the gestating baby, from conception through delivery. Mostly, read fluff, the literary equivalent of bad television. However, beware anything too sexy that might arouse you, if you know what I mean. Not only does the uterus contract during orgasm, but also typically during arousal. Depending on your condition, the last thing you might want is your uterus contracting. Just sayin’.
- SHOWER DAILY! If you are allowed bathroom privileges, use them! Showering was the one time of day that I felt like an autonomous, civilized individual who still belonged to the world outside.
- Decorate your room, or your side of the room. Bring a little home into your space. You may not want to think of your room as “home,” but honestly, it’ll make your stay more bearable. Kind of like decorating your cube at work. (You’ll have more liberty to do this if/when you have a private room.) Additionally, if you’re stuck in the hospital over the holidays, you’ll want cheerful lights and greenery. Do anything you can to make your environment seem less emotionally sterile. You’ll thank yourself for it, later. Plus, the nurses will enjoy visiting you, which means you get more social interaction.
- Colace and prune juice. Make them your friends. Ask for them. “But, I’m always-“ Shh. Trust me. “No, seriously, I never-“ Tch! I don’t care. “C’mon. Why would I need-?” I have a whole bag of “zip it” that I will smother you with! You need them. I will say no more about this. And we shall speak no more on the matter.
- Ask to meet with a lactation consultant before hand, a physical therapist, a social worker therapist, a chaplain or anybody who can help you feel “normal.” “Normal” pregnant women get to go to birthing classes and meet with lactation consultants beforehand and get to walk around and use their bodies. Most even get to exercise! Just because you’re bedridden doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to experience some modified version of those. Plus, if it helps with the depression or sense of cosmic injustice, definitely ask for a visit from a hospital social work therapist and/or a chaplain from your religion or denomination. They’re there to listen and provide solace.
- Mentally treat every nurse or hospital staff visitation as an event. Even if you have friends visit you every day, your sense of social connection will likely falter while you’re in the hospital. The doctors, nurses, the dining staff, and the cleaning staff all become like family if you keep your heart open. And you may as well. You’re not going anywhere.
- Trust your instincts. If you think you’re experiencing something out of the ordinary, you may be. Go ahead and call the nursing station. Or, if it’s painful, bloody, or otherwise a potential emergency, pull the friggin’ emergency cord. The staff will be there, blindingly fast to determine what’s going on and will guide you through whatever the situation is. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Trust your medical staff. The doctors and nurses genuinely want the best for you and your baby. They will not force any situation that could endanger you or your baby. For example, when I was almost 29 weeks along, during my morning fetal heart monitor, the fetal heart rate was abnormally high, which could be a signal of fetal distress. In my case, the concern was internal bleeding. A younger nurse noticed that even after hydrating with ice-cold water for a few minutes, a usual remedy, the heart rate remained elevated. She hailed for assistance. Within minutes, four nurses, a high-risk specialist and an ultrasound machine were crowded around my bed. I was hooked up to an IV drip to rehydrate and the doctor, as she scanned my belly, began asking me questions that led me to surmise that she was getting information pertinent to a possible emergency c-section. She confirmed this and I called my husband to rush to the hospital. Luckily, the sonogram showed no sign of fetal distress and baby’s heart rate, after a good 10-15 minutes of ice water and IV drip finally started to slow down. I am forever thankful to my nurse who acted quickly, and my high-risk doctor who reacted calmly and rationally under pressure: preparing for the worst and looking for the best. Ideally, the best place, for a 29-week-old fetus is inside her mother, but if a situation is deteriorating, the best place might be the NICU. “Success” may look different for different high risk and endangered pregnancies. Your medical staff won’t willy-nilly around with you and your baby. They want a healthy mother and a healthy baby just as much as you do.
- Remember you’re doing this for your baby, as well as for you. And you can always lord the experience over the kid when he/she is older and giving you crap. Nope, the kid won’t appreciate when you do, but it’ll make you feel better.