I had much more romantic notions of how I would share this news here, but I am learning that life is not always about our ideas of romance.
Doug and I are expecting our third baby in early October.
That is the marvelous news in the midst of all that has been dreadful and challenging these past few weeks. Some people noticed that my posting had become a bit irregular the last month or so, and morning sickness and fatigue are the reasons for that. When I found out I was pregnant with Aaron, I stopped blogging that same day and did not resume until he was about three months old. This time, however, I was determined to push through that first trimester fog and keep at it.
About two weeks ago, I began experiencing all of this abdominal pain, and when I called my OB’s office, the doctor on call (we have three OBs that we rotate through) told me that it was just my uterus growing and it was perfectly normal. Having been through two pregnancies so recently, I certainly could not recall anything like what I was feeling, and in my gut I sensed that the pain I was suffering was not normal. But, you don’t want to be a wuss when you are pregnant, and honestly you cannot let every pain and weird feeling freak you out, because pregnancy is full of both and you just kind of expect that you will often be somewhat miserable. So, I did my best to get through each day with my two very busy little ones.
Aaron is quite mobile now, but of course lifting him is a very regular part of my every day: into the chair for meals, out of the chair for meals; into the bed for naps, out of the bed for a diaper change, back into the bed for the rest of the nap…repeat. And Doug and I have assigned ourselves each to one child during the night: if Aaron cries, I’m up. Lately, that had been a much more frequent, regular occurrence each night due to some illness. And every time I would lift him and hold him I would think to myself: “If this is just my uterus growing, I must be bearing sextuplets!”
By last week, I was spending every moment I could lying on the couch, clutching my belly, wondering how I was going to get through this if it continued. I was struggling with work, I was skipping church, and I was canceling our weekly prayer meeting. And by Wednesday night I was in tears, unable to cope anymore. We had our regular OB appointment scheduled for Thursday morning, so it was with great relief that I got into the car with Doug and headed to our doctor’s office. By the time I got to the front desk where you sign in, I was in tears, and I told the ladies at the desk that they needed to put me in the ultrasound room because I thought something was very wrong. It wasn’t very long before I was ushered into the room, and when our dear OB who delivered Mercy and intervened in saving my life that night saw the pain I was in, she took one look at my belly and didn’t even have to touch my stomach. She gently put her hand on my arm and she started stroking my arm: “Sweetie, I think you have an incarcerated hernia. We need to get you next door right away and you need to see a surgeon.”
At this point I am mostly just relieved that my pain is actually something worthy of the title “incarcerated” and that I am not just a pregnant wimp. She promised to do everything she could to get me in a bed next door immediately, and when she closed the door behind her I burst into tears. It seems so irrational now, but I kept saying to Doug through my tears: “The surgeon’s going to have to touch it. I just don’t want anyone to touch it.” Clearly, the pain was talking now, and Doug did his best to be kind and gentle with me.
We make it downstairs to the lobby at Good Samaritan Hospital, and as we walk in a large, kind man with a clipboard greets us. I guess the way I was clutching my stomach and the evidence of my tears made me easy to identify. “Come right over here,” he said, “we have a bed ready for you. All we have to do is get the authorization from your OB’s office.” He led us over to the Admissions area, and quickly secured me a wheelchair. As we sat and waited, we watched as more and more people were admitted, and still we were not called. Pretty soon the kind man came back and said that there was a problem with the authorization and that they could not admit me until the authorization was cleared. By this point, I am ready to wheel myself around the corner to where I know the ER entrance is. My OB had told me that she had already written the script for pain medication and that I would get it as soon as I was admitted. I knew the ER could not turn me away, and I very seriously considered just going there so that I could be a few minutes closer to something to help me with the pain.
It turned out that when Fuller switched from Blue Shield to Aetna (an event which of course had just taken place that week and I did not even have a new medical card yet), there was a clerical error that assigned me to a different medical group, to which my OBs did not belong. And because of that, they did not have the ability to authorize my admittance. As soon as we learned this, Doug was on his cell phone, pen and paper in hand, calling everyone everywhere to fix the situation. Meanwhile, I was shrinking even further into my wheelchair, while every patient who came through that admitting area looked at me with creased brows and great pity.
During this time, our other OB, the one who delivered Aaron, came rushing into the lobby. She had just heard the news back in the office and she rushed over immediately to see us. She was horrified to find me still in the lobby, and she was ready to push me to the ER herself. She looked at me with so much empathy, and she just shook her head: “I can’t believe this is happening to you. I just can’t believe it.” While we were talking I said to her, “So, do you see a lot of this?” and she just looked at me. After a long pause she said, “No, you are the first.”
What made this all so especially horrifying to my doctors is that when I was about seven months pregnant with Mercy, I had to have an emergency appendectomy. That surgery was successful, Mercy survived, but then after her delivery I went into a condition called DIC that is usually fatal. After massive blood transfusions and a stay in the ICU, my condition stabilized. Needless to say, we joke that one of the hospital rooms on the 7th or 8th floor at Good Sam should be named after me, or at least one of the exam rooms at our OB’s office should be.
I was finally admitted around 2pm (four hours after I was told my “bed was ready”–thank you, Aetna), and received an IV with Demerol soon after that. When the surgical team arrived, he took one look at my stomach and told me that we would go into surgery that next morning. He told me that I would have to have a general anesthesia for this operation, and that because I was still in my first trimester that carried significant risk for my baby. But, he informed me, they had no choice. I had no choice. They had to operate immediately.
I don’t really know how to express here the significance of hearing those words spoken. To hear your tiny baby’s life discussed in terms of percentages and medical necessities brings a pain that is deeper than anything Demerol can touch. We had just seen her (his?) little heartbeat hours before when our doctor verified for me that the baby was fine in the midst of whatever was going on in my abdomen. That little flutter on that fuzzy screen that is the baby’s beating heart is at once the most fragile and yet intensely powerful thing. And being told that what you are about to do may silence that little heart once and for all is pain indescribable.
Doug and I agreed that he should go home and put the kids to bed. They had been passed along throughout the day from friend to friend, and now knowing that Mommy would not be home for a little while, we both wanted them to be with their Dad and feel some security in the midst of what must have been a challenging day. Doug left and I lay there alone with the darkness of my thoughts, pleading with God to let my baby live. I already knew the geography of this dark place: Doug and I had been here before. When I had to have the appendectomy, Mercy was a few weeks shy of being viable (able to live outside the womb), and abdominal surgery can easily cause pre-term labor. If my body went into labor, Mercy would not survive. However, if I did not have the surgery or tried to wait until she was viable and the appendix burst, it would certainly kill her. And in that equation there is no choice.
Doug called me from home and informed me that while we had been battling hernias and Aetna, Mercy had been vomiting all over our dear friend’s house. “You know that big carpet they have in their living room?” he asked me. “It was on the front porch when I arrived.” We have never done the vomit thing with the kids before, and I marveled at the timing. Mercy proceeded to vomit all over Doug and our house, and it did not take us long to decide together that we would not be leaving the kids with a sitter and I would be on my own that night at the hospital.
It was sometime after this call that I started really having to fight back the tears. It was also during this time that a strange man came in and without identifying himself, informed me that I would not be having general anesthesia for my surgery and that because it was too dangerous for the baby they would do a spinal block. It turns out he was an associate of my anesthesiologist, and he was doing their pre-op rounds. What should have simply come as very good news instead hit me strangely: it terrified me that there was suddenly this cloud of confusion and a very clear disagreement between the surgical team, my OB (who agreed with surgical) and this very weird man and some anesthesiologist I would not meet until the time of surgery.
It was in this cloud that a woman came in to draw my blood as part of pre-op. At some point while she was doing her work, I started to cry. I think I was talking to my nurse at the time, trying to sort through the confusion about how the surgery would proceed, missing Doug terribly and feeling very much alone, when the woman from the lab laid her hand gently on my forehead and started to pray. “In the name of Jesus,” she whispered, “In the name of Jesus, comfort my sister.” And then she prayed for me and for my baby, and I stopped talking to my nurse and joined my spirit with the prayers of this woman. And for the first time that night, I felt a glimmer of hope and strength.
The next morning, I was awakened by my nurse because the guy was there with the wheelchair to take me down to surgery. We had not planned for Doug to arrive for at least another hour, and suddenly I was being rushed to surgery because there had been a cancellation and the earlier slot had opened. I was frantic. I grabbed the phone and called Doug and got his voicemail. So I called my sister and told her to please go get Doug right away and tell him to come.
The pre-op staff was great. By now I was crying again, and every nurse took an opportunity to stroke my head or my hand, and to tell me I was going to be fine. I met the mystery anesthesiologist, and found him to be the warmest, kindest medical professional I have ever met. He told me that he had talked with my surgeon, and that the decision was his, and we would go forward with the spinal block. He assured me that we were doing what was the very best for my baby. He also told me that, if the surgery became unbearable, they would be able to give me the general anesthesia right there (which is what had happened with my appendectomy).
Doug arrived, as did my sister, and I had a few minutes with them before they wheeled me into the very cold operating room. I won’t share details of the surgery. Suffice it to say, being awake for abdominal surgery is a truly dreadful experience. You don’t cease to feel; you just don’t feel what is being done as pain. But every tug and pull and push is felt profoundly. As I mentioned before, Billy and Peter, Paul and Mary were a grace; all of those close-ups from House, Grey’s Anatomy, and ER (when it was good), however, were haunting.
Surgery was successful, recovery was a bit brutal, and the surgical pain, while intense, was better than the pain I had been living with the weeks before. I was cleared to go home on Saturday, with the firm mandate that I was not allowed to lift anything over twenty pounds. That definitely excludes both my children, and it was so sad to have my little Aaron run to me and try to crawl into my arms. At this point, we still had no idea whether our littlest one was okay. It was a very long weekend with the shadow of that unknowing hanging over us all. It was not until this morning when we went back to our OB’s office for an ultrasound that we saw our baby happily kicking and flailing with that perfect flutter-heart dancing across the screen.
So that is the story of my absence and our somewhat cryptic writing these past days. Until we knew about the baby, we just weren’t ready to talk about the details of any of it. So now, knowing the whole story, you can truly celebrate with us yet another miracle.
Thanks be to God.