On Being Anxious and Pregnant

My masseuse doesn't speak often and when she does, her voice is soft and measured. "You carry a lot of tension in your hips," she tells me.

"I know," I sniffle into the face rest, willing the sheet to soak up the feelings leaking from my eyes before I have to flip over.

I have felt it for weeks. The slow build of tightness that starts in my chest and stretches across my entire body until it feels like my joints may snap if I move too quickly. I scheduled a massage in a last ditch attempt at self-care. My weeks have been full of doctor's appointments and blood tests and scans. Pregnancy after pregnancy loss is fraught. Pregnancy after cancer is harrowing. (I say that knowing there are many people who would jump at the chance to switch places with me. I know I'm lucky. I'm not trying to start any sort of Pain Olympics here.)

I spend my 90 minutes on the massage table willing my fetus to be alive. It's not particularly relaxing but firm resolve feels better than haphazard fretting.

Spoiler alert: I had my regularly scheduled (not panic-attack induced) OB appointment yesterday and heard the heartbeat and everything looks great. We're approaching the halfway point. At some point I'll relax, right?

The Aftermath

To refresh your memory: January, the first week of February, the second and third weeks of February, my first surgery, and my second surgery.

* * *

I wake up sobbing. I'm not sad, and the pain is manageable, but I can't stop crying. I've come out of anesthesia vomiting uncontrollably before; crying uncontrollably is less of a pain. Until my recovery nurse mistakes the weird anesthesia tears for genuine sadness and tries to comfort me by telling me to think of my D&C as "tilling my lady garden" to get ready for the next pregnancy. I have encountered a lot of really excellent nurses in my time. She is not one of them. I don't even know what tilling is. I'm no farmer. I'm annoyed and then hours later, after I have time to Google, I am pissed right off.

I am not allowed to go home because first I can't pee and then when I finally do, my urine is brown. Not, like, dark yellowish brown. Cola brown. This earns me an overnight stay in the hospital. Unfortunately, there are no available beds so my gurney is parked in a hallway. I'm in a hallway on an actual ward, not in the emergency room, so it's not entirely chaotic but it's not restful. Especially as I'm parked across the hall from some dumbass who injured himself while committing a crime and has two police officers standing guard outside his (private) room. They have to stay awake through the night so they play games and watch videos on their phones and there is no sleep for anyone in my little corner of the hospital.

I see the on-call OB/GYN in the morning and she sounds like she isn't going to release me so I make eye contact and use my it's-taking-enormous-effort-to-keep-my-tone-steady voice and tell her that what I need is to rest and I cannot rest in the hospital hallway. She relents and I am released.

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* * *

I have follow up appointments with my GP and the OB/GYN who did my first D&C and my OB/GYN who is now back from maternity leave. I am told the first D&C revealed my pregnancy was a partial molar pregnancy. The mass that grew in my uterus, and continued to grow until the D&C, was incompatible with life. A genetic accident. Something that could not have been carried to term as cysts had already started to overtake it. Something that could not have been born alive due to catastrophic chromosomal abnormalities. Something that never had a heartbeat. Something that has to be thought of as "something" instead of "someone" or I will never get out of bed.

The second D&C was necessary due to my overachiever cervix that closed up too quickly and too tightly after the first D&C resulting in large blood clots that could not pass. The pain I felt following my first D&C was my uterus contracting trying to expel tissue and clots. The physical pain disappears after my second D&C.

My hCG level remains high. I have weekly blood tests to monitor my hCG and I am not deemed officially unpregnant until they drop below 5. It is a month after my surgeries before I am unpregnant. The end of March. I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of January. It is a long and difficult way to start 2015.

* * *

Today is my due date. Spoiler alert: I am not cuddling a squishy newborn.

I am doing mostly okay. I ended up doing a lot of therapy in the months following my surgeries. I still have pockets of sadness but they are fleeting. I have wonderfully supportive family and friends who have carried me through the tough times and celebrated with me during the happy times. I have done some really awesome things in 2015 that I would not have had the chance to do if I'd been pregnant. It's taking a lot of effort to trust my body (seriously, body. You had one job.) but I'm working on it. I'm grateful that I get to be Grady's mama. I'm hopeful that one day we will add to our little family. And I'm happy to be where I am today.

Surgery - The Second

To refresh your memory: January, the first week of February, the second and third weeks of February, and my first surgery.

* * *

I don't know what to expect. I know I will be tired because I haven't slept much and because pregnancy messes with thyroid hormones and I don't have a thyroid to pick up the slack. I expect to bleed but I don't. I don't expect to feel much pain but I do.

I am done with doctors. I am fragile and I am exhausted and I am completely unable to deal with the prospect of anything else going wrong medically so I try to tough it out. Until I can't tough it out and Shawn makes me promise I'll call my doctor.

My doctor isn't working (because of course) so I'm booked to see another doctor. He turns out to be a white-haired gentleman who looks at me over the top of his bifocals and tells me he needs to do an internal exam (because of course). I am in so much pain that I inadvertently scream during the exam. "Your cervix seems to be a little tender," he tells me, delicately, after I get dressed. He writes me a prescription for two antibiotics, which he tells me to fill immediately, and orders an ultrasound for the next day (because of course).

I go home and continue to not sleep. {Pro tip: if you ever find yourself not sleeping, and want to devour Netflix to while away the time, choose something light and fluffy. Do not watch every Broadchurch episode in two damn days. #themoreyouknow}

I'm back to beautiful, young ultrasound techs. I am beyond caring. Both the external and internal ultrasounds are excruciating. I drive home and hobble into the house. The pain becomes to bad that Shawn tells me we need to go to the emergency room. We arrive and the  emergency room is packed. I start to have a panic attack and force Shawn to take me home. There is no sleep.

Early the next morning Shawn takes me to the small hospital near our house. We know there is no OB/GYN on-call and they don't do D&Cs but we're desperate. I wait for three hours and then am strapped into an ambulance and taken to the hospital where I had my 32-hour ordeal the week before. Arriving at emergency in an ambulance speeds the process up but I still have to wait in an emergency overflow area until I pass out and suddenly I am priority one. Note to future self: low blood pressure + no sleep + an IV of the good drugs + standing up to follow a nurse to the exam room = fainting.

Shawn isn't with me because I wanted him to be with Grady, and my parents are battling rush hour (with two bridges!)  to get to the hospital, so a very nice nurse, whose name I don't remember but who was on her first shift back after maternity leave, took my belongings and made sure they got to my parents unscathed. This is honestly one of the most unbelievable aspects of my entire ordeal. Chaotic does not even begin to describe the emergency room and yet my purse and iPhone remained untouched. Nurses have superpowers is what I'm saying.

Late in the evening, a day less than four weeks from the first fateful ultrasound, my second D&C is complete.

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Surgery - The First

Catch up on January, the first week of February, and the second and third weeks of February.

* * *

I have a snack and go to bed early because I’ve been instructed not to eat or drink after midnight. Tuesday morning comes, offensively bright and sunny for mid-February. If there’s one thing you should be able to count on in Vancouver, it’s rain and grey skies in February but I wake up to obnoxious sunshine.

The OB/GYN’s office calls. My surgery has been cancelled. They are able to book an operating room but not a recovery bed for me. The hospital is too full. The OB/GYN tells me I need to go to the emergency room because my surgery needs to be done today. They are concerned because my HcG levels have been dropping and if I start to miscarry naturally they may lose the chance to biopsy whatever is growing inside of my uterus and I will hemorrhage. I’m told to go to the emergency room, tell triage I’ve been sent by the on-call OB/GYN, and wait. I will be admitted “through the back door” (this sounds more fun than it actually turns out to be) and my surgery will happen today.

Shawn and Grady drop me off at the hospital. I tell them not to wait with me because I don’t want Grady hanging out in a room full of germs. I have a book and I have my phone and I naively believe that I will be taken care of relatively quickly. I sign in at triage and I wait.

Within an hour I'm checked in, I've seen the triage nurse, the OB/GYN has been paged, and I'm waiting for my surgery. There is still no recovery bed for me, and now there is no operating room space for me, so I have to wait in the emergency room. So I wait. The on-call OB/GYN sends her resident to do a quick checkup. He is Grey's Anatomy-level beautiful, all blue eyes and dimples, and we have an in-depth conversation about my menstrual cycle and then he sends me back to the waiting room.

I have been waiting for five hours in the emergency room waiting room. I have not had anything to eat or drink for 20 hours at this point. The emergency room waiting room is packed. I am an introvert and I've been told I have the qualities of an empath; spending five hours in a packed room of scared, hurting, ill, emotional people is unbearable. As I enter my sixth hour, I break. I have started cramping. I'm in pain. I'm so hungry and dehydrated, I feel woozy. I approach the triage nurse and try to ask when I will be seen by the OB/GYN but instead I just start to cry. He takes pity on me and offers me morphine. I accept because I feel like morphine is my ticket to getting out of the emergency room waiting room and into the triage area. I am partially correct. The triage area is full so I'm given a gurney just outside the triage area, beside a boarded up construction zone. It is bliss. I am given an IV, and a dose of morphine, and I sleep for two beautiful hours.

There is a bit of a lull in the evening and I am moved into an actual curtained-off triage space. I even have a chair for visitors. My family has been offering to visit all day but I've been putting them off because the emergency room was so chaotic and full. I finally tell my parents they can come visit, even though I feel guilty because it is my brother's birthday. My parents visit and it is beyond comforting to see their familiar faces. They are there when the OB/GYN comes to see me and says she expects the surgery will be done in the next hour or so. (Spoiler alert: it is not.) They are there when the nurse realizes my IV isn't large enough to be allowed during surgery so it needs to be replaced. They are there when a paramedic student bungles four attempts to get a larger IV in both of my hands and arms before the nurse takes over and gets it going in my elbow on the fifth try. My parents leave and I doze off and on in my gloriously private curtained space until midnight.

At midnight I am wheeled to the emergency overflow area. It is a long, dark hallway lined with curtained off areas wide enough for hospital beds. There is no space for me so I am parked at the nurses' station, which is the only area that is not dark. I ask to be moved but I'm told there is nowhere for me to go. I lay directly under three fluorescent lights all night. I have no curtain and no privacy. The emergency overflow area is located in the hallway that connects the emergency room with the elevators that go up to the operating rooms. All night long, a parade of mangled people passes by me heading from the emergency room to be pieced back together.

My pain increases as the night progresses. My nurses are run off their feet, doing so much with so little. I am given morphine and I sleep.

I wait 26 hours in the emergency room / emergency overflow area for my surgery but on Wednesday afternoon it is done. I spend a few hours in recovery and then a few more hours in an actual hospital bed (the first time I've seen an actual hospital bed in the 32 hours I spend in the hospital) because I have to wait for my RhoGAM shot to show up. There is some confusion between the nurses ("does she need RhoGAM? She didn't have a baby.") but I have lost my ability to be surprised at how soul-crushingly awful my experience is turning out to be so I just sit and wait.

I am finally allowed to go home Wednesday night. I have not eaten in 44 hours. I feel empty.

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