Did you know not all hospitals are created equally? I do. My information may not be up to date, but in some, you get foot rubs every day if you are on bedrest. In others, you get to rent a breast pump for almost nothing if you have a baby in the NICU. Pumps for Peanuts is what it was called years ago. If your hospital doesn’t have this program start it today. It saves lives.
I called my husband at church and told him I was being admitted but that everything was fine because this time we caught it early. I truly thought I would make it to 34 or 35 weeks. The first day in antepartum was uneventful and enjoyable. One of my friends was my nurse and the care was excellent.
The second day, it seemed like she came around more and looked at me a little longer and harder. I could tell she was going out of her way to be reassuring and encouraging, very run of the mill about everything. But there were times she would just look at me and ask how I was. She seemed pleasantly surprised every time I said “Fine.”
After midnight that night, I woke to find my maternal-fetal doctor standing beside my bed in sweats. He had the same look as my friend had earlier. “How are you doing?” Fine, I think. But you tell me.
He had been monitoring me from home and was not pleased with what he saw on his end. My heart rate was slowing down. Way down. He had been watching it for a few hours and at around 50 beats per minute he hopped in the car.
Once he was satisfied that I felt okay, he bid me ado and sweet dreams. But at 7:00am when the shift changed, so did my location. Off to Cardiac ICU I went. The days seemed to move quickly and everyone was very positive and smiling, but I knew we were planning for worst case scenarios. They wheeled me down to the NICU to see where my baby would be if they had to deliver. But of course that was unlikely. A NICU nurse came to visit me in ICU to talk about what 28 weeks might look like as far as challenges. But of course that scenario was unlikely because it will all be fine.
Everything is unlikely until they begin giving Surfactant for the baby’s lungs and then it seems pretty likely. By the evening of the 20th, I was tired and feeling weary. I remember waking once in the night and I thought I had dreamed I was drowning but when I opened my eyes I still felt like I was drowning. It was terrifying. I was afraid to go to sleep, afraid I would close my eyes and not wake up.
There’s a world of difference between a heart rate of 50 and 30 BPM. You will be surprised to know that I am not now nor ever was an elite athlete. So, a resting heart rate in the 30’s was not normal for me at any time, much less for me and a baby. It became a waiting game. I had a doctor and Berkley had a doctor and they were comparing notes to see who was declining faster.
Berk really needed to stay in her happy home as long as possible. Every day and every hour she wasn’t delivered was better for her. Until a point. But as my heart slowed, the blood supply to her did as well.
On the morning of the 21st, Berk’s birthday, I was awake before the morning nurse came. I don’t know that I ever slept. Alarms seemed to sound round the clock. We would try one medication for a few hours and then another. Nothing was bringing my heart rate up and it was now holding in the 20’s.
I didn’t need to look at the numbers. 24 BPM was uncomfortable. 22 BPM felt like dying. I would chew ice, wiggle my fingers, and swing my legs over the edge of the bed to get it back up and give a little relief. I didn’t have the strength for much more of a workout than that.
Around dinner time a young cardiologist came in to look me over. He explained that I would be getting a pacemaker that evening. To his knowledge there had never been a pacemaker put into a pregnant woman and he was a tad more excited than I felt comfortable with about being the first to do so. Poor guy. I bet he was brilliant about hearts. But he didn’t know anything about pregnant women. He was incredulous when he saw that a stress test had been done when I was admitted and commented how irresponsible it was to have a woman in my condition on a tread mill.
Oh, buddy. That’s not the stress test you’re imagining, Tiger. He also shared with me that they had no good data on what radiation would do to the baby but I needed to be prepared for possible residuals for us both. I told him he needed to be prepared to take a walk right out of my room. In fact, I asked everyone to leave. Andy, my family…everyone.
I’m not a liar. And I’m not a sissy. All day long, for days, my response to every question was an honest “fine.” I’m fine. I feel fine, or at least as well as can be expected given the current situation. Everything is fine. I tried to be friendly and gracious to the nurses and doctors, positive for my visitors and brave for my family as I wiggled my toes and pumped my arms so I could catch my breath. Fine, fine, fine. But it wasn’t fine.
And it was about to be worse. And I was scared to death. I was scared of harming my baby with life-saving measures for me. I was scared of not getting her delivered quickly enough or too quickly for her own good. I was scared of dying…of leaving my husband with one toddler and no wife, or baby…or leaving my husband with two babies. Time was running out and I needed a minute I did not really have, to think.