Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pregnancy: It Ain't for the Faint of Heart

Libby dancing in the rain at my dearly
departed Grandmother's house.  She was three here.

The five and a half years between the birth of my first and second child were full of many wonderful and memorable times.  The year and a half I spent at home with Libby after she was born was a time I will always treasure.  We had so much fun together, and there are many days I wish I had made different choices that would have allowed me to stay home with her longer.  I felt some guilt and remorse about going back to work as I know many mothers do.  Being a full-time stay at home mom is a job to be sure, but working full-time outside of the home while being a mother is a whole different animal unto itself.  It wasn’t horribly difficult to manage when we had only one child in the home, but it certainly got more challenging as our family expanded.

Libby only nursed her first six months and when that calorie burning activity ended, I should have immediately picked up some regular exercise.  That would have been the smart thing to do.  Sadly, I did not make that choice.  Instead, I just began picking up weight at a faster pace.  I soon joined Curves and started watching what I was eating.  I slowly started whittling the weight away.  It was frustrating.  It was slow going.  The worst of it though was the fact I never could seem to feel better.  I was eating better, I was exercising, I was drinking more water, but none of it seemed to matter in regards to how I felt.  There was not a “runner’s high” after a good workout.  There was never a moment where I could feel my body thanking me for everything I was trying to do for it.  With the constant sacrificing, the frustration turned the tide into an unbearable level when medical problems cropped up and worsened.  Libby was not even six months old when I was limping my way in and out of physical therapy once again due to my continued back problems. 

I also developed a new problem that would become almost as debilitating as my chronic back pain at times.  It would take several rounds of it to finally get a diagnosis of Costochondritis which is an inflammation of the chest wall.  The first time I developed it, I literally thought I was having a heart attack.  There were times I would develop it and it was irritating, but manageable.  For the most part though, it was just downright awful.  The pain would start in my chest generally localized just left of center.  It would then spread to the other side of my chest and from there it would radiate down both of my arms.  There were times it got so bad, I couldn’t lift my baby out of her crib, I couldn’t wash my hair and I couldn’t even put a shirt on without Mr. Right assisting me. 

It continued on this way as it had for years already.  Back would go out.  Back would get better.  Costchondritis would develop and then it would go away.  I would develop sinus infections, strep throat, viruses, the flu, a cold, and on and on ad nauseum.   The rash that cropped up on my hands the first time years ago, kept returning and each time it returned it seemed to spread wider, stay longer, and got more painful and irritating with each return.  When it made the jump from hands to my feet, I couldn't believe my luck.  I felt like a boxer in a ring getting pummeled round after round, and the opponent always seemed to be stronger and bigger than me.  Then I would fumble my way to my corner and my trainer would give me the same chat every time: pain pills, steroids, wash, rinse, and repeat.  (Sorry.  I know I said I wouldn’t say that again, but it really worked right there.)  It just began wearing me down after a while.  I would reach a point of frustration with my doctors because I constantly felt as though I was being ignored or patronized.  I had a doctor actually initially attribute the Costchondritis to the fact I had a baby and was constantly having to lift her.  Seriously?  She came home from the hospital a whopping six pounds six ounces.  I’ve also known hundreds of women who have had babies and could manage to lift their children without agonizing pain.  Seriously?  Although I eventually would lose 40 pounds, it wouldn’t stay gone.  It would return and then some.  I finally gave up on giving up what I wanted when it didn’t seem to matter anyway.  Sure, I was glad to be wearing smaller jeans, but it just wasn’t enough to keep me motivated.

The stress of going back to work certainly wasn’t a factor that worked in my favor.  I’ve never regretted my decision to go into a social work career, and I never will.  However, it’s no secret social work careers can be quite stressful.  That certainly was the case for me.  Between the guilt of leaving my child in daycare, the stress of going back into social work, the constant ailments, and the physical pain each day was a struggle.  Some days were worse than others.  Some days were more bearable.  Through all of it, there were primarily three things that kept me going: Mr. Right and our two daughters.  My love for them kept me motivated enough to keep getting up every day, but I was angry with myself that I couldn’t be everything I felt I needed to be for them.  It still hadn’t dawned on me to that point there should have been at least one more motivating factor for me.  It would still be a few years before that glaringly obvious motivating factor would wedge its way into my conscience.  Before that would happen though, I would give birth for a second time.  If I thought the first trip down Pregnancy Lane was a challenge, I was in for quite a shock.  The second trip was going to be much more difficult.    Even with a “mental map” of the way, this road would be entirely different.  My map was going to be useless.

Everything started the usual way.  I knew I was pregnant by the smell of bacon.  Yes, I am serious.  I was cooking breakfast food for dinner and almost vomited on the stove.  Dead give-away.  I went straight to the bathroom after dinner and took a test.  It was positive.  I was so excited because we had been trying to get pregnant for many months.  I was beginning to wonder if we were even going to be able to get pregnant again.  I had gotten pregnant so easily the first two times.  Although Libby had an older sister already, Kim lived with her biological mother.  I had begun wondering if she would ever decide to come live with her father and me.  I knew how much it meant to me having another sibling in the house growing up and I didn’t want Libby growing up, in essence, an only child.  There was also the fact I just really wanted another baby.

Everything with this pregnancy went along the same road map for about the first half of the pregnancy.  I was nauseated, anemic, exhausted, and not gaining weight.  Things took a turn at the half way mark when I had my quad screen.  I took the same test when pregnant with Libby.  If we were going to have a child with special needs, we wanted to be able to prepare as we best we could for the challenges we would face.  Particularly for a child with Spina Bifida as there are surgeries that can actually be performed in utero on babies with this spinal defect.  I expected the results for this test would be exactly what they were with Libby – normal.

The results weren’t normal.  Even though it was just a result indicating more testing would be needed, my heart felt heavy.  Not only did I have a “positive” screen, the markers were pointing to Trisomy 18.  Spina Bifida I could have handled.  Downs Syndrome I could have handled.  Anything else I could have handled.  Trisomy 18 was the worst case scenario.  The vast majority of babies with Trisomy 18 don’t even make it through a full pregnancy.  Most die in utero.  The few that do make it through a full term pregnancy generally die within a few minutes to days of birth.  There are those rare occasions where a baby with Trisomy 18 makes it to a first birthday, but those are few and far between.  The news was upsetting.  However, I tried really hard not to panic.  I had to go to a specialist for a more in-depth ultrasound.  I was ready to go to the ultrasound and get the best news ever.  When that didn’t happen at the first ultrasound by the specialist, I was crushed.  I was still holding out hope and working as hard as I could to keep my game face on.  Inside though, well, that was a whole different story.  After an abnormal quad screen and now a concerning ultrasound that would require me to come back for another, I silently wondered how I would possibly be able to simultaneously prepare for the birth and death of my child.  How is a mother supposed to do that?

Additional ultrasounds were performed to check on my baby’s growth.  The following ultrasounds proved more positive.  After a few, the specialist was sure that my baby, although small, was then developing normally.  Those weeks were some of the toughest of my life.  To know my baby had a fighting chance was an incredible relief.  Things could have only been better if we felt like we were out of the woods for more than a few weeks.  Trouble brewed once again when my blood pressure flared and all the issues I had when pregnant with Libby ran rampant in this one; only this time it was worse. Although I had to be induced with Libby, I only had to go ten days early.  With this pregnancy, I would wind up being induced a second time, but almost three weeks early.  I wouldn’t have been so concerned about having a baby three weeks early if I didn’t know from the ultrasound how tiny my baby was.  At the time I was induced, my baby was estimated to weigh just under five pounds.  I couldn’t even imagine holding a baby that tiny.  When we welcomed Annalee Claire on a beautiful March 19th, I couldn’t look at her enough.  I cried with happiness and relief when I finally laid eyes on her.  She was tiny, but not as little as I thought she was going to be.  She weighed a little over five and a half pounds.  Although she would require scans the next day due to concerns she had bleeding on her brain, the scans came back normal.  Finally, I felt a little at peace.

My sweet little Annalee Claire was barely 24
hours old in this picture.

It's pretty sad when your OB/GYN tells you straight up not to have any more children because of all the issues you had in your last two pregnancies.  It was okay though.  I pretty much decided the day after Annalee was born I wasn’t going to have any more children.  As difficult as my first and second pregnancies were, I couldn’t even imagine what would crop up during a third.  I also wasn’t exactly getting any younger.  The thought of having to go through all of that again was more than I could take.  And I kept to my word.  Well, mostly...


  1. Oh my God, I almost forgot about the irregular tests & ultrasounds with Annalee! I remember feeling so heartbroken for you, and how happy we all were when it turned out that she was developing normally. <3

  2. I didn't have the test for the exact reason opposite reason. I didn't know how I would have handled the news, I was already dealing with major depression, and everything I felt just told me I was going to have a healthy baby.

    Jonathan wanted to know, but my doctor looked at him and said "Could you keep it to yourself if it wasn't good news?" That's when he agreed that we didn't really need to know right then.