Saturday, November 20, 2021

Then That Happened

"I got the strangest phone call this morning," Dr. Baby-Maker said at my 40-week prenatal appointment. "It was about an adoption agency wanting to know if you’d delivered? I think they just got you confused with someone else, but I figured I’d ask…"

"No, that was about me," I said. The tears I had been holding back from Dr. Baby-Maker for so long streamed forth and slid under my face mask. "I was ashamed so I didn’t say anything sooner."

She handed me a box of Kleenex. I continued blubbering and blowing snot into the tissues. 

"My husband and I have been feeling ambivalent about the pregnancy and our ability to parent another child, so we're considering adoption," I told her when I caught my breath.

"That maybe explains the indecision around induction," she said. "I guess I noticed you were more reserved this pregnancy, but this year has been hard for a lot of people. Is it just feeling like you’re not bonded with the baby?"

"That’s part of it," I said. "But mostly, I just feel overwhelmed. My toddler is high-maintenance. She’s the hardest kid I've ever had. And my depression has been really bad."

"For how long?"

"The whole pregnancy. I thought it would get better after the first trimester, but it didn’t."

She glanced at my chart on her laptop. "Are you taking any antidepressants?"

"I used to, a long time ago, but I just felt like they didn’t work or they made things worse."

"You’re in therapy, though, right?" she asked. "Is that…helping?"

"You know that therapists don’t tell you what to do," I said, then realized maybe she didn’t know that. I always assume everyone has been in therapy and completely forget that there’s a whole contingent of mentally healthy people who don’t need it or those who do need it but have never bothered to go. "So in that sense, no, it’s not been as helpful as I’d like."

"I’m so sorry you didn’t feel like you could tell me about this," Dr. Baby-Maker said more than once. She seemed really stuck on the fact that I hadn’t confided in her, that it meant something about her as a person or a medical professional. 

"It’s not about you!" I wanted to say, though of course my silence has been a little bit about her – the fact that she’s so happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic, and optimistic (which I don’t fault her for at all) make it harder to be a doom-and-gloom raincloud in her presence.

"I’m not here to judge," Dr. Baby-Maker said. "And I don’t have any advice to offer, either. I don’t have to take responsibility for the babies after they’re born. I’m just here for you."

Was she, though? With all this induction pressure, I was questioning whether or not she was really on my side.

"How long have you been considering adoption?" she asked.

"Since July, maybe?" I said.

"Oh, that’s a long time."

Then she wanted to know about logistics: did the adoption agency or the adoptive parents need to be notified when I gave birth, or not until after?

"This decision obviously doesn’t affect the medical care you receive, but in these scenarios we do alert the labor and delivery and postpartum nurses," she said.

I explained that my husband and I were undecided and wouldn't be making a decision until the baby was born.

"I'm so sorry you're going through this," she said. "But I’m sure you and your husband will make the best decision for your family."

"That makes one of us!" I thought.

And with that, the conversation returned to induction. After I canceled the second induction, Dr. Baby-Maker insisted on another biophysical profile. One of the first things the sonographer checked was the baby's heartbeat, though even before she announced the measurement, my ears recognized that something was off. Usually, a baby's heart rate sounds like a horse's galloping hooves. This sounded more like a canter. Whereas the baby's heart rate had always been in the 140s, now it was in the 110s. It was still within normal range, but way on the low end.

As is the norm in OB practices, one intervention (in this case, the ultrasound) led to another: a non-stress test. Without asking my consent or explaining what was going on, I was taken to a treatment room where a nurse propped me up on an exam table and strapped me to a fetal monitor that looked like a remnant from the 1800s and sounded like it was going to go kaput any second. She handed me a clicker and told me to press it every time the baby moved, but the baby, who was all kicks and wiggles during the ultrasound, was now eerily still.

"Feeling any contractions?" the nurse asked as she reviewed the peaks and valleys on the printout, indecipherable to my layman eyes. 

"No," I said. 

"Well, your uterus was contracting." For the next 40 minutes, she came in and out of the room, every time scanning the printout and asking, "Not feeling anything?"

I shook my head. All I felt was uncomfortable, antsy, and impatient. I was wasting precious babysitting time on this appointment when I could be doing something enjoyable like, oh, anything but this

When Dr. Baby-Maker reviewed the printout, she didn't seem to think much of it. Then she checked my cervix, which was only 1.5 centimeters dilated.

"My preference would have been to deliver you today," she said. "But the baby seems to be OK. We can wait a few more days. Do you want to start the induction on Sunday night with Cervidil or wait until Monday morning and do Cytotec?"

"I like the timing of Monday morning better, but I'm afraid of Cytotec," I said. 

"You could come in Monday morning and we could just start Pitocin and see what happens. How does that sound?" 

It sounded like I was going to be her guinea pig, but I agreed to the Monday morning plan because the drop in heart rate concerned me. It seemed like the baby would be safer out than in.

"The scheduler will call you will an exact arrival time," she said. "Any questions?"

"Can I eat breakfast before I come in?" I asked.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “Though keep it light. Don’t eat a big omelet, fruit, and a cinnamon roll or something.”

("That sounds delicious," I thought. "That’s exactly what I’d like to eat.")

Dr. Baby-Maker stripped my membranes one more time, then trilled "See you on Monday! No more cancellations!" as she walked out the door.

In the car on the way to the appointment, I had prayed that labor would start spontaneously, that the birth would all unfold in a healthy and safe way, but I felt like I was talking in a vacuum. On the way home, I drove in silence, on the verge of tears. My body felt like a big disappointment.

That afternoon, I went for a long, sad walk in frigid, gray, windy weather. I soaked through a Poise pad, but I was pretty sure it was just urine, not my water breaking. (I should be so lucky.)

Friday night, I slept fitfully. I woke up on Saturday morning despondent. I really didn't want to be induced, but other than going MIA on the OB and waiting for labor to start spontaneously (and potentially risking the baby's well-being in the meantime), what choice did I have?

I had big plans for Saturday: a trek to a particular cafĂ© for a massive cinnamon roll, the Children's Museum, a couple more walks, but somehow the day never got off the ground. We ended up staying close to home, which in hindsight seemed fortuitous because after a brisk 2-mile stroll with my teens, I started having contractions. They weren't painful and were inconsistent – 7 minutes, 5 minutes, 8 minutes apart. I wanted to believe I was headed in the right direction, but by late afternoon, they had stopped. Yet another false alarm. I felt stupid for getting ever-so-slightly excited that maybe today was the day.

By bedtime, I was emotionally and physically exhausted, and looking forward to a deep sleep. My toddler conked out quickly and I cozied up to her in bed. 

But just as I was about to drift off to dreamland, I felt a pop and a gush of warm liquid between my thighs. I knew, unmistakably, that my water had broken, marking the end of pregnancy and the beginning of the hardest week of my life...

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