Usually when we take to the internet to self-diagnose, we find out we have the rarest type of cancer the world has ever known. Doctors usually get upset with you if you ever mention “well I went on WebMD and…” this is the point where they role their eyes and begin to feel the word “hypochondriac” on the tip of their tongues. This is usually the case, but not for me during the last month of my pregnancy.
“…this seemingly harmless symptom is likely to result in still born.”
This was the sentence I read that made me decide that I was going to talk about this weird symptom at my next appointment.
Derek and I were sitting in the midwife’s office, about to finish up when she asked me “do you have any questions or concerns?” in which I replied “yes, actually, I’ve been extremely itchy”. Her eye contact became more intense as she paused and asked me if my palms were itchy, and they were. I told her that it was getting to the point where I found myself sitting in a hot bath two or three times in one night, ripping at my skin with a pumice stone. When I showed her my scrapes and scabs, I could tell by her reaction that something wasn’t right. She told me that my symptoms were indicative of a condition called Cholestasis. She told me that they were going to take some blood so they could run tests of my liver function to determine if this were the case.
At the time, I didn’t quite grasp just how serious this condition could have been to my unborn daughter. I had learned over time not to take everything I read on the internet so seriously. Looking back, I assume that my midwife didn’t want to cause alarm. The baby was fine during that check up and nothing indicated the our Lillian was in any type of distress.
I received a voicemail the next day alerting me that I had an emergency appointment that was scheduled for me, and that it was imperative that I clear my schedule for testing. It was scheduled for 10am the following day and was an hour drive. Since Derek works third shift and gets home around 5am, I decided to take my mother with me so that he could rest. Derek and I both agreed that it was probably nothing and just a precaution. It’s normal to feel invincible sometimes.
My mother and I arrived at Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts 20 minutes before my appointment. I checked in and they put me in triage and hooked me up to a fetal monitoring machine so they could see how Lillian was doing.
The nurses were extremely friendly and their smiles seemed like a genuine fixture on their bright faces. One nurse was asking me routine questions and typing in all my answers on a computer. She didn’t break eye contact with the monitor for any of my answers, except for one. “Have you had any weight loss?” I did, I lost two pounds in the previous two weeks. She looked at me, regained her smile and moved back to her monitor where she clicked a few times and told me she would return shortly. My mother looked at me and I knew that she was understanding something that I was refusing to accept. When the nurse returned, she had another nurse with her, and they gave me the most nerve-racking news of my whole life. They explained to me that with my symptoms, my test results and my weight loss, that they were confidant that I had Cholestasis. The blood tests wouldn’t come back for another couple of days and they didn’t think that it was wise to wait for them. They then gave me a choice: I could start my induction process right away, or I could go home, gather my thoughts and things and head back the next day. I asked them if Lillian was okay and they told me she was fine but I should not delay my decision very long. I called Derek and decided to go home and prepare myself mentally, since that is all I could do at that point. We ate dinner on the couch and sat very closely to one another. We packed up a few hospital bags and went to bed.
Cholestasis during pregnancy is extremely dangerous because it results in the unborn baby receiving less nutrition than he or she is supposed to. If it goes undetected, the baby’s activity can be normal one day and the next morning, you may wake up to not feel baby’s movements anymore. The thought of this chokes me up and I usually begin to cry thinking about how if I didn’t mention this one strange symptom, that my Lillian probably wouldn’t have made it. Mind you, I was 37 weeks pregnant which is considered the home-stretch. It’s overwhelming to think that no matter how far along you are, something can still happen. There is no “safe” point in a pregnancy, just safer.
The morning Derek and I left for the hospital, it kept hitting me over and over again that we were walking out the door empty handed and we would be coming home with our brand new baby. However, the worrisome afterthought kept occurring that maybe we would also come back empty handed as well.
I was in the hospital for five days, two of which were spent being induced, which is quite the waiting game. A hail storm came ripping through Cambridge and being up on the 5th floor, we had a pretty awesome view of it all. I was slightly nervous that the window, which stretched the length of our room, was going to break from all the pommelling hail. We could hear nurses talking about possibly moving people as they were worried about the same scenario. As the barometric pressure dropped due to the storm, it seemed that everyone went into labor at the same time, including me!
I had gotten back from a stroll with my sister-in-law and mother-in-law and once I laid down, I felt a pop in my belly and thought “that was a weird kick…”. As I sat up, my waters began to trickle out of me and I went right into labor. I remember Derek helping me into the shower and all these thoughts were rushing through my head. No matter how much you read about labor, there is just no way to really comprehend the sensations you will experience until you’re in it yourself, but even then, they’re difficult to describe. My hips felt like they were being pushed together and pulled apart, over and over, but I continued to breathe through them, until they got so intense that I couldn’t even hear Derek telling me to stop holding my breath.
Since my labor was induced, my body wasn’t going through the natural process in its own time. Instead, I was thrown into the middle of an intense labor where the contractions lasted much longer than the breaks in between lasted. The nurses and midwives explained to me that they understand that I wanted to labor on my own, without medical intervention, but there was no shame in relieving pain during an unnatural labor, as it can be considered three times as intense as a natural labor. I refused over and over until I was unable to move or breath because I was dehydrated, drained of all energy and vomiting.
A nurse ran in because her monitor had alerted her that our baby’s heart rate had dipped. She told me what my intervention options were and I decided that it was best that I calm my body down. I remember crying and feeling like a failure. Derek knew how important it was to me to have an unmedicated labor and birth.
I was so exhausted that Derek had to hold me upright as I sat on the side of the bed for the the anesthesiologist. Derek later told me that I didn’t even flinch when they were inserting the needle into my spine. The hours melted together afterwards.
Two hours later, I woke up from a deep sleep and had gone from 3cm dilated to completely dilated and just about ready to push. A nurse did reiki on me while I fell back to sleep and she prayed for my baby to drop down so that I would be ready to birth her vaginally.
Every time I pushed, her heart rate dropped dramatically and the doctor suspected the cord might be wrapped around her neck. He told me what my options were, as he did everything in his power to avoid a c-section. After much consideration and talking it over with Derek, we decided the vacuum was best, as she was in distress and we needed to get her out. I pushed harder than I thought I was ever even capable of and after 20 minutes, relief.
She was purple and blue and wasn’t breathing. They rushed her over to the incubator where they got her to breathe and after a long 30 seconds I heard the tiniest, teeniest, sweetest cry I have ever heard in my whole life. And I cried the happiest tears of my life. Lillian was born into this world at 5:58 am, Wednesday, August 5th of 2015.
As Lillian was being evaluated and cleaned, the doctor told me that there had been a placental abruption which was causing Lillian’s heartrate to dip every time I pushed. He told me that with this occurrence along with the Cholestasis, that we were very lucky to have decided to induce when we did. In his opinion, she wouldn’t have made it another few days.
Lillian Mae is my little miracle, and she makes me world go ’round.
A huge THANK YOU to the staff of Cambridge Health Alliance for being the wonderful, attentive and patient people that you all are.