Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Scare

Last week we had a pretty big scare -and  it involved emergency surgery.

A few weeks ago at our big gender ultrasound, the Dr. noticed that my cervix was a little short. It wasn't a big deal at the time, it was just a little shorter than they would ideally like to see it. So they decided to keep an eye on it.

We're so thankful they did.

They had me scheduled for weekly appointments to make sure my cervix wasn't getting any shorter. There was no change in my cervix length the week following the big gender ultrasound, and the Dr. mentioned that I might just have an odd cervix and it could be just fine the rest of the pregnancy. To speak in numbers, my cervix was measuring at about 23 when it should be at 35. So not great, but not horrible. It stayed at about a 23 for those 2 weeks in a row, so I fully expected that there would be no change again at my appointment last Wednesday.

Boy, was I wrong.

I went in and was talking and joking with the nurses and ultrasound tech, and had the "just another checkup appointment" mindset. The Dr. was taking too long coming into my room, and I kept repeatedly checking the time on my watch and worrying that I'd be late back to work. I also wondered about the Dr. I was seeing that day, as my usual Dr. was out of the office that week and I'd never seen this new Dr. before.

Finally the Dr. came in and introduced himself, and asked me what my usual Dr. had told me about what's going on with my cervix.

"Well, he told me I have 'special' cervix, hahaha." I smiled and joked.

The Dr. smiled and asked what else the other Dr. had talked to me about, in terms of surgery.

"He said that we would talk about surgery if I was less than 15, and would probably do surgery if I was less than 10."

The Dr. nodded and said that that was what he thought, too.

When he didn't really say much else after that I finally started getting worried. I got this horrible feeling in my gut as I reflected on what the Dr. had, but most importantly, hadn't said.

And so I asked the million-dollar jackpot question:

"Why? What am I at right now?"

He looked at me and said, "Well, right now you're at a zero."

And that's when all my happy feelings left me and I realized that this was very, very bad.

It got even worse when the Dr. informed me that I was a few centimeters dilated.

Dilated! I was dilated at 21 weeks along! How could this happen? And how could I go from a 23 to a zero in cervix length in less than a week?! I felt just fine - I had had no cramping, no contractions, no pushing or clenching feeling in my belly - nothing at all. I felt perfectly normal. How could this be happening?

While I was in shock and lost in my own thoughts, the Dr. started talking more in detail about the surgery I'd have to have, and it was just too much for this over-emotional feeling-perfectly-healthy pregnant lady. I completely lost my composure and just broke down right there, in the middle of the nice Dr.'s optimistic talk about another similar patient who had to go through the same thing. He handed me a box of tissues (I guess breakdowns are normal at the high-risk OB offices?) and left me alone for a few minutes, where I promptly called Tom and somehow managed to choke out what was going on. Talking to him really helped me calm down, and I was able to actually listen when the Dr. came in again.

He informed me I would need to have a surgery called a cerclage that day. Simply put, they would go in and put some stitches in my cervix, which would close up the opening and keep the baby in there until he was healthy and ready to come out.

Now, surgery terrified me - the only surgery I'd ever had done was getting my wisdom teeth out in High School, and thanks to me developing dry socket (and my family not believing me) that was not a very good  first-and-only surgery experience to draw on.

So the prospect of having surgery in a few hours that day - when I had been expecting to head back to work and then maybe stop and get groceries - completely unnerved me.

"If I didn't have the surgery, how long until I would go into labor?"

"If you didn't have the surgery, you would go into labor in 3 or 4 days, and probably deliver the baby within a week."

And that sentence right there scared me more than any prospect of surgery ever could.At 21 or 22 weeks, usually the baby isn't developed enough to live outside the womb, even with all of modern-day technology.

Simply put - if I didn't have the surgery, our baby boy would most likely die.

Now, let me say that at no time did I ever not consider having the surgery done - I just like to ask questions and be well-informed when it comes to something like this. If the Dr. had taken one glimpse at my cervix and said "We need to do surgery NOW!" before rushing me into the OR, I would've been ok with that (thank goodness my situation wasn't quite that dire, though). Thanks to having a hubby whose a medical student, I put alot of trust into Dr.'s and value their advice and opinions, and while I usually follow their advice I just like to know why they are making a particular suggestion and the reasons behind it. Once I hear that, I'm almost always all-for-it because then their decision usually makes perfect sense to me, too.

And of course, this decision made sense and I completely agreed with it. I had to have surgery if I wanted to give our baby the best chance at a healthy life that I could.

So I was walked over to the hospital and checked in, and I had a few hours to relax/fret before surgery. It was nice to have a little time to come-to-terms and get over the shock of it all, but at the same time I was filled with nervous energy and counting down the minutes until it was Go-Time. I dreaded the surgery start-time, but at the same time I wanted it to come already, just so I wouldn't have to anxiously wait any longer. The feeling of dread and anticipation was pretty familiar to me, though - it was the same feeling I would get before every single race I rowed for 8 years.

Finally it was time. I kissed Tom and said goodbye to his parents as the nurse wheeled me down the corridor and through those famous OR swinging doors. I was nervous, so naturally I was cracking jokes and commenting on random things to keep my mind off what was going to happen to me very shortly. One minute I was saying "Whoa, those lights are intense" and then the next I was flying high as everything got very swirly and I was feeling loopy. Just as I was about to say something really stupid, they put the mask over my mouth and told me to breathe - and just like that I was out.

Thank goodness for general anaesthesia.

I woke up from a very nice dream in the post-op recovery room (Tom was surprised when I told him I had a dream during the surgery), and was told the surgery went perfectly and that baby was fine. That made me happy, but all I wanted was just to go back to sleep. Until I noticed a horrible pain in my belly. And another, even stronger. I (drowsily) told the nurse I was cramping, and she snapped back that they weren't cramps, they were contractions. Geez, lady, I was coming out of anaesthesia - you think I really care about technical terms? I asked if that was normal, and she said it wasn't uncommon. Fantastic. You'd think they could have warned me beforehand!

I spent the next 8 hours in a semi-conscious state of pain. Never having been through childbirth before, contractions seem to be exactly like menstrual cramps - just more painful and much more frequent, as I learned to my dismay. Apparently mine were pretty bad, as the nurses pumped me full of pain-relieving meds and narcotics through my IV and also gave me pills to take, and seemed surprised that I was still in pain.

That was a long and horrible night as I drifted through pain and in-and-out of a drug-induced state of semi-sleep. The only bright part of the whole night was when, around 3am, the baby really started kicking me, as if to say "I'm ok in here, Mom! I made it". I smiled and put my hand on my belly, content and happy to know that I would still be feeling those kicks for many weeks to come.

I told him, "It's all for you, baby. It's all for you."

In the morning I was starting to feel better as the contractions had subsided considerably, thank goodness. I was starving, and after getting the Dr's approval I ordered a serious  feast for breakfast - pancakes, eggs, sausage, hashbrowns and orange juice. And let me say this - that food was delicious! I thought hospital food was supposed to be nasty, but that food rivaled the best breakfast places around town! I'm totally looking forward to that food again when it's time for this baby to make his arrival - hopefully somewhere around the 40 week mark, of course.

The Dr. came to check on me and showed me what my cervix looked like after the surgery - and it was astounding. The difference was huge! I was amazed and overjoyed, and was told that my cervix is now the strongest part of my uterus - earning it the nickname "the steel fortress" from me.

And the best news? My cervix length is now at a 35, right where it should be.

So that was our "little" scare last week. I am so happy with how things turned out, but also with how my doctors recognized a potential problem and took the appropriate steps to monitor and correct it, before it was too late or could become a serious problem. I've heard that not every doctor routinely screens for cervix length when there's no symptoms, in fact around 80% of doctors don't, as there haven't been studies that show that screening actually does any good (I think those people really need to read my story, then). I'm blessed and so thankful that my OB does check for cervix length (and in my case, sent me back for a second ultrasound to double-check and get better shots of my cervix), and I'm so impressed that all my doctors have been so professional and taken the appropriate steps to monitor me, even when Tom and I thought they were overreacting (boy, were we wrong!).

My doctors probably saved our sons life, and for that we are so grateful and thankful, and we won't ever forget it.


  1. Chelsea, that is so scary! I'm glad you and the baby are ok!! I hope you got all the scary stuff out of the way and the rest of your pregnancy and delivery all goes perfectly.

  2. Oh my! I am so glad to hear that both you and your baby are okay! Here's to a happy and healthy remainder of your pregnancy!

  3. Oh wow! So glad everything is okay! Is it likely that this would happen during a future pregnancy, too?

  4. Katie -

    It's very possible. Next time they will be keeping an eye on my cervix very early on incase things start to go the same way, but my doctor thinks that actually I might be fine next time - he thinks that an infection might've been what caused all this. So, it's hard to say - we'll just have to take a wait-and-watch-and-see approach. I'm crossing my fingers that next time things will be just gravy!


  5. Wow, Chelsea! I hadn't read this before. Now I can see why you are so happy to be in the "safe zone" at 32 weeks. I teared up reading this, especially when I read the line: I told him, "It's all for you, baby. It's all for you." You are going to be a great mom! I'm so happy you got through this!