Aha armageddon

Two weeks ago, at 30 weeks, I rose again, although without the fanfare of locust plagues and blackening skies, but instead with a simple pat on the back and an ‘ok you can go’.

Having spent 6 weeks laid out and wrapped in cotton-wool, I was considered stable enough (both mentally and physically) to walk, stroll, not skip unfortunately, but definitely capable of entering the big wide world again, without a hospital gown or pressure stockings, and to even go home!

What a shock this was to the system and for a moment an almost scary proposition…until a waft of hospital food from an approaching trolley reminded me that, apart from ‘rest’ and renovation programs on TV, everything else was better on the outside. Real sunlight for one! and good food you could trust.

My stomach, which was already up in arms over the mushy meals it had been forced to endure, was definitely an advocate for escaping this plush version of Pentridge. My legs, which had started to do the running-man at night, were also thrilled. And I’m sure my baby was ecstatic to finally farewell the waffle of Oprah Winfrey’s midday gossip and be rocked to sleep by actual walking from a lazy mum who had taken so well to lounging, snoozing and talking.

So receiving the news that I could head for the hills and home definitely brought a newfound sense of calm. I was more than glad to go. However, as I packed my things and, with pin-pricked fingers, shoved an impressive patchwork-quilt into my bag, a sudden wave of sadness swept over me for all the interesting people I would no-longer see, from Nina the incredible Serbian cleaner whose speedy work could put any neat-freak to shame, to Alex the Greek lunch-lady who made it her mission to fatten me up every day. Then there was the cut-throat Chinese nurse who gave injections like she was playing darts and liked to chat about constipation and my ‘poopy plan’, to the stern eastern-European tea-lady who, in a thick slavic accent, would moan about those ‘bloody immigrants’.

Such an array of interesting people, this I would truly miss! But not for long.

In the car on the way home, as my lead foot husband stepped on the gas, fiddled with the radio, jostled through traffic, talked on his iphone, mumbled curses at slow drivers and practically knitted his own jumper with his eyes closed, I was reminded of the fast-moving, seat-of-your-pants and wait for no-one world that awaited, and suddenly my four-walled nostalgia flew out the window and was literally left for dust!

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Not for the faint hearted

With all the advances in modern medicine one would imagine that there was some magic pill or simple procedure, from meditating in the nude to standing on your head, to ensure that every time you fell pregnant you could be guaranteed success.

My hunt for answers as to why I have not, as yet, been able to stay pregnant presented a dizzying array of possible factors. So many, in fact, that in my mission to tick these reasons off the list I also gradually turned myself into a literal lab-rat.

Spin classes, bikram yoga, boot camps and all other forms of healthy self-torture were the first to go, replaced by activities of the low-key kind. From leisurely walking and working part-time to chatting about begonias over the neighbour’s fence, all this domesticity aimed at luring the body into falling pregnant. And tick, eventually I did.

Next was to check my vitamin levels, most specifically folate, iron and Vitamin D.  I was low in all, particularly D, which was no suprise to my doctor who claimed over 80% of his patients, ranging from the meek office mouse to the sunscreen abuser, were also deficient. So onto the multivitamins I went, popping pills every day to keep the body in its perfect pregnant state.

Then there were the hormones. Key ingredients; the mortar and bricks to sustain pregnancy and yet strangely a component that GP’s commonly overlook. In my determination to cover all bases, I consulted an ‘anti-aging’ hormone doctor, who looked suspiciously younger at each appointment I took. This was cause for hope! After showing me a graph of the normal hormone life-cycle (which from the age of 30 is down-hill all the way) and reviewing the results of his recent tests, I was told that my estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels were all abnormally low, in fact almost obsolete. Since all are key to general well-being, ovulation and implantation this could possibly explain, not only why over a normal period-cycle I could become a one-eyed green ogre, but also my inability in the past to ‘stay’ pregnant.

So onto a daily dose of bio-identical hormones (derived from yam) I went, and taking them felt like adding bi-carb soda to a flattened cake. I took DHEA to aid in estrogen production (before I fell pregnant) and Progesterone (in the first three months) to assist in embryo implantation. And honestly after only a few weeks of being on the Yam, I felt absolutely great! My mood changed, energy increased and whether by coincidence or not I stayed pregnant beyond the 12th week.

But what would this journey be without also checking my bloods. However, once you go down this path ‘beware’ as all manner of things can appear. From the complication of having a negative blood-type to finding blood clotting markers linked to recurrent miscarriage. Luckily for me I had none; however, despite this my Obstetrician indicated that not all clotting markers are necessarily picked up, and thus as a precautionary measure put me on daily anti-clotting injections (Clexane) for the first three months. And did it help? In my mind it is impossible to say. It was certainly an intrusive and unpleasant thing to do, but on the other hand helped me feel I had ticked off another possible contributing factor.

So after this I cruised along pregnant, happy and feeling almost safe. Thinking I had done all that could be done. Until the 24th week came along and due to a rebellious cervix I was put on bedrest. After all the effort and investigation I felt positively miffed. Despite the number of specialists I could call by their first name and the medical information I carried in my mind’s little black book, there was something else I had completely missed.

My uterus was ‘subseptate’, which I had already known, but not to the extent that it was now to be shown. Instead of one chamber, I had the bonus two, which could increase the chance of miscarriage and pre-term labour by up to 50%. Well what do you know, now I truly felt like a medical freak-show.

So what could I do? Simple, my new hospital-surgeon friend said. Have an operation that can easily remove the division and correct the shape. That was great news! But not while you’re pregnant apparently, so for now, do nothing, lie still, take it easy and wait! Nearing week 29 and feeling healthy and stable, I can now say that lounging around and eating hospital food also seems to have helped.

And how’s that for a bucket list, the type you wouldn’t wish on anyone else and one that conversely seems to keep growing. Yet despite the weight of all this useful and useless information, I actually don’t mind at all. The more I know the more I can do and this ability to take ‘action’ (any action) even if it brings no results, has definitely helped me move forward the most.

If you’re going through hell…keep going

One of the interesting things that happens when you face a health issue in life are the stories you hear from others who have experienced something similar.

Shake a tree and watch similar stories fall out. Literally, like when you buy a new car and forever-after to the left, right, ahead and behind, you see the exact same make and the exact same model, everywhere, only driven by someone else. And you thought you were original.

This is what happened to me the year I started trying for kids at the ripe young/old age of 30 and the floodgates for things that could go wrong did…miscarriage was the name…and to my suprise I was not unique nor in any manner ‘alone’ and that miscarriage was quite common, in fact 20% common within the first 12 weeks of conception. A staggeringly high statistic to absorb for someone who, prior to this, had known only one person who had experienced this.

That was about to change as the blinkers of normal health fell down and stories of loss began to fall onto my path ahead. From relatives, friends and colleagues to strangers in cafes and celebrities all throughout the history books there was someone I, you and we all knew who had experienced loss.

I had thought, that just like my industrious mum, to get pregnant all my husband had to do was look at me and a child would appear from the glimmer in his eye. Unfortunately, his bifocals didn’t help…but now seriously, suddenly the ‘art’ of getting pregnant and staying pregnant, which was my main dilemma, was not as simple as I had assumed.

Indeed ‘how could I have missed this?’ and further how could I have never heard such stories before. The peculiarity of experiencing a loss like this is the quietness of before and the loudness after.

The first miscarriage, for me, was a blow and ringing in my ears was the confusion of what to do next. It was only seven weeks and yet the attachment had been intense. I had already formed a personal connection to a different type of future that measured up cafe doors for a pram to fit in and planned for a satisfying exit from work!

This strong psychic state again was not unique as many women I spoke to experienced exactly the same thing. The rise and excitement from learning you will become a mum to the deflation and disorientation when this doesn’t pan out. Perhaps what becomes the greatest challenge is to learn that something you had assumed would be simple and a female-given right is not, nor is it in your absolute control. This was the sting.

As I experienced several more miscarriages, the tally rising to five, my case became not so ‘common’ and yet still I was to meet several women who had been in the same boat and what was common in us all was a single-minded determination to press on and try and get this thing under control (even if this was an impossibility). How many tries it would take to succeed or give up was not known, and yet the more difficult it became the more heartening stories you gathered of babies who ‘finally’ (for one woman after 19 attempts) came through.

This in the end is what gave me hope and has brought me here today, legs up in a hospital bed, prepared to not walk for 2 months for that chance of success.

The never-ending hospital visit

This blog is for all the pregnant bed-resters out there who are faced with the prospect of living life primarily in the horizontal lane until their baby is due. It is also for all others interested in the tales of someone who is vertically challenged and has hours to recount the life and times of herself as a 32 year old woman who has tried to get, be and stay pregnant…the most natural thing in the world, so they say…for the past 2.5 years. Riveting, I promise!

11 days ago I went to the hospital for a pregnancy appointment at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne. I was returning, following a ultra-sound reading of a week before, which had shown that my cervix was ‘dynamic’. Great my perverse government-writer mind had at first thought…the words ‘progressive’, ‘innovative’ and ‘high-tech’ also coming to mind….but this was no glowing title. My cervix in fact was in a state of flux…shortening, lengthening and shortening again with every ultrasound reading. The lowest reading being the one taken most seriously. Three weeks prior it had measured 3.5cm (normal), the week following 2.5 cm and on this visit a startling 1.0cm and showing signs of further tapering. Not good news. The measurements showing that I was potentially gearing up for labour, and when the next question was asked ‘did you bring some clothes?’ I knew I was in trouble.

Within half an hour of this finding, I found myself sitting in a private room in the neonatal intensive ward, looking at the suspect views of huminicribs in the ward across the way. Luckily mum, who had come along to see the ultrasound and coo at her cute soon-to-be grandchild, was there to hold my hand and have a giggle as a nurse adjusted my bed into the tilted position. Our laughter, however, quickly subsiding as the nurse patted the bed and instructed me to ‘hop in’, with head down and legs up, then passing me a daggy pair of compression stockings to put on.

Ensconced in my reclining hospital throne, the rest of the day was a flurry of visits from doctors and nurses who came to put me at ease with great professionalism and to discuss my prognosis. I was in the grey zone. The first day of the 24th week. Good news from the viewpoint that if I did go into labour the baby was old enough for them to intervene and try and save its life. Troubling, from the viewpoint that if the baby did come at this time there were serious health complications that it may face. But still it was a ‘good week’ to be at since something could be done.

With the knowledge of this and after receiving a startling steroid-injection into the butt, I lay back on my pumped-up pillows and settled in for the first night of bed-rest feeling strangely relieved. Tomorrow the waiting game would begin, and while arduous and perhaps maddening, this was the only place I could think of being. I was in the best hospital for neonatal care in Australia, in a quiet room, with fantastic staff looking after my every need, and as i drifted off to sleep my mind trembled more to think of what might have happened if I had of gone home.