Two Down, One Up (an excerpt from Breathing Faith, chapter 14)
Twenty weeks into my pregnancy, Jay and I traveled to Florida for our annual trip to visit with my in-laws. In many ways—and I know this sounds weird—my mother-in-law and Jay’s step-father were responsible for us getting pregnant. My university health insurance did not cover all of our medical costs. My in-laws’ generosity allowed us the freedoms to explore in-vitro fertilization procedures, which are quite expensive. Without their heartfelt generosity and support, I know I would never have been able to get pregnant.
Since childhood, one of my favorite things to do was to ride the surf of the mighty sea—letting the waves take me where they may. This released a joy in me that was deep, pure, childlike. In March 2003, I took more care, of course, knowing I had this precious being growing inside of me. We were headed back to Colorado the next day, so Jay and I relished the few moments we had left at the ocean. We knew that the next time we came to Florida, we’d have our new child with us. So we rolled and played and jumped in the waves, having fun, feeling free.
Back in Denver on Monday morning, I was at my obstetrician’s office for my regular check. Well, not really a regular check up. I got a lot of check-ups. I was special after all.
Doctor P. was in surgery that day. A bespectacled, clean-shaven doctor we had not met before was doing the exam this time. After the normal introductions, he placed the ultrasound tool into my vagina. As he looked at the screen, he scrunched his face almost immediately.
“Lori! What have you been doing?” he asked, not looking me in the eye.
“Huh?” I asked, tightening my legs together, as if by instinct.
“Your cervix is at twenty.” He did not look happy about this news.
“I don’t know that means…” I started.
“It means that we need to sew you up.”
“Sew me up?” Is this some sort of joke?
“And right away.” The young doc paused for half a breath. He looked grim. “So that this baby does not come out too early. So she can stay in there.”
Ohmigod. Omigod. Omigod. This incompetent cervix. When Doctor S had first informed me of this condition, I looked up the word incompetent. The dictionary told me that my cervix was inept, ineffected, “not up to it”. Useless was one definition, too. But I’d decided that my cervix was not useless, thank you very much. I had a baby growing in there, a miracle. More of a miracle than most babies! So, my cervix was not useless. Compromised perhaps. But not useless.
“What exactly does that mean, sew me up?” as I was thinking about my busy program schedule at the museum that week. The week after spring break was always really busy.
He sighed, but this was not a compassionate sigh. This was a sigh, it seemed, of utter annoyance. Did I do something wrong? Was I jumping too gleefully in the ocean just forty-eight hours ago? Did this guy skip lunch or something?
“It means that we have to do an emergency cerclage. Tomorrow.” Man, this guy seemed pretty negative. I missed Doctor P.’s calm air of confidence.
Oh, okay, another procedure. I could do that. My mind began racing—the anthropology lecture this week is not until Thursday night, today is Monday. I already got the news releases out and students are set up to help at the event. I can get this thing done on Tuesday, oh wait who can pick up the lecturer at the airport? I’ll ask the Associate Director and I’ll be back to work on Wednesday, I can call the caterer then and….
Doctor Gloom and Doom interrupted my thoughts. “Oh, and you’ll need to quit your job.”
“WHAT?” I almost sat straight up, but of course I still had that dang ultrasound penis-thing in me.
He cleared his throat. “You need to quit your job. Or, at the very least, take a long leave of absence.” He waited a beat. “You will need to be on bed rest for the rest of your pregnancy. You’ll be allowed to get up to shower and to make a meal, but for the majority of the next several months, you will need to be lying down.”
I was stunned. Looking up toward Jay, I noticed that he was working really hard at looking supportive but he too was fighting the urge to open his mouth wide with disbelief.
I went to my default position—humor. “Well, this is one way to leave my job”…
Jay replied, “Yeh, honey, you’ve been thinking about making a change!” He grabbed my hand. My loving husband was always so supportive through this whole maddening crazy-making baby-making mess.
“Okay,” I said to the doc. “I will drive to Boulder after we get this thing done, and I’ll talk with my boss.”
“No,” the doc said firmly, with just the slightest hint of irritation. “You will call your employer from your home, where you will be lying on your left side.”
I felt like the already darkened room was getting darker. “What do you mean, I can’t just drive over to campus and talk to them face to face?” I was trying to imagine this scenario, leaving a job I have had for almost five years, over the phone.
“That is what I mean.” I thought Doctor Doom and Gloom must have missed the classes in medical school on gentle bedside manner. Then he added, “That is, if you want this baby to go to full term.”
Most women discover, sadly, that they have incompetent cervixes because they miscarry. Doctor S. had indeed warned me that I might have this condition after I had become pregnant. I was told over and over that I was very lucky to have this information, which is one of the reasons my pregnancy was monitored so closely.
I didn’t feel so lucky at that moment.
But I knew this in my mother heart of hearts: this child was meant to come.
I then asked many questions, one right after the other. “How long will I need to be on bed rest? Can I get up to pee? Am I confined to bed? What are the risks of this procedure? Will my baby be okay? Are there other complications that might arise as the result of all of this?!”
Doctor Doom and Gloom scratched his head and looked at me. “May I ask, what is your education level?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, in my experience, people with more education tend to argue and try to negotiate, while some women (I was assuming, the less educated ones) just nod and agree to these terms.”
I supposed then, that he was relieved to know I just had a Master’s degree, and not a Ph.D.
The next day was April 1, 2003. Happy April Fool’s Day. The procedure—an emergency cerclage—took less than twenty minutes. A MacDonald stitch. Well, at least it was a nice Scottish thing. My great-uncle Peter in Glasgow would be proud. Essentially, my cervix was sewn up. While the procedure was not painful at the time, I was quite sick for the rest of the afternoon, and was nauseous all the way home. Poor Jay had to stop every few minutes so that I could open my car door, hang my head out, and vomit.
Before I’d left the hospital, I was told: NO sex (duh, what with the stitches and all), no hiking, walking, aerobics, or standing for long periods of time.
So on Wednesday, just four days after feeling so free and lovely and giddy in the Atlantic waters, I started my new life: TWO DOWN, ONE UP, TWO DOWN. I was given strict instructions to lie on my left side for exactly two hours, after which I was allowed to get up for one hour. No jump roping or salsa dancing, of course, during those precious sixty minutes. But I could take a nice long shower, walk- slowly and mindfully with the dogs, even plant a few seeds in the garden.
Thankfully, I was pretty good at my job, but I also worked for very decent people, so I was able to keep my job, and worked remotely. This proved to be challenging, but do-able. I scanned my bookshelves for books I had bought long ago but never got around to reading. Piles of magazines waited for me to delve into them. I learned how to type sideways on my laptop. Joining an online support group called Sidelines, I found I was not alone in my predicament. I managed to pore over parenting websites and read sideways. Ever hopeful, I ordered books with titles like “Days in Waiting” but just found them depressing. The cordless phone became my lifeline.
I made a strict rule for myself. No television until after five pm. I knew myself pretty well, and if I started watching TV first thing in the morning, I would not stop, I would get depressed, and I would eat myself silly. So. No television until after five.
This rule worked for about a month. Then, Dr. Phil and Oprah started, ever so slowly, to enter my life to ease my frustration, my loneliness. Phil arrived at three, just when I was about to pull my hair out. Oprah showed up at four in the afternoon. By the time Jay came home from work each evening, I had learned how to handle a multitude of family dysfunctions, which books to read to become enlightened, and how to dress for success.
I had to lie on my left side because that was supposed to create better blood flow for the baby. We re-arranged the living room so that I could watch the tube while in the proper bed rest position. Having joined Netflix, I became well versed in HBO and Showtime shows that I ordinarily never would have watched: Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, Alias. I even put up with the ridiculous way women were depicted on the Sopranos. I’m sure mandatory bed rest is not easy for any pregnant women, but it felt particularly hellish for this restless, mercurial Gemini.
Weeks went by. On my UP hour, I sometimes went to the nearby park and sat on a large boulder by the soothing waters of the St. Vrain River. I talked to the baby girl that was growing inside of me and told her: listen to the water, this favorite sound of mine. I hoped she too, would love water and rocks and nature. There were moments of peace in this, by the river, a deep knowing that I was doing the right thing.
There were also moments of amazement. For this was probably the first time in my life that I was following the rules so strictly, so religiously. I was fighting, quietly, for the life of this child. This child with whom I was already in love.