Isn’t that what every woman hopes for? The perfect pregnancy- the ultimate dream.
Please note that this is an opinion of someone who has given birth. The content in this post is simply supposed to give some insight based on my personal experience. All women are different and all women have unique pregnancies and births. The purpose of this post is simply to give one woman’s perspective and give some food for thought.
Easter of 2016. Surprise! After losing 15 lbs. by eating healthy, I had not seemed to lose any weight in my breasts. While super exciting, this seemed highly unusual. My husband (fiancé at the time) joked about me being pregnant. It seemed unlikely, I had been on the contraceptive pill for many years. We were set to get married on Memorial Day weekend [which we did-and it was awesome] and planned to try for kids right after. This was only 2 months early.
Two positive pregnancy tests later, I decided to call the doctor’s office to figure out what the next step was. Was this an accurate test? Surely there was a pretty good chance these were just false-positives. Turns out, false-positive pregnancy tests are pretty rare. Lesson learned.
1. Choose a provider you like and trust.
The call to the doctor’s office was pretty much a nightmare. My general practitioner wasn’t trained in OB so they just assigned me a different doctor from the clinic. I had a few questions for the doctor- I wanted to talk about my current eating habits and my current medications. I had given up all carbohydrates and was eating a strict ketogenic (high fat, moderate protein) diet that had proven to positively effect my mood, weight [and apparently my fertility]. I was on two medications- buproprion and venlafaxine. It had taken many years to find that drug-duo to keep me mentally and emotionally stable. Now that I was pregnant, what was I to do?
After waiting quite a while for a nurse to call me back, I got a generic message from the doctor to change my diet back to about 50% carbs and low fat. I was also instructed to wean off both medications at an unreasonably high rate (I know this now). What? Was there any research this was based on? Didn’t the doctor want to talk to me about it?
I started eating differently and changing my medication regimen. Luckily, it was only a week before I realized that my mental health was plummeting. I went back to my full doses of medications and made a call to the psychiatrist I had seen previously as a consult to help with my med regimen. I also called a midwifery group to switch providers. I am very involved in my own healthcare plan and just didn’t feel comfortable with a physician that could drastically change my lifestyle without even speaking to me.
The midwifery group I chose was absolutely awesome. A group of 8 practitioners, they rotated clinic duty/hospital duty so I saw a different practitioner every time I made a visit. Each one I met reconfirmed my decision to switch providers.
Luckily for me it only took me two tries to get the right provider. I highly recommend that if you aren’t comfortable with who you currently see, then try to make a change. I understand that this may be difficult with insurance plans/where you live etc. but if you can, do it. Change as many times as you need to in order to feel as if you are involved in your own care. This will make a huge impact if and when any unforeseen circumstances occur.
Midwives are not MDs. They are Registered Nurses with additional training (similar to a Master’s Program). They specialize in women’s health. Most midwives treat pregnancies that are low risk. If something happens in a woman’s pregnancy out of their scope, they will consult with an obstetrician. If you are thinking about trying a midwife or midwifery group- think of this- OB/GYN’s are trained surgeons. They have learned all the skills to perform cesarean sections. Midwives are not trained surgeons. They are trained in natural birth. If you are thinking that natural birth is the best option for you, they will do everything in their power to help you reach that goal- within safety guidelines of course. If you would prefer a C-section, you may want to stick to an OB/GYN for your primary provider. For me, midwives seemed like the best option. I highly respect all OB/GYNs as well, and by the end of my long and complicated pregnancy, I had met and been treated by quite a few.
2. Decide how you want to learn more about your pregnancy- don’t be too proud to ask for advice
I ended up being about 8 weeks along by the time I realized I was pregnant. For me, the thought of reading all the “What to Expect when You’re Expecting” books were completely overwhelming. I did have a nice app on my phone that told me different facts about my baby and how big he was, which was nice. Luckily, my husband really likes to have ALL the knowledge about a subject- so he ended up reading two big pregnancy books cover-to-cover by the end of my first trimester. He gave me the highlights. This made our communication throughout the pregnancy almost seamless. If you are lucky enough to have a partner similar to mine, definitely take advantage of that!
The midwifery group offered us different classes we could attend to learn more about pregnancy and different options for birth. The times were not convenient with my husband’s work schedule, and I didn’t find a class setting appealing.
Everyone has a different preference with how and how much information they want. There are books, movies, classes, apps, one-on-one provider visits, and much more to help give you the info you need in pregnancy. Don’t feel like you have to choose ALL of them [you will get overwhelmed really quickly]. Do find out what is available to you and choose a method[s] that is right for you. This may or may not be the same with how your partner chooses to learn.
There were many times when I would feel something funny happen in my body. Of course, I would google it to try to see if it was normal or not. It’s amazing that we live in a world with so much information at our fingertips.
Usually there is also a nurse triage line available to you 24/7 don’t be afraid to use it. I learned that the hard way. After being physically ill and sitting by the toilet for 8 hours straight, I finally made the decision to call our nurse line. I thought maybe it was just really severe morning sickness. Turns out it was kidney stones and I ended up being hospitalized for several days. This experience brings me to #3.
3. Always be your own advocate- or have a support person be your advocate when you aren’t able.
Kidney stones suck. Big time. I pride myself on how high my pain tolerance is. I broke my elbow once and barely took anything stronger than ibuprofen for the pain. With kidney stones, I have never been in more pain in my life. It was determined that in my case, the best treatment was to wait for the kidney stone to pass on it’s own. Despite my non-interventional treatment plan, I was still hospitalized for pain control. They tried pain pills. They tried a small dose of IV medication. Finally they had to switch to a stronger medication and give it IV every 2 hours.
My husband spent the night with me in the hospital and then had to leave early the next morning for a work trip. It seemed like I was plenty capable of being there by myself, and I would call a family member if and when I got to go home. The plan was to try to transition me on to pills, so I could go home and try to pass the kidney stone there. At least that’s what we thought the plan was. I remember asking the nurse several times when the doctor would be checking in on me that day. Soon it became late in the afternoon, and still no one had come to check on me. Pain medications make you tired. So does pregnancy. I quickly lost track of time and afternoon turned to early evening. My mom had come to visit after work, and when she arrived she realized that a doctor hadn’t seen me yet. The nurse paged and tried calling the doctor several times, and by the time someone came, it was the night doctor. I had simply been missed by the team, fallen through a communication gap.
I like to think that I would have been forceful enough to have made sure a physician saw me that day. Truthfully, I was exhausted and still in a lot of pain- so I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly enough to advocate for myself. My mom, however, is quite assertive when she needs to be and decided to stay the rest of my hospitalization to ensure that I always had an advocate.
Don’t ever assume that ‘this is just the way it is’. Be the patient that questions different tests and treatments, and when something doesn’t seem quite right, speak up. If you can’t- then make sure someone in your corner can. My experience was a simple lack of communication. It ended up costing me an additional day in the hospital- fortunately nothing more. Trust your instincts. Take charge of your healthcare.
My kidney stone experience, combined with persistent nausea, made my second trimester quite eventful. While people say that this is the part of the pregnancy that you have the most energy- it didn’t seem to work that way for me.
4. Know Your Options
The midwifery group that treated me was excellent in helping me know my options. I am lucky enough to also live in an area that has pretty progressive healthcare in terms of pregnancy and birth. For example, some providers do routine cervical checks the last couple weeks of pregnancy to look for dilation- even though the information will not effect your treatment.
I always want to know ‘why’ something is being done. Will the outcome change the course of treatment? If not, then do I really need it? Know that you have options when it comes to treatments and procedures.
Many times you are able to tour the place you decide to give birth. I did not choose to do this, because my sister had her two babies at the same hospital- so I was pretty familiar with it. I would suggest touring if you aren’t familiar with the place you decide to give birth. The hospital I was at had birthing tubs in every room and exercise balls readily available if I wanted to use them in labor. I also received a great sheet of information that contained my birth preferences. This opened my eyes to all the different options I had while giving birth. I have listed a few below- but if you just google “Birth Preference Plan”- hundreds will be at your fingertips. It is also likely that your provider has a birth plan template. Make sure to ask at any appointment if there is one available. While it is super helpful to fill this out to get an idea of how you want to labor, remember to keep in mind #5- the most important tip I can give you about pregnancy and labor.
5. Be Flexible
We got a birth plan template, and some things were blatantly obvious to me. I wanted to do skin-to-skin. I wanted to bring in my own essential oil mist and listen to music. I wanted my husband in the room with me. Other things, I decided that having an open mind was the best route for me. How was I supposed to know if I wanted an epidural or not? Water birth seemed interesting, but who knows if getting in a tub will sound appealing when I’m pushing something the size of a watermelon out of my body? Much of my birth plan was dependent on how I felt when the scenario came up. This was the best choice I ever made.
Preeclampsia. This condition will sneak up on you fast. Basically, it’s something that only happens in pregnancy, and the only way to fix it is to give birth. Generally the treatment is to try to manage the symptoms until it’s safe to induce labor. Luckily for me I was diagnosed right at 37 weeks- which is also considered ‘full-term’. I was admitted to the hospital and they were going to induce me! How exciting!
Whenever I heard this term before, it seemed like a pretty simple process. You go into the hospital and they make you have a baby. Wrong. For me, it included lots of meds up my lady parts, manual breaking of my water (Yes-they put up what is essentially a stick to break it), and two rounds of an IV medication called Pitocin to help my body start contractions. This all took about 3 days before I was in active labor. It was miserable.
Finally after all this, I was ready to push. I had realized that this labor stuff was pretty painful, so I decided to get an epidural. Because they had broken my water, a water-birth was out of the question (due to risk of infection). All of these things seemed okay to me as long as Cormac got out safely.
I pushed for 3 hours. **Fun Fact** During that time, the Cubs happened to win the world series [Go Cubs Go]. Turns out Cormac’s head was cocked and he was not about to come in to this world willingly. The Pitocin had also started to wear off, so my contractions were getting weaker and farther apart- which is the opposite of what’s supposed to happen.
I was given the choice to have a cesarean section. For me, there was no question. This was the most exhausting event of my life and I was emotionally and physically drained. This boy needed to come out. After the decision was made, it was about an hour and a half until my little peanut was out of my belly and in my arms.
This is not the ideal birth. There is no way to plan for any of the interventions I had happen. I like to think that it was a little easier to take everything in stride because we didn’t have a set-in-stone birth plan. Be flexible. Have preferences- but know that they might change in the middle of labor. Be kind to yourself- in no way does a decision make you a failure. Women give birth every day in many different ways. In my opinion, there is no reason to shame anyone, especially yourself, for doing what you need to do to get your baby out safely. Give yourself some room for love here.
I like to think that any future pregnancy I might have will be a bit easier than this one. Realistically, I know that while my pregnancy was complicated, it was not nearly as severe as many women’s stories. I also had a great ending, a happy and healthy baby and mom. Considering the outcome, this was my perfect pregnancy.
Comment your experiences below- everyone’s story is worth sharing 🙂