When I was eighteen weeks pregnant, we learned we were expecting a little girl. She was absolutely beautiful there on that grainy screen. The sonographer in the midwives' office was as tickled as I was that we saw a playmate for Karoline. And then she furrowed her brow a bit. "The placenta is low. It's not quite on the cervix but right up against it. Don't worry about this. Ninety percent of the time, placentas move up and out of the way." And honestly, that day, I didn't worry.
A week later, we had a level 2 sonogram. Same diagnosis. This time, they still said not to worry, but they threw in some cautions. They called for pelvic rest and some other precautions--no heavy lifting, no vacuuming, no long stretches of time on my feet. I returned to the midwife a week later and she added some more food for thought. She was optimistic that it could move but she also cautioned that I had several risk factors for placenta accreta and that I'd likely need to be on bedrest at 28 weeks. I knew what placenta accreta was. My neighbor had it nine years ago. She nearly bled to death and she lost her uterus delivering her baby. I didn't need an education in accreta--I had had a front row seat. Still, I went home and "googled" it and about scared myself to death. Then, I emailed some friends to ask for prayers and I promised myself I'd never do an internet search on it again.Essentially, there was a chance that my placenta would embed itself in my uterus and not let go at delivery. If that happened, I would certainly hemorrhage and I'd probably need a hysterectomy.
We named the baby then. She would be named for St. Sarah, the old woman of the Old Testament who laughed when God told her she'd bear a child. I wanted to hold onto the laughter--the sheer joy--of being with child. I wanted St. Sarah to remind me daily that I was not too old to carry a baby and to do it with great joy.
I went to the 28 week sonogram fully expecting that the placenta had moved. It hadn't. Not a bit.Things became a little more urgent at the midwives' office. And the restrictions became more serious. Still, we were encouraged to have gotten to 28 weeks without bleeding. Then, at 29 weeks exactly the bleeding began. And preterm labor. For the first time. I returned home to total bedrest after two days in the hospital . And there I stayed for 6 weeks. I continued to have sonograms and they continued to tell the same story. Plans were tentatively made for a delivery in the main OR, as opposed to the OB suite. Mike wouldn't be there. They'd go through the placenta to reach the baby and I'd be under general anesthesia. I might awaken to to find I'd lost my uterus. (In all honesty, I was just worried that I'd be one of the 7% who die due to accreta complications.) My doctors were insistent that I bank six units of blood. At every appointment, there was the hope that the placenta would move and the reality that we had to prepare for accreta. And in my rational moments, I knew that delivery could actually fall anywhere on that continuum. There were people I turned to for advice and they were encouraging and supportive. There were people who offered unsolicited advice. They meant well but fed my overactive imagination. And there was the voice of faith and reason who told me that this was Sarah's story and God alone was writing it. That voice reminded me often not to worry about anyone else's story.
And it was at this point that I got very organized about my prayer effort. I chose St. Anne as the patroness of this pregnancy and the protectress of me and my little girl. Since the first bleeding episode was on September 23rd, I took that as a good sign to include St. Pio as well. And of course, no pregnancy prayer book would be complete without St. Gerard. I prayed to Our Lady and my dear St. Therese. And I had a continuous conversation with St. Joseph. Some of you have written to ask about my prayer collection. It is here. Download pregnancy_prayer_book.pdf
At 33 weeks, I had an MRI. This was supposed to be the gold standard. The results regarding accreta were inconclusive. They couldn't rule it out but they couldn't pinpoint it either. They did, however, decide that the placenta was 2 centimeters from my cervix. This was great news! It meant that I didn't have previa any more. My midwife discussed the results with Mike and me and agreed I could add a little more activity to my routine but that we should wait on lifting the bedrest until a sonogram with the perinatologist at 35 weeks confirmed the MRI findings. She did say that things looked good to try for a VBAC, but she cautioned that there was still a chance of accreta and again, she insisted on banking 6 units of O- blood. All in all, the seesaw was definitely up that week.
I spent October 30th trying to round up blood donors. Since only 7% of the population is O-, it proved frustrating. Michael had rolled up his sleeves and donated a double donation a week earlier and we got a waiver for Christian to donate even though he was young. That gave me three. I went to bed thinking about where we'd get the other three. Then, a couple of minutes after midnight on October 31st, it all became a bit more urgent. Mike and the girls had gone to a gymnastics show and gotten in very late. We had prayed our St. Anne novena (it was the fifth night again) and I had shooed them off to bed. Mike commented that he was totally exhausted and could sleep for a year. Shortly after that, Mary Beth came into my room to tell me that Karoline was calling me and I got up to go lie down in her bed. I felt a gush. I was bleeding. Really, really bleeding. I woke Mike and grabbed my cell phone. Poor Mary Beth, Christian, and Karoline were awake when we left. We were in the car in fewer than five minutes and I called the midwife from the road. I went in my pajamas. I didn't have my glasses. I hadn't packed a bag. The only thing I stopped for was a bottle of St. Anne's oil sent to me from Australia. I rubbed everything left in the vial all over my belly.
34 weeks. I knew I wasn't going beyond 34 weeks.
All the way there, I prayed. As still as possible, I clung to every single tiny movement Sarah made. Just tell me you're alive and doing fine, baby. Just move a little...Please, God.
When we arrived at the hospital, they called for a sonogram immediately. While we waited, they hooked me up to the monitors. I heard her! And I cried. That sound would be the melody of the next eighteen hours, the sweetest song I've ever heard.
The sonogram proved the MRI wrong. I had a complete previa. My midwife came to talk with us, as did Dr. K. They were all pretty certain we'd try to wait for surgery until the shift change at 7 and then both OBs would operate. Since the bleeding had slowed, they felt they could wait--and watch closely.It looked like I'd deliver before 9 that morning.
Mike tried to sleep. I couldn't. I was terrified. All the peace I'd worked so hard to find was gone. I was just nothing but scared and I couldn't seem to calm myself. Around 5:00, I called my friend Mel and asked her to go be with the children. I hated the thought of them home alone and scared by our departure. Little did I know we'd left a trail of blood and they'd been up together all night long. Little did I know they researched it all themselves and they knew exactly what the risks were. It wasn't until a week later that Mary Beth told me her story of that night as we sat and rocked Sarah in the NICU. All I knew that morning was that I needed Mel to go be with them.
Around eight o'clock, Christian sent Michael a text message and told him what he knew. Michael sent a text message to the campus minister at George Mason. Fr. Peter invited Michael to join him and the FOCUS missionaries in the chapel for Holy Hour. He also got the word out that we needed blood. Within the hour, six people were at the donor center donating blood for me.
When the new shift came on, I met an angel. Well, not really but it seemed that way. Dr. J-C came into our room. She sat on the edge of my bed and spoke to us in the most beautiful accent. She was from Africa and she had had her own private practice in a nearby town for 25 years. But this was just her second day in the hospital where I was delivering. God's timing. All of a sudden, I could trust. And I did trust her. The new plan was to continue the anti-contraction drugs for the day and hope things would stabilize. Then, I'd stay in the hospital on total bedrest as long as I could, hopefully until 35 or 36 weeks, long enough to give the baby a chance to develop just a bit more.
Mike went to check in at work and I tried to sleep. I really don't remember much about the day. I made determined attempts to pray and didn't do very well. I remember talking with Danielle just before she left for trick-or-treat time and asking her to post a prayer request. I remember Michael coming with a dozen yellow roses. His coach had told him not to come to practice, to come and sit at the hospital instead. He stayed until Mike was on his way back and then we sent him on the way. I told Mike not come either, to go home to be with the kids, but he insisted on checking in with me one more time before night fell. He'd been in my room just a few minutes when the nurse, Janelle, came in. She told me, all a-flutter, that I'd been contracting every three minutes for the last half hour.Really? I'd hardly noticed.
Things moved pretty quickly from there. The doctor was called and she came in to tell us that it was time. We'd have a peaceful. unhurried c-section in the next hour or so. All the wheels began to move. Mike was allowed to be with me. I had two hep-locks, one that had been dripping IV fluid all day and another for transfusions if they were necessary. Dr. J-C was fine with the Birthing Inn OR and she had no problem with Mike being with me. She also said we'd do it with an epidural and then put me out if it became necessary when the placenta delivered. Or didn't deliver.
When it came time to get the epidural, I sat up on the edge of the operating table, taking in details as much as I could without my glasses. I remember offering a faint prayer heavenward, just vaguely asking all those saints who had seen me this far to show me they were there. Then, I put my arms on Janelle's shoulders when the anesthesiologist asked me to lean into a curve. There, hanging from Janelle's neck was a lovely gold Miraculous Medal. Janelle had been with me for hours but I'd not noticed the medal until then. I reached up and touched it and looked at the the nurse. She had tears in her eyes and she nodded just a little bit. "I noticed yours earlier today," she said. "It's going to be fine." My baby, due on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, was to be born on the Vigil of All Saints.
The epidural went just fine and before long, I was all draped and ready. Wendy, my midwife, was at my head on one side and Mike was on the other. Within minutes of being numb, they pulled Sarah safely into the world. Mike brought her to me and held her soft cheek against mine. I kissed her dear little face and then I heard Wendy say, "The placenta is out. No problem. We're good." I don't remember anything else from there until I was in recovery. Mike went with Sarah to the NICU and then he went outside with my cellphone.I do remember telling him to tell Katherine to hack into my blog and make an announcement:-)
I recovered in the quiet with Janelle. She asked again about my necklace and I promised myself then and there to make her one for Christmas. I called my children, newly home from trick-or-treating, to tell them what we'd been up to while they were parading around the neighborhood. And as I talked, I recognized just how well all my prayers had been answered. All those saints, all those intercessions, there in the operating room on the vigil of All Saints Day.
The next day, I chatted with Dr. J-C. She commented that it's the older mamas, the ones who have heard the stories, who know what birth really is, that are the ones who appreciate the art of delivery. And they understand the risk. "Where I come from," she said, "we know that childbirth is a risk. Here in America, we sometimes forget. There, they have a saying, 'When you are pregnant, you have one foot in the grave and one foot on a banana peel.' But there's a God in His heaven and everything happens for a reason. We still keep having babies, don't we?"
We do, indeed. Sarah's story has just begun. It's a beautiful, joy-filled, grace-filled story already. God is so good and we are so, so grateful.