If you’re like me, you probably have a few “friends that I haven’t met yet” kind of friends. One of my favorites is my new friend, Kristi Rieger Campbell, who writes a blog titled “Finding Ninee,” which is about her journey as a mother of a delightful young man named Tucker. Tucker is on the autism spectrum, like my daughter Kate. I have to give a huge shout out to Facebook, because that is how Kristi and I ‘met’. One of the autism pages to which I subscribe had posted Kristi’s video on being a mom on the Spectrum…which I will share on this blog. Suggested posts can be wonderful! So anyway…Kristi is an eloquent writer, and I was enjoying reading her blog today. I found the following post (which she wrote in 2012, I think) about a problem that we both have experienced: the incompetent cervix.
Here’s Kristi’s post (and I will be posting a link to her blog as well):
“My pregnancy wasn’t perfect. At 25.5 weeks, we found out that I had an incompetent cervix. As I was barely hanging on to my 40th year, I had decided to get an amniocentesis test. I’m not sure why I thought I needed one. I don’t think I’d have another, were I lucky enough to have that decision to make. As a part of the exam, I received a more, shall we say “invasive” ultrasound, which revealed that my cervix was less than 1/3 of the thickness it was supposed to be. I officially have an incompetent cervix. As the doctor was trying to explain this to me, my first reaction was anger. Here I was at 26 weeks, I’d been walking around, exercising, having sex, working really long days and everything was fine! I was in complete denial and shock when they told me that I needed to go – immediately – to my regular doctor’s office for more testing and monitoring. My doctors were located at National Naval Medical Center, so going there isn’t an office visit, it’s a full-blown hospital. Of course I protested. I had to go back to work. My boss was going to be pissed! I really needed to go back to work. I must have sounded like a petulant child as she finally looked me in the eyes, grasped my hands and said, very clearly, like you would to somebody who is either crazy or doesn’t speak your language “Your life just radically changed. Do not worry about work today. You are likely going to be put on bed-rest for the remainder of your pregnancy and I’d consider you lucky if your own doctor lets you complete that bed-rest at home and not in the hospital.” Oh. My. God. That stopped me. I was fortunate that she simply gave me a warm smile and wished me luck, because any social rituals were lost on me at that point. I could not think, much less talk, much less thank her for this unexpected blip in my life. My own well-known and trusted body is putting my baby in danger? What a betrayal. I’d waited 40 years to have a baby, gotten pregnant with relative ease and now, more than halfway through my pregnancy, my body might let me down by failing to do correctly what millions of women do every day? If you look up the word “incompetent” in a thesaurus, the words that come up are useless, inept, bungling, lacking ability, unskilled, ineffectual, not up to it, and hopeless. A necessary part of my body, the part holding in my baby and all that stuff he needs, is bungling. Useless. And that’s how I felt.
I remember nothing of walking to my car or calling my boss to say that I was heading to the hospital. I do remember exactly what I was wearing (black pants, black boots and a white top with black floral print), the light (greenish-gray, an overcast and misty day) and where I was parked (second row over from the first entrance, sixth spot down). Weird. I vaguely remember calling Robert, barely able to get words out through my tears “Something’s wrong! Something’s wrong! I have to go to Bethesda right now! I can’t even go back to work!” As the good ones do, my husband managed to calm me down, probably by saying the actual words “Calm down.” Probably, more than once. One of the first of Robert’s traits that I fell in love with was his voice. He grew up in eastern Tennessee, and has a slight accent made magnificent by his utterly calm voice. He’s a big guy with the voice of 1,000 patient men. It’s deep and one of the kindest I’ve ever heard.
After Robert talked me to a more sustainable heart rate and mindset I drove up to National Naval for a healthy dose of stripped modesty born from utter humiliation. I think I was seen right away. Most of the visit is blurry with the exception of the actual examination, which will forever make me cringe with embarrassment. There I was, lying on an exam table, legs in stirrups, impaled on an internal ultrasound while my attending physician fiddled with the device to get the best possible image of my useless cervix on the small monitor next to my bed. She explained to me that because National Naval is a teaching hospital, she’d like to show a few of her staff members an image of my cervix. Whether I was simply overwhelmed or having a blonde moment, I agreed without realizing what that actually meant. And what that meant was that within a matter of minutes, I had my doctor, my husband and seven interns crowded in my room shuffling for a good view of the screen. Seven. In my room! Not a moment for modesty or dignity.
I was indeed relegated to bed-rest. I was “allowed” to shower each day but advised to not stand and cook dinner, walk the dog or go to work for the next 14 weeks. Doing any of these activities could have resulted in the umbilical cord basically falling out of me (can you say gross and horrifying?). I didn’t so much as walk my dog for a few weeks. Nothing bad happened and I gradually worked my way up to participating in some banned activities. I don’t know how it was that I was thickheaded enough to not actually get the severity of having an incompetent cervix. Perhaps it is the natural way of all of us to be at constant vigil for tragedy to befall while simultaneously not truly believing that it we will be struck by it. I’m honestly not sure but I can say that I didn’t take this seriously enough. I felt that my doctors were being overly cautious. Part of me didn’t believe that it was a “real” issue. I even went so far as to write the doctor who had sent me on my way to my OBGYN asking if they had a comparison from a previous ultrasound, thinking that if it’d been short all along, and I’d had no problems, I’d be fine. Now that I’ve met my son and I understand the amount of love it’s possible to have and the expansion my heart underwent with love for this tiny person, I probably would have skipped even the allowed shower, stayed in bed for the next 13 ½ weeks and filled my time making animal sculptures with my greasy hair and working on my laptop.” (Finding Ninee)
So I wrote my reply – because Kristi is the only other person I have ever had contact with who actually has had the same problem as me in pregnancy: the incompetent cervix. Read on, MacDuff!
“Finally I know someone else who had an incompetent cervix! I was 30 when I was pregnant with Kate. When my doctor told me that, my reaction was much the same as yours – “Whaddya MEAN, ‘incompetent’?? Piss off! I had a procedure a few days later called a McDonald’s Cerclage (and yes, I asked him if he was going to stitch me together with a cheeseburger and a few fries…what can I say? Gallows humor…) which held me together for the next few months. And I had to be on complete bed rest. Something dies inside you when someone with MD after their name tells you that your cervix is incompetent. I don’t care who you are or how well-educated you are, the immediate reaction is always the same: it becomes intensely personal. It’s an affront, an attack on your very YOU-ness, as if all of you is INCOMPETENT. So for the next four months I spent my days and nights lying on the world’s most uncomfortable sofa bed, because at that point in time, we had a – wait for it – waterbed. Yep. Not where you want to sleep when your INCOMPETENT damned cervix is being held together with baling wire and twine. So I slept on the sofa bed and my husband slept on the water bed. Talk about life sucking… and to make things even better, it was the hottest summer that Anchorage, Alaska had experienced in many years. Keep in mind that in Alaska, air conditioning does not exist, except in grocery stores and office buildings…and most of the time, not even then. So I laid there and sweated, and took Terbutalene tablets every so many hours to prevent contractions. Terbutalene is a lot like taking caffeine – concentrated caffeine – and injecting it via IV needle directly into the bloodstream. Your heart rate averages 120 beats a minute and you feel like shit. Of course, since you are pregnant, everyone expects that you will be glowing and content, like a cow eating some really good sweet Kentucky bluegrass. However, you feel like ripping their heads off if they so much as talk to you. Me and my incompetent cervix had a wonnnnnderful four months on that sofa bed, sweating in the merciless heat (and in Alaska that means anything over 60 degrees Fahrenheit), watching everything that cable TV has to offer…having people drop in because they wanted to ‘cheer you up’…I hated being pregnant. The only saving grace was that I loved this unknown person inhabiting my body so intensely that I would have stood on my head if it meant that he/she/it would live. And live she did, thank God. Someday I’ll tell you about my OB/GYN…but it is not this day.” (Life is Like a Hand Grenade)