At 26 weeks pregnant with twins, I went into labor while standing in the cleaning products aisle at my local grocery store. I called my doctor from the parking lot and explained to her that I was feeling a lot of pressure and what I thought could be Braxton-Hicks contractions. She told me to get to the hospital ASAP because it sounded like I was in labor. She wanted me go straight to the only hospital in the area that had a Level III NICU — one that I had never been to and one that she did not work at.
After a long awkward cab ride, I walked into the hospital expecting to be sent home. I was still sure I was experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions. I was so completely wrong — it only took my new doctor a matter of moments to realize I was in active labor. He explained to me that what I was experiencing was preterm labor and the symptoms that I ignored all morning were the early warning signs. The pressure and mild cramps that I woke up to were actually mild contractions. The blood in my underwear was not spotting. All morning I kept telling myself that I was fine because I was only 26 weeks pregnant and having a perfect pregnancy. I hadn’t had any morning sickness or a sore back or swollen feet — preterm labor happens to other women. People with medical problems and older women — not to me.
My new doctor told me he was glad I came in when I did because I was already completely effaced and starting to dilate. He was going to start the procedure to slow and hopefully stop my contractions, which would give my unborn twins much needed time. Unfortunately, as my contractions got closer together my blood pressure dropped dangerously low and stayed that way.
My memory of this time is pretty foggy and mostly consists of scary words like NICU, brain bleeds, respiratory distress, cardiac arrest, and survival rates. All I remember is being wheeled out of my room by a group of people in surgical gowns, a nurse asking me if I knew what was going on (which I didn’t) and a different doctor in a surgical mask saying “I’m not bringing 26-weekers into this world if I don’t have to.” Unfortunately, I have no real memories of those few hours so I am missing the details of what happened in the delivery room.
My nurse gave me the first round of corticosteroids to hasten fetal lung development and I was prepped for an IV of magnesium to stop the contractions. She warned me of the possible side effects: nausea, vomiting, pain, or — in my case — veins of fire! This is about the time my husband came running into the room. My amazing nurse called him and told him what was going on and advised him to leave work and get to the hospital. I was so sure that this was false labor that I never even told my husband I was going to the hospital!
After a few days with no more contractions I was taken off the magnesium IV. However, my latest ultrasound showed that I basically had “no cervix left” (my doctor’s exact words). It was decided that I needed to stay in the hospital until I delivered — which was hopefully not for ten more weeks. They feared labor would come on just as fast as it did earlier that week, so I stayed in bed with nothing to do but read borrowed Chelsea Handler books, watch Law and Order reruns, and worry.
Flash forward a few days and it started all over again. At 6:30 am I noticed I was bleeding and the monitor was picking up small contractions. By 9am I was wheeled down the hallway to the surgery/ delivery room. I was going to deliver my twins at 27 weeks and 2 days — whether I was ready or not.
Luckily for me, the amazing nurse from the first day was with me in the delivery room. Remembering that I had mentioned how much I wanted a vaginal delivery she talked the doctor into letting me try. While I was waiting on the cold surgical table, moaning in pain, she grabbed my hand and said, “Your body knows how to do this. I know it hurts but you need to look at me and breathe. Relax your muscles. Let your uterus do all the work.” She then pulled a nursing student over and told her to hold my hand until my husband got there.
Just as I was about to start pushing my husband comes running into the delivery room. He was just in time because three pushes later Baby A, my daughter, was born (weighing in at 2 pounds 4 ounces). She was whisked away to the NICU before I could get a look at her. Our doctor immediately started having me push for Baby B. Unfortunately, he flipped sideways and became tangled in my pelvis and the doctor was unable to turn him. The entire room went quiet and someone said, “This is going to hurt” and a cloth was thrown over my face (I was later told it was my gown).
Six minutes later my son was born via emergency c-section weighing 2 lbs 2 oz and brought immediately to the NICU. My husband says that at about the time my gown was put over my face he was told to sit down and he was wheeled across the room towards the door. He only remembers hearing me yell “sweet Jesus,” which does sound like something I’d say, and then being told to wait in the lobby.
After a brief and traumatic recovery room stay I was wheeled upstairs to the NICU to finally meet my babies. The story of their NICU stay is a long one and for a different time. Piecing together their birth story has helped me start to deal with the trauma and guilt. I have since learned to accept that my babies’ early birth wasn’t my fault and that I am not the only one who doesn’t know the early warning signs of preterm labor — I can also assure you that if we decide to have more children I won’t make the mistake of ignoring my body again.
For more information about the warning signs of preterm labor and for good advice on how to describe what you’re feeling to your doctor, look over this March of Dimes fact sheet.