37 Weeks and a False Alarm

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It’s 4:30am and I can’t sleep and it’s now 37 weeks and the app says he’s as big as Romaine Lettuce, which to me doesn’t seem that hefty for a boy who’s arm and leg and foot I can watch trail across my taut stomach whenever I lay down on my back or drink something sweet. I watch it like an alien show, the center starts to poke up and then move toward one side or the other, and I fully expect to see the outline of a face like one of those alien movies, a human trapped in a membrane trying to pierce the skin. But I know his head is not at my upper belly. He’s in full on downdog now, ready to go, upside down, pushing against my cervix.

I did the thing tonight I swore I wouldn’t do. I was one of those women who went to the hospital and was kept for a few hours and then told to go home. False labor. You’ve never seen a woman pack a bag so quickly. I get emails everyday from Lucie’s List and Parents and The Bump, articles about “Things To Do At Week __” and of course, months ago, was reminded to “pack the hospital bag”. Which I didn’t do. Funny thing is, my parents, who live a 2-day drive away, have had their bags packed for weeks, I’m sure, just waiting on the call to start driving.

My due date was March 21 from our fertility doctor. Then my OB-GYN changed it to March 23, which made me a bit sad, as March 21 is the Vernal Equinox and I thought that was a good omen.  Yesterday, March 1, I went in for the usual fetal heart monitor appointment, was asked “did you feel those?” by the sweet RN who was looking at the heart print-out, who told me I was having contractions. “The tightening thing? Well, yes, but I get that all the time.” She smiled and took the read-out to the doc.  After cleaning the goop off my belly from where they put the monitor on, which slides and is cold and I try to just enjoy the ride, the large leather lounge chair I lay in for 20 minutes while the heart shushes and beeps and I sip a Sprite, the only time I’d ever drink a Sprite.  Then, I’m in my doc’s office and she’s telling me that we’re changing the birth plan and she’s going to induce labor by the 16th if I haven’t given birth yet and I’m not quite sure why we’ve moved it up but she talks about my age and IVF and the higher risk of still birth and I sit upright on the table, covered in paper cloth, since she’s just dug her finger way up inside me to check my cervix (“Nope. Still closed.”) and say “Is there any reason to not go in and get him now?” and she smiles her reassuring Ob-Gyn “I got this” smile and says, “We’d like him to go to 39 weeks, but he’d be ok if he came out now. You’re term.” And I mentally scan my calendar, 2 weeks, not 3, now? Am I ready? Not at all. Of course. Maybe….

So I go home and nesting kicks into high gear. I call my parents and tell them the change in plans which will change their plans which makes my mom repack her bag and I can almost hear the squeal of joy in her mid-70’s voice. And then I vacuum. And clean out closets. And open the boxes that have the car seats. And bring up the bassinet we got at a shower weeks ago. And make lists. Lots of lists. And I meditate in the nursing chair.

March 16th. At least it’s not March 15, which would make me want to nickname him Brutus. My friends start a pool. So many March birthdays, they all want to claim him.

I teach a Skype session and sit at my desk in front of this laptop video-chatting with a songwriter, helping him put together lyrics and music on his latest song, and my stomach tightens and I can hardly breathe. I move around in the chair. I drink water. The session ends and I walk around the house and the tightening gets worse and I’m having a hard time breathing. And I drink more water and lay down. But nothing changes. I realize the boy inside me hasn’t moved (or I don’t think he has) for a while now and the tightening has been happening for a while, too. I go to my desk where I have taped to the wall the Labor Precautions List my doc gave me and try to make sense of whether or not what I’m feeling is a contraction or just a tightening (or if that’s a contraction).  I open the refrigerator to find leftover General Tso’s Chicken from 2 nights before. I heat it up. I’m hungry. That’s the headache I’m feeling. I’m not hungry at all, though, because there’s no room in there. In fact, I’m kind of nauseous and another tightening and I’m bending over. I eat the chicken which isn’t that good, because Chinese food in Nashville just doesn’t add up to someone who moved here after having lived in NYC for 20 years.  I walk around and start talking to myself then to Patti Smith (my personal Higher Power/God Stand In) then to the baby. I say, “I don’t want to be one of those women who goes in at every kick and pain. Let me know if this is real. Give me some sign,” and I feel a very strong absolutely-this-is-a-contraction and I double over. I call my Mom. She’s a nurse. She’s had 4 kids. Although 50 years ago. But she’s the voice of wisdom and reason and doesn’t overreact to things. She says, ‘Call your sister.’ I call my sister who doesn’t answer. Another contraction. Too close. My husband is out having burgers with a friend and he notoriously doesn’t keep his ringer on. I call. I text. I call the friend. I text the friend. I walk. I drink water. I finally call the after-hours number my doc gave me. Leave a message with the answering service. Wait.

20 minutes later the on-call doc and I are talking and I’m trying to navigate the Pain Scale, which I’ve always been terrible at as I have a very high threshold for pain [side note: which is not a good thing, I now understand, because my friend Beth Neilson Chapman’s husband who is a shrink, overheard me say that at a dinner hang when I was drinking wine and making light of some drama I was currently embroiled in and he says dryly to me: “that is not a good thing” and it was one of the many wake up calls to maybe my way of barreling through my life with an ‘I’ve got this’ attitude was not working so well].  I didn’t know if this was a 3 or an 8 or a real thing or I was maybe exaggerating. But she asked why my own doc changed the due date and I told her: “I’m 50 and it’s an IVF pregnancy” and this on-call doc changed tone and said, “Get yourself to the hospital. We need to monitor you.” I said, “Can I drive myself?” (see parenthetical side-note above). She said, “Absolutely not.”

Luckily, my dear friends D&T picked up the phone, left the cool bar, sped toward me to get me. I packed that hospital bag in 2 minutes flat. We got to the hospital in Nashville, where Jamey was waiting on me (we’d reached him), checked me in, got me into a room where a kind nurse slabbed more goo on my belly and those monitors, put her hand up inside me, as my own doc had done earlier, saying “I’m so sorry, this will be cold and unpleasant” and I was trying to find the words to a good joke, like “my vagina is fair game at this point” but knew I wasn’t bringing the funny and my husband, who is the king of bringing the funny, was way past the point of funny and looked more like a deer in headlights trying to act like he was totally chill. My friends were amazing, just hovering, waiting, not going anywhere.

So. In the end, it was false labor. I’ve dilated a bit. I was closed yesterday morning and by the time I got to the hospital things had started to change and “soften” as the RN said. And so now, I just stand guard. Wait for more signs. Time contractions. They let me go home after about 2 hours and as I walked past the check-in point, I said to the nurse, “I’ve just become one of those women who you send home” and she said, “Better safe than sorry, honey. You did the right thing.”

2 weeks. The over under in our house gives it about a week. At best. I have a show on Wednesday in town. Kind of hoping I can do that and then maybe the next day he comes, but I know this is out of my hands.

But 2 weeks at the latest? I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced anything like this. It’s like Christmas where my sister and I would try to sleep but we’d stay up as late as we could listening for sounds of hoofs and bells, shivering with anticipation. It’s got elements of that kind of anticipating joy. But there’s also a smidge of terror-doubt-fear-worry, me wanting Time to stand still. I just got used to this pregnancy thing. I love it. I’ve lost any body shame I’ve been carrying around my entire life which was always centered in my soft belly, afraid to ever show that part of my body. Now I love my body. And I want that feeling to stay long after the bump deflates. But I also love him inside me, poking around, prodding. He’s mine in there. And the minute he comes out, well, I can screw things up. I know everyone feels that way. But I’ve got a gold medal in pre-apologizing. 2 weeks. Maybe less. I can’t sleep. I tried. But I want to write in my journal and read all the books on my desk and stress-shop on Amazon and rock in the nursing chair with the stuffed bear my father gave me for the boy.

No. This is way better than Christmas. Christmas comes with little sleep and the wrapping paper comes off in a flurry and the toys are played with and then discarded and the family comes in and eats and laughs and tells stories and leaves and then the night ends softly with everyone complaining about how stuffed full they are, leaving the toys in little piles made for each child, the stockings have been turned upside down, the lights off and the holidays are over until the next year and life goes on as it was before, with hardly a change but a few more Things accumulated.

This is more than a thing about to be accumulated. This is a human who will appear and will radically alter the molecules of my heart. This is the biggest change I have ever gone through and it’s not sunk in yet. I know, because everyone tells me, my life will radically change. And some lovely artistic women also encourage me: yes, it will change but at the same time, you’ll be you still and you’ll make things and sing things, you’re adding not subtracting. But in a few weeks or a few days, this will all be different.

This entire thing is more of a miracle than I can even wrap my brain around.  I can’t sleep tonight because I cannot believe this is actually happening to me and I want to not miss a single minute of it, even before it happens.

And I know that next time I’m up at 4:30am, it won’t be because I can’t sleep and need to write a blog…

One Comment

Amy, Thanks for the news! Peter

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