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Pregnancy is NOT for the Faint of Heart, Part One

January 25, 2021

I’m 37 years and 10 months old– an age at which I can no longer take my fertility for granted. As my three-year-old blossoms into a chatty delight, and even when he challenges me, I’m beyond grateful for him. In the first couple of years of my parenting journey, I couldn’t fathom having another child (though it seemed like anyone and everyone felt free to ask about my plans for a second kid!). I was still learning to mother the first. But lately, I want my boy to have a sibling. I’ve been thinking about my own pregnancy journey, as I contemplate going through it again. Pregnancy is not for the faint of heart!

Are you ready? 

Before we made a decision to proceed, I’d ask my husband this question: “Are you ready?” He would nervously laugh and say no. It’s not that we didn’t want to go ahead, but the thought of opening ourselves to the possibility of a pregnancy felt like jumping off a cliff. It would change everything– and are you ever really ready for that? So even though I knew he wanted a kid/ kids too, he would nervously laugh and say no, whenever I’d ask. Finally, we were as ready as we were ever going to be.

It started with a miscarriage… sort of

The first time I got pregnant, I felt pregnant. The hormones circulating in the ether weren’t quite mine. It was the feeling of progesterone. I’d felt something similar on oral contraceptives before. It was a bit of a dulled feeling, which left me just a little calmer, compared to my usual energy. My close friend who’d given birth the year prior suffered bleeding throughout her otherwise healthy pregnancy. So when I didn’t suffer any bleeding myself, I assumed we were doing well. I figured I was having a normal pregnancy. I even scanned myself at work, glimpsing the flutter of the baby’s tiny heart. Or so I thought. 

When it came to the first official ultrasound a few weeks later, all we saw was a sac with some membranes. It looked like cobwebs. The image, projected on a large flat-screen TV on the wall surprised me, and I began to cry. 

When my beta HCG didn’t fall to zero, it raised the alarm bells that something else might be going on, like a molar pregnancy. I underwent a D&C to make sure there was no retained tissue or other abnormality. In the end, there was no evidence of mole, and we chalked it up to a blighted ovum.

Pregnant again

Months later, I became pregnant again, and this time, it was smooth sailing. There was nausea but no vomiting. I was able to work pretty normally. I used an acupressure band on my wrist and chewed anti-nausea tabs. To mitigate my symptoms, I’d sit during procedures when I could, like for thyroid biopsies, as an example.

For fluoro-guided interventions, I added an extra piece of lead around my waist to double down on radiation protection. Confidentially, I got a fetal dosimeter. After the first pregnancy misfire, I wasn’t ready to announce my pregnancy to everyone just yet. 

More unexpected news: pregnancy is not for the faint of heart.

At an early ultrasound for nuchal translucency, the technologist noticed that my cervix looked short. Even as a radiologist, I didn’t realize we could catch a short cervix so early in pregnancy. And so began my high-risk pregnancy. From then on, I reported to the local high-risk OB for frequent cervical measurements, in addition to my usual prenatal appointments. I felt cared for, but concerned. Why did this happen? I had no risk factors for this condition. Would I have a pre-term baby? The thought was terrifying. 

Meanwhile, my husband had seized a golden opportunity: he signed on with a traveling jazz ensemble called Postmodern Jukebox. He would be away for 4-8 weeks at a time, for three tours during that year. It was a scary time, and I tried not to dwell on the thought that I might suddenly need an ambulance while he was on the road. Thankfully, that horrid vision never became a reality. 

High-risk pregnancy and my life

In order to reduce the risk of pre-term birth, I was placed on bed rest. I could get up and make myself a sandwich, but I was not to walk around the block. This severely restricted my activities, and I became essentially housebound.

To make matters worse, the summer in the Southwest is scorching. I’d be homebound while the temperatures soared into the one-teens, occasionally hitting 120 degrees in August. I floated in my pool, whose waters rose to over 90 degrees. I was floating in water nearly the temperature of amniotic fluid. For hours, I floated there, reading about birth and baby care. 

High-risk pregnancy and my career

Thankfully, I did not have to go on disability. At the time, I was already doing a week of teleradiology here and there. That became my gig for five months. I sat at home, reading diagnostic images. My doctors would not allow me to work in the hospital, with its long hallways, barium studies, and other procedures that would keep me on my feet. It was no longer safe.

I was so grateful to be able to continue working, as I’m not sure how I’d have managed otherwise, mentally and emotionally. The structure work made me feel I was still contributing to the practice, rather than a burden on anyone. Who knows who I’d be a burden on, but I think it’s just human nature or doctor-nature to think that way. 

As I dictated hour after hour, I imagined my little baby was listening to me, getting smarter, or at least learning the sound of my voice. While other women fretted about going into labor in the operating room or in front of a patient, here I was, sitting at home at a pretty early stage of pregnancy. For someone so used to living at the hospital much of the time, it felt strange! 

Supporting pregnant employees is probably not for the faint of heart either

I will say, everyone at my (former) company was extremely supportive of the high-risk nature of the pregnancy. They had no maternity leave policy, but that’s a story for another day. 

I’m so thankful I was able to keep working in a telehealth capacity. If I’d needed to take a longer period of disability, I suppose my long-term disability insurance may have kicked in. I’m not sure. 

In the end, I got steroid shots just in case baby was premature. I was elated to make it out of the 20-29 week stage and into the thirties, where baby would have a fighting chance. Doing what I was told, with medications and precautions, we made it to 38 weeks and zero days. He was perfect, and I got my greatest wish: avoiding the NICU. 

Pregnancy is not for the faint of heart

That last week of pregnancy was tough. I suffered waves of severe nausea so strong, I presented to my OB and broke down crying. Previously wanting to try natural childbirth methods, I sobbed, “If this is what birth is like, please put me OUT. I can’t take it!” 

She sweetly smiled with a glimmer in her eye and told me, “That means he’s coming soon.” 

I worked from home through that week, taking an hour off here or there as needed. 

The pregnancy experience is really what you make of it. In many ways, I was tremendously supported, and other times, I was disappointed by my experience. It was anxiety-provoking and lonely. I was a prisoner on house arrest, in my gilded cage. But would I do it again??

Tune in for part 2, and I’ll share how I nearly gave birth at home. By accident. 

Is that TMI? Maybe. But I’m betting some of you might wonder what the gestating journey can look like in a surgically-oriented field like IR. No matter who you are or what you do for a living, pregnancy is not for the faint of heart!

xo

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  1. Amina Farooq says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! We need more transparency about this topic in medicine!

  2. Abhinav says:

    Truth is explained in such a beautiful and simple way. Thank you for sharing feelings of thousand of women surgeons around the globe. We should often talk about it in every portal and in our workplaces.

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