October 4, 2018 was the day everything changed. Until then, I’d had a relatively uneventful pregnancy and was excited to be heading towards the final month before my baby’s arrival. I was planning on trying for an unmedicated vaginal birth, and couldn’t wait to find out the baby’s gender when that day finally arrived. I was down to having weekly appointments since I was in the last 5 weeks, and was feeling really good and still pretty energetic given how far along I was.
While I’d never felt the baby move a ton since I had an anterior placenta (meaning it was on the front of the uterus so muffled any movements except on the sides), we had a regular routine going. I would stay in bed to feel the baby move first thing in the morning, and then would press on my belly to feel baby again in the evening before drifting off into sleep.
But that Thursday evening, the baby stopped moving. I tried everything you’re supposed to do — I laid on my left side, ate something sweet, drank iced water, and even pushed hard to try to get a reaction — but nothing worked. A tremendous sense of anxiety came over me, but as a first time mom, and someone who never felt the baby move a lot as it was, I convinced myself it’d be OK and to just wait until the following morning for my 35 week appointment where they’d confirm everything was fine.
I barely slept that night and was a ball of nerves as I anxiously waited for 9am the next day. When I got to my appointment, they used the doppler to find the baby’s heart beat, and it was in the 120s, which was much lower than it had been, but still within normal range, so they weren’t too concerned. When I mentioned that I felt a marked decrease in movement starting the night before, a look of alarm came over my midwife’s face as she asked why I hadn’t called/come in the night before when I’d first noticed. She immediately sent me upstairs to the Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist for an ultrasound to check on what was going on. They took my bloodpressure and it was elevated, no doubt because I was freaking out about the lack of movement, even though I kept rationalizing it away in my mind.
During the ultrasound, I just knew something wasn’t right. On all my previous ultrasounds, the baby had been moving around like crazy, but this time, it just sat there with a very occasional jerky movement of a limb. They were looking for 4 things during the ultrasound — practice breathing, muscle tone, muscle movement, and the amount of amniotic fluid — and saw everything they were looking for except for practice breathing. She told me since I’d only met 3 of the 4 markers, they’d likely send me straight to the hospital for additional monitoring, but not to be too worried since she’d seen some movement. She sent me back downstairs to speak with my midwife while she prepared the report.
I called my husband in tears and told him he needed to come meet me immediately because I’d most likely be heading to the hospital. He dropped everything and came and met me, and just as he arrived we got the official word to head straight to the hospital, which we did.
I was placed in triage where they wrapped two wires around my belly — one to monitor the baby’s heartbeat, and a second to monitor any contractions. They told me that continuous fetal monitoring (being hooked up to these wires) was a better indicator of fetal health than an ultrasound since an ultrasound was just one isolated period of time. They saw several fluctuations and accelerations of the heart rate during the 6 hours I was at the hospital and assured me that even though I wasn’t feeling the baby move, the accelerations indicated movement and that everything seemed OK. They told me the main thing I had to worry about was my blood pressure, which continued to be elevated as I sat there in panic staring at the machines.
After 6 hours, they discharged me and told me to take my blood pressure at home every day, and that they’d see me in a week for my 36 week appointment unless my blood pressure spiked before then. I left feeling somewhat relieved but still uneasy, though I trusted the doctors and tried to silence my maternal instinct that something was not right since they had told me everything was fine.
That night I went home and since it’d been such a long day, tried to go to sleep pretty soon thereafter. I dozed off on the couch and then moved into bed, where I tried to see if I could feel the baby move again with all the tricks I knew. I barely slept all night between moving from side to side and pressing hard on my belly. I’d taken 4 boxes of juice from the hospital and ended up drinking all 4 that night in an attempt to get the baby to move, but still had no luck.
The next morning around 8am, I came out of my bedroom and my husband asked how I was feeling and I told him, “Not good. I barely slept a wink and still am not feeling the baby move.” “Let’s go” was his response, and thank God for that because I had been spending much of the night trying to talk myself out of my concern since I’d just been released from the hospital hours before. He made me some eggs and toast and we left to go back to the hospital, where the same midwife was working as the night before.
I was again taken into triage and put on the monitors, and then was sent downstairs for a follow up ultrasound. As we sat there watching the baby completely still on the monitor, the panic built up in me again and I just knew something was wrong. I kept asking the technician if she was seeing what she was supposed to, and she said she was looking but couldn’t tell me much. That morning, the ultrasound resulted in a score of 0 and so they admitted me to the hospital for monitoring and took me up to labor and delivery.
Still, the doctors and nurses reassured me that everything was fine because the monitoring showed accelerations in the baby’s heartbeat. I had no idea what was to come, and even walked around the room noting random things like that there wasn’t any shampoo so we needed to make sure to bring some, asking the nurses where the squat bar was that attached to the end of the bed, and asking how I could get my hands on a peanut ball when I was to come back in a month to have my baby.
I asked the nurse what the plan was as far as me staying at the hospital and kept getting unclear answers as to what we were hoping to see, though was assured everything was looking good and I’d probably be released soon. They told me I may have to stay overnight so they could repeat the ultrasound again the next morning to make sure it had better results, but that they may try to do something else to get me out sooner.
Once night shift started and the nurses passed their patients along, our night nurse came in to check on me. When she came into my room and said she’d heard that I was asking about what the plan was and when I’d be going home, she told me to prepare to stay there for at least a few days. I was so confused. No one had indicated that anything was wrong until that moment, despite my persistent asking for status updates and to be in the know with any developments, and she mentioned the day nurse had noted several heart decelerations, which she had failed to tell me about.
I asked what that meant, and she said there’s no telling yet, but that she would not feel comfortable discharing me at this point or anytime soon. I asked her how concerning the decelerations were and she said they were only slight and that I’d know when it was cause for concern.
Moments later, five nurses came rushing into the room and my nurse told me she’d need me to flip onto all fours, as the other nurses placed an oxygen mask over my face and still another nurse tried to get an IV into my arm. So this is what she was talking about in terms of knowing when it was cause for concern. Within a few minutes, the baby’s heart rate had returned into a normal range and I was again allowed to turn onto my back, but each time I laid down completely, the heart rate would subtly decelerate again, so I had to spend most of the time on my side.
I asked her for the truth about what was going on, and she said “Do I think we need to get the baby out now? No. But do I feel comfortable discharing you anytime soon? No. We just have to wait and see.” At this point, I’d been at the hospital for close to 14 hours and still had no idea what was to come. The baby’s heartbeat was staying in the normal range during most of the decelerations (~120), except for that scary one, but my baby’s baseline was in the 150s, so those 120s were decelerations all the same. Another hour passed with no noteable decelerations when the OB who was on call came into my room to talk to me around 10pm.
“At some point,” he said, “we have to stop explaining away these decelerations and decide that it’s safer to have the baby out than to keep the baby in.”
“OK, that makes sense,” I replied. “At what point do we make that call?”
“I’m ready to make it right now.”
“Wait. Like now, now? What do you mean?”
“I think we should do a C-section right away.”
I was in complete shock. My dreams of an unmedicated vaginal birth were slipping away right before my eyes and this surgical birth was the complete opposite of everything I envisioned. I was so scared, but knew that the only thing that mattered was getting the baby here safely, so I asked for a few minutes to talk to my husband before calling the doctor back in to tell him we were ready to move forward with an emergency C-section.