Saturday, February 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Little One

My second daughter turned two years old today. It's hard to believe that just two years ago, I was completely immersed in the drama of bringing her into the world.

My pregnancy with Thing 2 was a pretty rocky ride. To begin with, I hadn't affiliated with a lab yet when she was conceived. I was pretty sure that the PI of the lab I wanted to join would have me, and likewise pretty sure that he would not have an issue with this, but it was still pretty nerve-racking to have to say, "I'd really like to join your lab," followed immediately by "I think you should know that I'm pregnant." I was so relieved when his responses were, "I'd love to have you join the lab" and "Wow, that's great!" Though some of my colleagues like to rib me, saying that I will not be able to graduate if I don't move past this stage, I genuinely like and respect my PI, and the adoration-meter jumped to eleven in that moment.

All was going pretty well for the first few months, except that I was completely exhausted all the time, and it seemed like my belly was growing large way too fast. My doctor dismissed my concerns by pointing out that it was my second pregnancy (a stretched uterus pops out more quickly) and I was working really hard. And I was. I was in the lab full-time, running experiments that took a minimum of six hours from start to finish, and I was taking care of Thing 1 by myself all week. We were living in New City (to which we moved so that I could go to my top choice graduate school) while my husband was still working in Old City and just with us on the weekends. We thought he would get a job in New City any moment. It ended up taking almost four years. But that is another story.

But I had worked nearly as hard during my first pregnancy, and nobody who didn't know me really well would have realized that I was pregnant just by looking at me until I was five months along. This time, I was falling asleep at my desk and I could just barely keep it secret for three months. Then I went and had an ultrasound. They made me wait a really long time after the scan was done, and then came out and said the doctor who read the scan wanted to see me. She told me that the baby was fine (whew!) but that I had two very large fibroid tumors. One was nearly 10 centimeters in diameter. Just as a point of reference, a fully dilated cervix has an opening 10 centimeters in diameter, so that's roughly the size of a full-term baby's head. She then went on to tell me that though fibroid tumors are not malignant, there was a risk that a tumor that large could outgrow its blood supply and infarct, the same process that occurs when a part of the heart muscle dies in a heart attack. She advised me to talk to my obstetrician about this.

Of course, I did at my next appointment. But she seemed to think that it the likelihood of that happening was extremely small. About a month later, I went to a departmental retreat. My belly was huge - people though I was going to have the baby right then. I was exhausted, and I could hardly stand up for more than five minutes. But I thought it was just muscle pain from my stretching uterus. About a week after I got back, the pain started to get worse. I called my doctor and described what I was feeling. She thought it was heartburn. I walked to the drugstore to get some antacid. I noticed that every time my right heel hit the pavement, a sharp wave of pain ran through my torso. That did not seem like heartburn. I called a bunch of people, including the nurse on call for my insurance company who advised me to insist that my doctor see me immediately. By the end of the day, I was hospitalized and on a morphine pump. I have never felt pain like that before, and hope never to feel it again. The diagnosis: infarction of an extremely large fibroid tumor.

I fired my obstetrician (who was a family practitioner - really my case was out of her depth) and surveyed my options. I called my PI when I finally went home, and laid it all out for him - I could work, but it was risky for me to exert myself because I could have another episode. The adoration-meter leapt to twelve when he told me that he would rather have me take care of myself and the baby and do what work I could at home where I could rest. All he requested was that I try to make it in once a week for group meetings.

So that's what I did. It's a good thing, too, because the pain never really went away, it just changed from acute to chronic and nagging, and the exhaustion only got worse. The actual birth was a grueling, exceptionally complicated caesarean that had nurses running for equipment that hadn't been used in twenty years, and my doctor asking for a camera because she had "never seen anything like this before". And it was all worth it when I saw her. She was perfect - you would never guess that her womb had been touched by such turmoil.

1 comment:

Perceval said...

i had two c/s b/c of fibroids - no complications, but i feel your pain!