Pregnancy: 21 weeks + 3 days update
At 21 weeks + 3 days pregnant with my little boy inside my unicornuate uterus and incompetent cervix, I’m feeling a range of emotions. I also talk about how I’ve been feeling since my cerclage three weeks ago.
“How are you?”
When we ask the question, “How are you?” we rarely allow enough time and space for the full answer. I’m guilty of it. And really, it’s not an intentional disregard of a person’s true response. So much of the shallowness of this question-answer dance is rooted in our culture. (“It’s our culture’s fault!” has been one of my favorite things to shout recently, specifically aimed at diet culture and people’s (mis)perceptions of infertility.)
In the United States, “How are you?” has become a social greeting synonymous, and often tagged onto “Hi” or “Hello.” When we pass someone in the hall at work, we say, “Hi, how’s it going?” or, “Hey, how are you?” all in one breath and without the expectation that our question will be really answered.
I recently heard from a friend that in England, people rarely say, “How are you?” during brief social encounters. Instead, they leave off the empty question and stick with a simple “Hey/hello/hi.” Period. (International readers: what’s your perspective on this? Do you say, “How are you?” in your cultures the same way we experience in in the US? I’d love to know! Leave a comment or send me a message - link below to my email address.)
Also, it can be hard to authentically answer, “How are you?” because we are complex humans with multiple, and often opposing, feelings and reactions swirling around our brains and bodies at any given time. Sometimes it’s easier to gloss over the response than to share (or even be aware) of your true internal state. If you were to ask me, “How are you…like really how are you?” it would take some time and dissecting to share it all. I’m sure the same goes for you.
Let me try to answer the question for myself…How am I, really?
I feel great!
On one hand, I feel great! It’s Sunday evening after a relaxing, low-key weekend. My belly is full with hearty vegetable soup. (No, I did not make it. Thank you, Amy’s Soup! More to come on why I’m not cooking much later on in the post.) I’m comfortable in stretchy sweatpants. Soft acoustic music plays in the background. I feel safe and secure as my supportive (and super handsome, hubba hubba) husband works on a paper for grad school in the basement. Here and now, in this moment, all is well. I feel that, really.
I feel anxious!
And on the other hand, I’m anxious. At 21 weeks + 3 days pregnant, I feel like a ticking time bomb. Despite counseling, mindfulness practice, blogging, reflecting on things I’m grateful for, and analyzing the data, I live in a constant state of anxiety that my baby will deliver any day now, way premature (28 weeks or less). Even though I know my anxiety is rooted in future “what-ifs,” I still can’t shake the gray from the anxiety-cloud that looms over my head, 24/7.
To try to get ahead of those what-ifs, I read research and look the numbers. Based on the data I collected via a poll from a Unicornuate Uterus (UU) Facebook support group nearly a year ago, I know that the average UU rock star makes it to 36 weeks + 5 days. But I also was recently diagnosed with an incompetent cervix, and as you know, had a cerclage placed 3 weeks ago. I polled the same group of UU ladies who also had cerclages, and on average, they made it to 35 weeks (with some delivering as early as 28 weeks and as late at 39 weeks).
Most of my decisions are made from an anxious place right now. When deciding how to spend our day today, I had to choose between going to get groceries OR going to check out rocking chairs. I knew my cervix couldn’t handle two outings in the same day. (I chose rocking chair shopping.) Next weekend, I’m getting together with some Embrace Your Unicorn friends for an afternoon potluck. I’m nervous that my cervix will feel sore the following day after spending an afternoon out-and-about. When I walk into work from the parking garage, I stress over how heavy my bag is, knowing I shouldn’t be lifting/carrying much weight right now.
I see the world through anxiety-colored glasses, and I don’t know how to change it. Thankfully, I don’t feel alone. I vented about my anxieties to my UU Facebook group today, and many of the women echoed my concerns. Sometimes the edge can be taken off by just feeling validated and not alone.
I feel grateful!
So often I think about how lucky I am to even be pregnant at all. One year ago, I didn’t think I would ever get to be pregnant. The top doctor at one of the nation’s top infertility clinics told me I should consider a gestational carrier. (Read more about that here: “The unicorn rides an emotional roller coaster.”) I said goodbye to the hope of ever feeling the movements of my growing baby inside my body. All throughout the IVF process, I doubted my body. And now, I sit here with a nearly 11 inch baby growing inside of me. He’s the length of a piece of paper now, you guys. That’s legit. I get to be pregnant, and so many women struggling with infertility would give anything to be in my situation: 21 weeks pregnant and anxious about premature delivery.
I feel fragile!
Half a uterus and shrinking cervix and cerclage, oh my!
My feelings of fragility were reinforced by my maternal fetal medicine (MFM) doc at my post-op cervix check nearly two weeks ago. She said that my cervix was still quite swollen, so it was hard to get a good look at it on ultrasound. She also recommended NO exercising, NO walking (no more than one block), and NO sex. There went my 2-3 mile walks 5x/week. The walks that brought me feelings of sanity, centeredness, and some semblance of control over my health.
For the past 3.5 weeks, since right before my cerclage, I have been static, supine, and collecting dust. As soon as I get home from work, I head straight to the couch and there I stay until bedtime. Some nights I cook. Most nights I don’t. It’s a really bizarre way of living. Makes me realize how fortunate I’ve been my entire life to be healthy and active and restriction-less, for the most part.
So what happens if I fail to adhere to my strict work-couch-bed routine? My cervix starts to hurt. My cervix, the tissue that creates a passage in the lower part of my uterus, starts to hurt! Talk about a very specific pain location and a weird sensation. And what does a painful cervix even feel like, you might ask? For the three men reading this right now, I apologize in advance - you will not be able to relate to this at all. And for the women out there who don’t enjoy explicit descriptions of my internal pain, skip ahead.
The first few days after my cerclage, my cervix pain felt like this: have you ever pulled out a tampon too early when it was still pretty dry? You know that internal irritation you feel for the moments after you pull it out? That achy, “What-the-heck-just-went-on-in-there?” feeling. That’s what my cervix felt like constantly for a few days after the surgery.
Now I get a different kind of cervix pain now when I overdo it. And by “overdo it,” I mean when I don’t go straight to the couch after work or when I go for more than a one hour outing on the weekend. For example, I was pretty active over Father’s Day weekend. I walked around Estes Park, Colorado, a cute little mountain town. I went to church and out to brunch. I sat and visited casually and calmly. (Wow, Kristen. You’re a daredevil!) Two days later, I noticed that any time I sat down, I felt a pain deep inside my vagina. The pressure from sitting irritated my cervix, causing it to hurt. I called the doctor to ask for recommendations, and she told me to just take it extra easy the next few days. The pain subsided after a week of back-to-back evenings on the couch. (Thank goodness for Handmaid’s Tale, Jane the Virgin, Big Little Lies, and Ralph Breaks the Internet!)
Then, last Friday, after a busy week of work, my cervix started to hurt again. Every time I sat down, I felt that deep, sharp pain and sensitivity. I found myself gingerly sitting down at my desk at work. Careful to not mindlessly plop. I actually had to leave work early and ended up finishing my end-of-week to-dos while lying down on my couch. Ever since Friday afternoon, I’ve been extra restful.
I’m great, and I’m anxious.
I’m rested and relaxed, and I feel fragile and frustrated that I can’t do anything active.
That’s how I am tonight. And now it’s your turn.
How are you?
Really…how are you? I’d love to hear how you’re doing…the complexities and the contradictions…the happy and the crappy. Will you share with me your authentic response in a comment or in an email response (see link to contact me below)? And since I know it requires vulnerability to answer that question honestly and to share your true self, find someone you feel safe with and share with them if you would rather not share with me. What a nice way to check in with yo-self and to be real with a person you trust!
* * *