National Women’s Health Week–My Pregnancy Story
It’s National Women’s Health week, a time to think about women’s health issues like pregnancy and access to better health care for women. My first pregnancy story is one of gratitude for my access to good healthcare but a reminder that we need to keep fighting for good healthcare for all women.
We first found out we were pregnant with our first child in the late fall of 2007. We were overjoyed with the news and it was so hard to contain the secret. We shared the news with our family and kept everything quiet. My pregnancy was uneventful through the first couple of months other than the onset of morning sickness in January. This had me feel dizzy from morning until night and very averse to eating or even looking at many foods for fear of getting sick. My energy was good though and being a runner before getting pregnant I was in great shape. I planned to run through my pregnancy as long as my body would allow me and as long as I had the okay from my doctor. As the first months continued I had my first appointment and my doctor decided to send me in for an early ultrasound at 10 weeks to check the due date. This seemed slightly odd to me as we knew when we had gotten pregnant. Not questioning it though we set up the appointment. The only other thing that my husband and I both noticed at this point was that I already seemed more pregnant than most women at 8 weeks in their first pregnancy. I am thin and I was already beginning to show quite a bit. We shrugged this off though as I had never had any health issues or concerns when it came to my own health.
Fast forward two weeks. We were giddy with nervous anticipation as today we would get to see our baby on the ultrasound. We were new parents and this was an exciting time. The ultrasound tech came in and we began the exam. She went through and described what she was seeing as she went.
And then there she was. Our little buggy on the screen and the sound of the heartbeat.
Incredible. Breathtaking. A little life.
The tech printed out our ultrasound pictures and then said, “Before you go I just need to take a look at your ovaries to make sure that everything is healthy.”
Then silence. No words. a few seconds seemed like forever.
“I need to go get the radiologist to take a closer look. I am having a hard time seeing your ovaries.”
I could feel a sink in my stomach like a stone. Something was not right.
The tech left us in the waiting room and minutes clicked by on the clock. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. My husband squeezed my hand. “I’m sure everything is ok.” he murmured.
The tech and radiologist returned and the radiologist upon further looking said. “We are seeing some type of large mass or cysts on your ovaries. We are not sure what kind. We are going to send you upstairs to follow-up with your doctor.”
I was a mess (and that is an understatement). Joy rapidly turned to fear. Ovarian cysts? I had never had any symptoms.
My doctor (who I now consider to be my guardian angel), who it was my first time meeting, told us more about what they had discovered, large ovarian cysts of some kind. He did not sugarcoat it but was gentle and kind with his words and spoke to us like we were his family members.
The following Monday they sent me to see a Cancer specialist. They were worried that this mass or these cysts could be cancerous. The C-word is not a word that anyone ever wants to hear and in the context of being newly pregnant with my first child it was terrifying. This new Doctor too was kind and reassuring and told me that most likely it was not cancer but because I was early in my pregnancy rather than to risk taking time to run more tests that they felt they should do surgery to remove the mass or cysts as soon as possible to ensure that there would be room for my baby to grow. As we spoke tears flooded my face and I felt detached from the world around me.
“Was this real? Was this really happening to me?”
The doctors told me the surgery was necessary in order to take care of my health and the health of my baby. The surgery would be scheduled soon before my pregnancy was too far along in order to be as non-invasive as possible. Surgery would become more difficult as the baby grew so the time was now. I would be set up with a surgery date as soon as they could.
I signed the necessary paperwork, forms that are necessary to give the hospital and doctors the permission to do surgery. Signing them felt like I was signing away my life and my future but I needed to put my trust in my doctors. I have never been more stressed or on a wilder emotional roller coaster than when I was waiting for the hospital to call. The surgery could be done but there were risks to the baby (possible pregnancy loss) and risks to my health including the possible need to remove my reproductive organs depending on what they discovered.
A week or so later a call came. “We will be setting you up for surgery in two days. Someone from the hospital will be calling you with instructions for pre-surgery prep and surgery day.”
It was real. I would have to go through this experience. There was no saying no. Up to that point no one at work even new I was pregnant although I am sure there were suspicions as I had had to be out for several appointments. Now I was going to tell them I was pregnant and also to tell my co-first grade teacher that I would be out for at least 6 weeks due to surgery.
On a snowy February New Hampshire morning my family including my mom and my dad drove me to Dartmouth Hitchcock early in the morning. The sun was glaring off the snow. Time seemed to be in slow motion. My emotions felt raw. I was just going through the motions. We checked in. Hospital bracelets affixed. Blood drawn. Goodbye hugs and kisses for my mom and dad. My husband and I went into pre-surgery. It was cold as I put my gown on and waited to be taken back. The fire alarm went off. “Oh, please no. Don’t postpone this day.” Thankfully the day moved forward. I didn’t want to let go of my husbands hand. Tears streaming as they wheeled me back. “It will be ok, he promised.” And then I was in the operating room.
Time was stopped.
It was go time. I saw my Doctor and his kind smile allowed me to trust.
I woke up in recovery. So groggy. So sick from anesthesia. So disoriented from the morphine drip. Not what I had imagine for my first pregnancy. Where am I? Where is my family? What happened? Is my baby ok? I just wanted this to be over. Finally they wheeled me off to my room to recover for the next few days. The hospital being so full the only room for me was in the cancer ward. My mom said thankfully I was not aware as the setting was grin and they all needed me to be positive to recover well.
Finally hours later a nurse came in to see if she could locate the fetal heart rate.
No sweeter sound than the beating of her heart. She had hung in there and was still with me. My little fighter. My sweet baby girl.
My doctor and the nurses assisting him had performed a successful surgery. What they had discovered was unusual and the topic of OR discussion. I had four large ovarian cysts (dermoid cysts) . The surgery was not able to be done laparoscopically. I had a laparotomy which is essentially like a c-section so that they could remove the cysts while keeping my baby safe. My doctor had gentle worked around the tiny baby growing in my uterus to save my ovaries and to keep her safe. To this day I am still amazed and so thankful for my doctor and his team for what they did for me.
A Happy Ending.
If you believe in miracles (and modern science and good healthcare) this truly was.
The recovery was hard and my pregnancy experience was very different than I had but I am forever grateful for my sweet little girl. My daughter was born 2 and a half weeks early that July by c-section due to breech position and other pregnancy complications but she was beautiful and she was ours and healthy. I feel so fortunate to this day for modern medicine and for the access to incredible healthcare to help me through this process.
We need to continue to ensure that women in our country can have great access to healthcare. There are so many unexpected issues that can arise for women’s health and no woman should be denied the rights to good healthcare. I was lucky. My care was incredible and I remember that everyday when I look at my two thriving kids. Without access to quality healthcare this story may have ended differently for my family.
To find out more about National Women’s Health Week head on over to Women’sHealth.gov
“National Women’s Health Week is an observance led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. The goal is to empower women to make their health a priority. The week also serves as a time to encourage women to take steps to improve their health. The 18th annual National Women’s Health Week kicks off on Mother’s Day, May 14, and is celebrated through May 20, 2017.”
Please share your experiences with women’s healthcare.