Pregnancy: Intuition Does a Body (and your Baby) Good!
By: Lisa Donovan
There is a lot about pregnancy that is undeniably uncomfortable and irritating. The normal last trimester sleepless nights and the first trimester nausea — they are things that you just have to overcome. Most ladies I know (myself included) don't like to be a nuisance to their doctors by asking about every little detail and chalk a lot of their experiences with pregnancy and childbirth up as "the way things are". For the most part, it is the truth. But, what happens when there is something that you just can't live with — something that you feel is an indicator of complications — even though all your test results and ultrasounds are being noted as "normal"? And, what happens when our doctors look at us with a terrible chagrin of condescendence after we tell them we feel (both physically and emotionally) that something's not quite right and reply "Aw honey, you're just pregnant!". Well, if you're as foolish as I was, you believe the doctor over your own intuition and signals that your body is sending. Big mistake.
During the last trimester of my second pregnancy my physical state became unlivable. I was going night after night without sleeping — I think the record was an unbelievable six nights in a row. I itched everywhere and I had little to no appetite. My legs seemed as if they had a mind of their own — we dubbed them "runny legs" because I felt as if I constantly needed to stretch them or run them under hot water to relieve the tension. My husband cradled me on the couch on night six of the sleep deprivation marathon. He put on some Brian Eno (if a Brian Eno ambient album doesn't put you down, nothing will) and rubbed my legs for hours until I fell asleep. It was during this wonderful, sweet act of charity that he saw what I was going through. Apparently, my legs were constantly twitching and flailing about even after I fell asleep. The nerves and muscles were in a complete state of turmoil — he couldn't believe that I had been living this way for weeks. The next morning he insisted that I go again to our doctor to, at the very least, get advice about how to find some relief from the horror that my last trimester was turning out to be. So I did. I looked her straight in the eye and said "Seriously, I feel like shit. Something is wrong. Something is wrong with my baby.". I said those exact words. She seemed a little concerned with the longevity of the symptoms and decided to take a blood test — but still gave me the line that I have come to resent with all my being: "Honey, you're just pregnant". The test came back fine — everything looked normal. I still felt ill at ease but thought that a blood test couldn't be wrong. Again, big mistake.
The symptoms continued and, believe it or not, got worse — but I made it through to her birth. She was born on a beautiful Friday and the labor was, well, it was labor — we'll leave it at that. We brought our daughter home and family visited and pictures were taken. Within a few days my husband and I started noticing that her breathing was way too fast and that she seemed really lethargic, even for a newborn. On day nine of having her home she stopped eating and eventually, after a frightening night of watching her sleep and trying to nurse her, she stopped breathing. Obviously, at this point, we were rushing to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital by ambulance and fire engine escorts. After they stabilized her, it took them three hours to figure out what was wrong with her. Now, it has to be said at this point that the best physicians and children's specialists work at Vanderbilt. The fact that it took them three hours to figure out what was wrong with her is simple: she should not have been born alive. It is a miracle that she survived nine days with the condition that she had. She had what is called CAM lesions. Babies with this illness are diagnosed while still in the womb (indicated by ultra sounds and, whadda ya know, mother's symptoms in the last trimester) and operated on in utero. Her right lung was covered in cysts that were increasing in size with each breath she took. Eventually, the cysts became so big that they pushed all of her organs over to the left side of her body and collapsed her left lung — hence the fast breathing (working too hard to get oxygen) and the eventual cessation of breathing. Every doctor I spoke with at Vanderbilt, as well as all of the research that I have since gathered on my own, states very clearly that this is treated in utero because it is not a malady that a child rarely survives being born with. And also because the symptoms have been proven drastically unhealthy for the mothers as well. Some mothers mirror the illness of their child and some mothers become allergic to their fetus (a form of toxemia). For some reason, my doctor and ultrasounds and blood tests didn't catch it.
My daughter had to have a good portion of her right lung taken out because the cysts had spread so fervently that in order to get her back to working order they had to sort of clean house. We spent a week in Neonatal ICU with IVs coming out of every little vein that they could find. We were lucky to be right next door to one of the finest children's hospitals in the world — we received the best care imaginable. But, I won't ever shake the feeling that it was all preventable. We definitely had the best possible outcome under the circumstances — our daughter is now a strong and hilarious 19-month-old. But I knew. I knew my body well enough to know that I wasn't just a complaining mother-to-be who couldn't handle a little discomfort. Since hindsight is always 20/20, I figure I will offer up my now clearer vision of what to do when you feel like things are a little (or a lot) off target with your pregnancy. Talk to your doctor honestly. If you feel like you are getting the shaft and not being taken seriously, get a second opinion! Do not feel loyal to your doctor even if this is the fifth child you have had with them. Your loyalty lies with yours and your baby's health. I made the mistake of thinking that because my doctor has had so much more experience at this than me, that she would know better. I thought "She does this for a living — she would know!" And then I thought "She is so nice and she has cared so much for me throughout this entire pregnancy — she wouldn't steer me wrong". Wrong wrong wrong. I know my doctor was not out to harm us intentionally, but she is human. Humans make mistakes and doctors get comfortable (albeit, lazy) with the day to day grind of the same ol' things and your issues can be overlooked some times. Nobody knows your body better than you, plain and simple. If pregnancy doesn't teach you anything else, allow it to teach you about the wonderful powers of our bodies — it will send signals and, not only should you listen, but you should be an advocate for it and for the baby that it is growing.