It's Monday morning. For once, you remembered to set your alarm last night. This means that despite tapping the snooze button three times on your phone, you actually managed to get up on time. You also managed to wake up your spouse in the process, but never mind that. You're up. This is good.
You roll out of bed, eyes half-open only to discover that you are still pregnant and your whole body aches. This is normal. Despite the obstacle of your growing belly, you beat your spouse into the bathroom. Small victory. #fistpump
Bathing ritual now done, you set yourself to the task of tackling the beast that is your hair. You wrestle it into a ponytail ignoring the fact that your edges won't stay down because there are more important things to stress over on a Monday than puffy edges. You skip the hair gel, which is probably what got you in this mess in the first place, and keep on moving.
You're feeling pretty good. So good in fact that you put on your favorite playlist while you lotion down and get emotional listening to old hymns that remind you of your childhood days in church and almost make you cry, mostly because you're hormonal, but also because the old stuff is so good. SO so good.
You head to your dresser to pick out the day's outfit - inevitably something huge, loose and unflattering but redemptively comfortable - when for the first time this morning, something is not right. You can't breathe. No, you can breathe but you can't get enough air. Are your lungs closing? Your chest starts to feel like someone is gently squeezing your heart in the palm of their hand. It hurts. Wait, does it hurt? No, it just feels like pressure - pressure you've never felt before - and it's more than slightly terrifying. Your mind immediately jumps to the worst case scenario and you conclude with certainty that you are having a heart attack. For just a moment, you consider the possibility that you could die pregnant, in which case you are going to be buried in maternity clothes, which would be the biggest tragedy of all.
In approximately one minute (late as usual), reason will kick in and you will decide the wise thing to do is chill out. So you sit down in the chair nearest the window with your hands on your knees and take deep, calculated breaths. Five minutes go by, then 10. You still feel it, and this is when you start genuinely freaking out.
It's only 7a which means your OB's office is closed and you hate calling the after-hours answering line because it is a royal pain having to wait for the doctor's callback. So even though you could possibly be dying at this very second, you do the most practical thing that comes to mind: you phone a friend, one with medical expertise. This friend happens to be your sister-in-law, who happens to tell you that you need to call 911 right now. Of course, this sounds outrageous so you call your mom for a second opinion who agrees with your sister-in-law. At this point you become indignant, because 911 is for emergencies and you aren't necessarily experiencing an emergency. I mean, your chest hurts and you can't breathe all that great but you're not like, bleeding or anything. In fact, you are actually starting to feel a little better.
You pocket the advice and decide this whole episode is an outlier, a very bad case of the Mondays. When you're pregnant, weird things happen all the time that can be explained by no other reason than that you're pregnant. This is nothing, you tell yourself. You say a heartfelt prayer that in short, amounts to, "Jesus, fix it." You try to relax, until out of the blue you remember your son's lunch isn't packed. You also have no idea what he's wearing today because you are a chronic procrastinator and you did absolutely 0 preparation for the day last night. To make matters worse, your husband just has somehow caught up with you (think Clark Kent in a telephone booth) and is now both showered and dressed. If you waste any more time, you'll be late carpooling him to the train for work. It's decided before it was ever up for debate: your chest and your lungs and this whole Monday morning drama will have to get in line and wait like every.one.else.
You stand up and resume the task of picking your clothes. You know anything that actually fits will make you feel absolutely huge, but there's no time for self pity. You grab something clean, then head to the iron so at least you don't look like frumpy mom at daycare dropoff. Standing there waiting for the iron to warm up, looking aimlessly out the window into your neighbor's yard, you feel it ... again ... the chest pressure, the shortness of breath ... and it scares you because now you know that this is really happening.This is like, a thing, and it's not going away until it's dealt with.
Now comes the hard part. What to choose? Call 911? Drive to the hospital in rush hour traffic? Or just pray and hope for the best? You're 33 weeks pregnant and counting. A little life is counting on you right now to make the right choice. So which will it be?
* * *
I walk gingerly down the hall, to the bedroom where my husband is picking a tie from the closet, and hear my own voice say, almost in disbelief:
"Babe, I think I need to call 911."
He is looking at me with that concerned look I know well. I know exactly what he is thinking.
We have been through this routine many times before with our first kid. Braxton Hicks in the middle of the night sent us to the hospital during my first pregnancy while we were on vacation, followed by dehydration a few months later followed by spotting which was the most terrifying of all but thankfully, turned out to be nothing. When I asked my loving husband early on in my pregnancy what he was most excited about this time around, he answered, "knowing what to expect," which is man code for "please, no more premature hospital visits, honey."
Except I could have never expected this. I explain my symptoms and tell him its probably just nothing, which he already knows, but I feel like I should probably get checked just to be sure. And for some reason, I feel the slightest bit silly.
"Do you want me just to take you to the hospital?" he asks. At this moment our toddler comes into the room holding his teddy bear under his arm and wearing an ear-to-ear grin, ready for morning snuggles and kisses. I oblige putting on my best happy face for him while the hubs and I discuss options.
"No, I don't want to wait. Plus it will take time to get to the hospital and it's rush hour."
He nods. 911 it is. I grab my cell phone to make the call. Pressing the numbers feels strange. How many times in my life have I called 911?! For some reason I am extremely conscious of the fact that this call will be recorded and could end up on the news if I really do die.
"What's your emergency?" the dispatcher asks urgently.
"I'm 33 weeks pregnant and I'm having chest pressure and shortness of breath," I say, trying to sound both pleasant and calm.
The dispatcher asks for my phone number and house address before instructing me to unlock my door and lay down in a comfortable place. He also says I shouldn't eat or drink anything until the paramedics arrive. I hear Musa getting Lincoln dressed in the other room and explaining what's about to happen. He pauses in our bedroom doorway at the sight of me lying in bed.
"You ok?" he asks, concerned.
"Yeah, they're on their way."
This is all so weird. Apparently, Lincoln thinks so too. He manages to dart past Musa, run into our room and come to my bedside, staring up at me curiously.
"You sick, mommy?" he asks sweetly.
"Mommy doesn't feel well," I tell him, staring at his adorable pie face sideways from our bed.
"The doctor coming," he says, with urgency. "He going to make you feeeeeeeeeeeeeel better."
* * *
It all happens in a blink. First the doorbell rings, which your husband answers. The next thing you know, your bedroom is occupied by eight men wearing volunteer firefighter t-shirts and carrying medical equipment. There is standing room only. The walls start to close in on you.
They surround the bed where you are laying on your side, asking rapid-fire questions to which you do your best to answer: Where is the switch to this light? Do you have diabetes? What number pregnancy is this for you? Have you had any complications with this pregnancy? Is this your first pregnancy? What's your blood type? Any bleeding? Have you eaten?
You do your best to respond while a paramedic takes your pulse and blood pressure and instructs you to breathe deeply. Your husband stands in the doorway, supervising it all and looking very, very concerned.
It's over in ten minutes flat. They conclude your vitals are stable and ask if you want to go to the hospital.
"No, I think I'm going to just take it easy and get some rest." The last thing you want is to spend the day in an uncomfortable hospital bed. The baby starts moving, most likely excited by all of the noise. They suggest you follow-up with your doctor later today. You nod, feeling like an idiot. You knew it was nothing, but then again wasn't it something?!
As the paramedics prepare to leave, you hear them stop to admire the boat bed in your son's room, which you're sure he is showing off at this exact moment. Your mother calls to say she's a few minutes away. Your husband finishes tying his tie and prepares to catch an Uber to the train. You lay there silently in bed, mentally adding this to your list of pregnancy scares - thankful but also slightly annoyed.
One paramedic, a short, stumpy guy with glasses comes back into the room after the others have left.
"M'aam? Are you sure you don't want to go to the hospital?" His voice oozes with genuine concern. He looks at you over his thick frames and you can't help but wonder whether it's just a slow day and he needs some action. "Your vitals look good, but there could be something else we're not seeing."
Your husband stands in the background, watching, protecting, waiting to hear what you decide. So what's it going to be, mama?
* * *
"Mother's Intuition" is by definition instinctive, but I'm of the belief that it's learned. For nine months before your kid ever sees the light of day, you are their only voice. No one else can speak on their behalf. Sure, your OB spent a million years in school studying textbooks and can deliver a baby with eyes closed, but your OB will never know this baby like you do. You know what's best for your baby because ultimately, it's what best for you.
In these moments - the terrible, terrible moments when random things happen that you can't explain and you're scared to death - you're actually learning the ancient traditions and secrets "Mother's Intuition" has come to teach. In time, you'll be able to discern when something is really wrong and it's appropriate to freak all the way out. It sucks, the way we have to learn, but this is the way of all mothers.
* * *
I decided to go to the doctor.
"I think it's a blood circulation issue," she says finally, peering down over her glasses, after listening carefully to my symptoms. "When you sit down, blood rushes to your lower extremities, and when you stand, it circulates to the top of your body again. The problem is that you've got a big belly in the way so it makes it difficult for this process to happen as quickly as it normally would. And of course this is all exacerbated by dehydration."
At this point, my mom shoots me an accusing look. I haven't really been drinking water or taking my prenatal vitamins with any degree of regularity. In fact, coffee is my beverage of choice these days. (Survival. By any means necessary.)
"There's really not much you can do about it, unfortunately," the doc continues. "But you're getting to the end here so you should be taking it easy, staying off your feet if you can, maybe even get a shower chair," she recommends. I hold my breath, because if she says I have to be on bed rest I am going to lose it. She doesn't. Thank You, God.
I spend the rest of the day in bed with my gracious mother monitoring my water intake and cleaning my house from top to bottom (seriously, I have the best mom.) At various points throughout the day, she casually tries her best to convince me I am doing too much, taking on too much, and worrying too much. She's probably right. This pregnancy has slowed me down very little until now, but everything is about to change.
I will spend the next three days in bed until at least one o'clock in the afternoon. I can't tell if it's my body needing the rest or the lack of coffee, which my mother coerced (read: forced) me to give up, but either way the chest pressure and shortness of breath haven't returned. Thankfully.
The hospital scares come with the territory, and I realize that I am extremely fortunate. So far my scares haven't been anything more than mere inconveniences, but I know far too many women who experienced strange pregnancy symptoms that turned out to be an incompetent cervix, or a brain tumor, or preeclampsia, or worst of all, a miscarriage, or multiple miscarriages. In these scary moments, split-second decisions can make the difference. We hope it never comes to that. We pray we won't have to live with regret. We fight to remain calm and struggle to remember who is ultimately in control.
Then we open our hands, surrender our anxiety and summon the courage to stare fear in the face. Oddly enough, it's our own reflection staring back at us.