I was determined to have the A-plus pregnancy. You know what I mean: I was going to be the rock star — the shining example of doing it right. I gave up sushi, alcohol and hot tubs. I read the books (until my husband threatened to burn my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting if I didn’t release it voluntarily). I bought organic, BPA-free and non-VOC everything. And I listened to my many doctors, all seven of them, like their advice was being given via tablets on Mount Sinai. So where was the problem?
The problem really unfolded in two parts. The first part was that I listened to exactly what my doctors said, unquestioningly and without compromise. The second part was that I had so many doctors, no one was listening to me in return.
Doctor F (I no longer remember any of them except the one who finally delivered my son) told me that it was extremely important to stay hydrated. I was due in August, it was crazy-hot and I had to drink as much water as possible.
As a super-achiever, I was going to be the champion hydrator of all time. I came as close to drinking all the water as was possible. My husband recounts the story of the night that he woke up to discover that I wasn’t in bed. When he got up to find me, I was in the kitchen, guzzling water straight from a gallon jug.
In short, I overhydrated. I drank until I could no longer quench my thirst and then I drank more. If this sounds unhealthy, that’s because it is.
Meanwhile, the overhydration may have led to another issue. The fun new word I learned from my OB was “polyhydramnios,” which is from the Greek for “holy moly, that’s a lot of amniotic fluid.” I was one of the lucky 1 percent of pregnant women to develop this condition, which can result in preterm labor or stillbirth. I was just swollen. Super-swollen. So puffed up, you could poke my legs and leave indentations like in bread dough.
I would come home from work and put my super-sized legs up to let them drain back to something approaching normalcy. I gained over 50 pounds — most of it water. But the excess fluid meant that the doctors couldn’t determine just how big my baby was. They were strongly in favor of a C-section.
As it happened, I was OK with having a C-section. But in the throes of a first pregnancy, hopped up on hormones and stunned with the realization that I was about to become a mother, it would have been easy for me to get swept into that decision even if I weren’t comfortable with it. I had no relationship with my doctor and this attempt at spreading the liability in the event something went wrong with my pregnancy ended up meaning that something did go wrong.
I’m now a two-time pregnancy veteran and I know from the night-and-day difference between my two experiences just how vital it is to be able to talk to your doctor, to say if something feels wrong or even if there’s just a new symptom that is causing concern. Doctors, especially obstetricians, know that they are the entrusted guardians of people at one of their most vulnerable stages: incipient parenthood. A good one should not only recognize but also anticipate that the patient is going to need to ask questions, raise concerns and sometimes just seek reassurance.
I found my second OB via referral from a colleague. “I love him!” she exclaimed. “I’m not having any more kids, but he almost makes me wish I were!” When I met him, I understood: warm, funny, competent, compassionate, he was truly a doctor who made you feel like it would all be OK.
Clearly, this wasn’t just my opinion either. When I was in the hospital, almost every nurse I encountered said that he was her doctor as well. You don’t get a higher endorsement than that. This doctor knew me. He asked about my work (was I spending too much time on my feet?), my family (was my older child letting me rest? Ha!), my well-being (was I feeling all right mentally and emotionally?).
He joked with me about my Type-A pregnancy issues (a glass of wine is fine, he said, relax already). He talked to me and he listened when I answered him. I didn’t have a repeat performance of the polyhydramnios, nor did I have any other complications. Some of that is luck of the draw, but some of it is having a supportive, communicative relationship with my doctor.
The upside to this is that, yes, I was more prepared for my second pregnancy. But even before that, I knew that having an unresponsive doctor (let alone multiple unresponsive doctors) wasn’t going to work. I knew what I needed, and maybe even more important, I knew what my family needed as well. When I realized that we were facing a similar position with our pediatrician, we made a fast break to another practice — one with two doctors, better hours and a personal recommendation from my brother-in-law and his family.
Trying to do the right thing put me in the wrong position. I learned that it’s far better to be a prepared woman than to blindly follow the rules.
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