I’ll never forget the moment I knew my “easy” pregnancy was about to get very complicated. I was 60 minutes deep into a yoga class, balancing in a headstand, when I felt a heaviness in my low belly. I already knew I was pregnant with twins. It was week 22 and I’d visited my OBGYN and high risk doctors at least 10 times for check ups. They’d given me a list of “signs” to watch out for: bleeding, cramping, nausea and vomiting, headaches, dizziness and of course, contractions. I knew to call if I felt any of that, no matter what.
But this heaviness? That wasn’t on the list. And yet, I knew there was something wrong.
I know what you are thinking. Why in the world was I in a headstand, right? Well the date was February 28, 2012, about eight years after I’d start practicing yoga five to six times a week. Standing on my head was almost as comfortable as being on my feet. My teachers told me I could, unless of course my doctors told me I couldn’t. My doctors told me I could, unless I felt I couldn’t. If you know me, you know I rarely say “I can’t.”
I didn’t freak out immediately for two reasons. First, I had an appointment at the high risk doctor scheduled for the next day. Second, I knew something was wrong. You know that feeling when you lose something and you know it’s really gone for good? You don’t scramble to find it because you instinctively know it can’t be found. That is how I felt. I was 100 percent sure that something outside of my control was slowly occurring, and I don’t just mean in my pelvis. Freaking out wasn’t going to change anything.
I went home and told my husband what I felt. He urged me to call my doctor for emergency monitoring or at the very least advice. I told him I could wait until my appointment the next morning. He offered to come with me, but I told him no, even though my gut said tomorrow’s appointment wouldn’t end with a handshake and a 30 minute drive to my office.
He also yelled at me for doing headstands. For once, I didn’t try to fight back with a perfunctory recitation of the benefits of inversions during pregnancy.
My February 29th “check up” turned into a brief hospital stay, 12 different tests and a three hour explanation of what “bed rest” meant. From then on, I was under strict orders to lay down. Period.
I went home in tears and kept crying for the next 48 hours. I felt lost, alone, frustrated, anxious and scared to death that I was going to lose these babies. I angrily grabbed my computer and earned a doctorate from Google med school, educating myself on every worst case scenario for premature babies and moms blessed with an oh-so compassionately named “incompetent cervix.” In a moment of high dramatics, I called my mother-in-law and apologized to her for malfunctioning. I imagined they wanted to return me the way you want to return a lemon to the car dealership.
I felt inconsolably sorry for myself. I selfishly pitied myself as a girl, stuck in bed, and as a mother-to-be or not-to-be who might face a lifetime of emotional, personal and familial struggles. There were no answers, only stories of those who laid before me. Those stories scared the shit out of me, but I kept reading them.
I won’t pretend that I became a regular Mother Theresa at the end of those first two days, but I did get significantly better. I ate peanut butter, drank decaffeinated tea and watched an incredible eight part series on the Kennedy family. I hugged my husband and humbly asked that he tell me everyday that he believed I could do this and that he wasn’t going anywhere. I curled up next to my mother and let her hold me like a sick child.
Just as I noticed a physical shift in my headstand, I experienced an emotional shift after so thoroughly exhausting myself. And I don’t just mean with my wailing and wallowing. I had spent years exhausting myself in my own 20-something version of the seven deadly sins. I billed 240 hours a month at the law firm, exercised two hours a day, craved information about other people’s lives and ate only enough to survive all the rest. I wasted money on clothes, bags, shoes and accessories I didn’t need just to say I owned certain brands. I ate out because cooking at home seemed so blah. I’d been doing 160 on the superficial speedway, completely disregarding yield signs and yellow lights for a long time. Bed rest was the mac truck that finally stopped me.
I realized that this – like everything else – happened for a reason. And for once, I wouldn’t be able to ignore it by diving into something new. I wouldn’t be able to muscle through it or bop and weave around it. I couldn’t argue my way out of it.
The doctors, specialists, nurses and even the receptionist in the waiting room who I consulted as a last ditch effort said “lay down.” My mom said “lay down.” My husband said “lay down.” My gut said, “lay down.” And most importantly, my babies needed me to lay down.
So I laid down and as much as I didn’t really want to, I started to think. My brain was like a battlefield littered with landmines, so I began to pray.
I dug an old rosary out of my nightstand and started offering up Hail Marys to God and whoever else would listen when I’d wake up in the middle of the night with an urge to pee. I’d lay in the dark, breathing and praying, using the words to muffle the horror movie soundtrack that looped in my mind. I prayed hard and long, until I didn’t need words anymore. I didn’t intend for the words to fade, but over time I was simply watching my breath and silently repeating “Thank you for another day.” I started to tune into what God and the universe needed me to hear and learn from.
I started to feel clearer. Kinder. Quieter. Less theatrical. I became less attached to the life I had before bed rest. I checked my email less. I answered the phone, but set an intention to listen before speaking each time. That alone was wholly uncharted waters for me.
I went into labor at 35 weeks and two days, not because my water broke but because of preeclampsia. When the doctor checked my progress for the first time, he told me I was five centimeters dilated and 100 percent effaced. One of the nurses looked up, astonished. “How are you keeping them inside of you right now?” I smiled and told her “I really haven’t stood up in awhile.”
I delivered without an epidural, in a regular delivery room. My labor was about two hours long, with 45 minutes of pushing. I spoke twice. Once to say, very honestly, “Get them out of me” and once to say “Here comes to the other one.” I spent the rest of my labor breathing deeply, holding my husband’s hand and offering up a simple prayer: “thank you for getting us here.”
Sadie and Patrick were born only 4 minutes apart. They spent 17 days in the NICU, growing, before coming home with us forever. 17 days. 408 more hours to pray, learn, breathe and grow. Most NICU parents land there in fear, sucked into the undertow I barely paddled out of on February 29th. I arrived grateful, knowing we were already survivors. We were going to be alright.