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A Mother of a Birth Story: Antepartum Panic (part 4)

Posted Aug 07 2009 12:00am


Getting to the hospital room had been a challenge. I was 30-weeks pregnant, battling preeclampsia and ready to drop. The risk I’d deliver my daughter prematurely was as high as my blood pressure. And that was the best-case scenario.

After I had changed into a gown and climbed into the air-pressurized bed, I wanted to sleep but there was too much commotion. It didn’t matter. I was light-headed with relief.

The nurse and her aide orbited like satellites while Jimmy sat in a chair, out of the way. Between the two an IV was inserted, a pressure cuff wrapped and a baby monitor strapped. Circling intermittently was a tech to draw blood, a woman delivering dinner, and two giggly girls with a portable ultrasound machine to measure fetal growth and amniotic fluid. There were others, but I was too spaced to register what their duties were.

I answered health questions, often with my husband’s help, and handed the nurse my gallon-size Ziploc bag of meds. While she entered the types and dosages, Jimmy called to update my parents.

After that I was mentally scattered by a constellation of little things: The singing of the American Idol contestants on the mounted TV, the peeling beige wallpaper under the window, the tightening cuff on my left arm, Jimmy’s voice, the clear bag on the IV stand, my purposeful deep intake and release of air, the amplified heartbeat of my baby and the coordinating etched paper rolling off the printer.

The tension on my upper arm released and I glanced at the monitor. The numbers were shocking.

“Is that right?” It couldn’t be.

The nurse’s aide turned the monitor. “Don’t watch – we’ll take it again.”

“Let’s have you lie on your side and relax,” said the nurse as she came around the bed and looped a flexible measuring tape around my bicep. “Yeah, that’s the right size cuff.” She walked over to the switch and dimmed the lights.

Jimmy patted my leg.

I followed directions and rolled on my side, lowered the bed — as far as could be tolerated — and closed my eyes. Then I pictured sitting in the shadow of Morro Rock while watching the water roll into waves and break on the jetty. The power of the ocean was strong and peaceful, the two things I needed to be.

When that image faded I thought of a January night when I wore a newborn Craig in a sling and ambled in the backyard. While he nestled deep in the warmth of the fabric pouch, cool air and starlight soothed. As I tread the moist earth and damp grass with bare feet, I felt connected to a larger all-encompassing maternal energy.

An abrupt arm squeeze disrupted the visual. The cuff inflated and I did my best to keep still.

When the numbers flashed the aide pursed her lips and the nurse frowned.

“What is it?” I needed to know. When getting a shot, I was the type that had to watch. Better to be prepared and informed of when the pain would pierce than be surprised.

The aide turned the screen.

It was worse than the first reading. I was astounded – who knew blood pressure could go that high?

Oh, this was wrong. In the past if I relaxed it responded by getting better – not worse. I thought I had some influence over my illness. If I just behaved and followed doctor’s orders the baby and I would be OK.

Sure logic didn’t dictate that – but I’d never been up against something so big. My body was on a path of destruction and I was powerless. No amount of internal calming and fortifying would deter or slow it.

Now what?

The nurse talked on the cellphone and the aide wrapped my bedrails with blankets and then secured them with tape.

“What’s this for?”

“In case you have seizures.”


“It’ll protect your head.”

Huh? A bubble of hysteria lodged in my throat. I was going to be saved by thin blue cotton blankets? Hey no worries, they got this covered. Literally.

It was the funniest thing I ever heard. So funny I laughed … then panic hit like a Mac truck.

I couldn’t breathe. It felt like ants were crawling on my head and my cheeks were numb. Something was loudly pounding and my chest felt like it was going to crack.

The world tilted and my stomach seized. Before I could vomit or blackout, a gentle voice said, “What’s wrong?”

The soft syllables acted as a crown line for my floating sanity. I used nurse’s words to stabilize.

“I … I’m sorry.” I sucked in a long breath. “I think I need a Xanax.”

It had been years since I experienced a full-blown anxiety attack.

“OK, I can ask the doctor.”

After a few minutes I was shaky but better.

The nurse had called the doctor and returned. “Dr. Thomas prescribed the Xanax.”

“OK.” So that was the doctor’s name. I’d forgotten. “Uh … forgive me, but what’s your name?”

She smiled with what looked like kind patience. It was the same look I’d seen others give elderly, forgetful family members. Guess it wasn’t the first, or even second, time I’d asked the question.

“I’m Jenny.”


This time I’d keep her name like a shiny treasured rock in my pocket. Everything else was out of my control — but remembering the names of the strangers that were going to save me?

That was the one thing I could do.

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