By Christy Sillman
15 Nov

Labor of Love: Part 1

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I want to preface this blog by reinforcing that everyone’s journey is different, and just because I had a particular pregnancy experience does not mean everyone will have a similar one.

Although I was given the green light by a pediatric cardiologist to go ahead and try to get pregnant with my husband, I had to wonder how many pregnant patients a pediatric cardiologist follows. I went into my pregnancy saga full of fear, trepidation and excitement.

It took us a while to get pregnant, and for some reason when I saw that first positive pregnancy test I still couldn’t believe that I actually was pregnant. I’ve learned not to expect too much out of my body, and now it was going to do something truly amazing.

I was being seen by a regular adult cardiologist, and had yet to discover ACHA or understand the need for an ACHD cardiologist. In fact, I had gone almost five years without ANY cardiology care, and was finally paired with a cardiologist who had a special interest in CHD—an “interest” in CHD does not make a specialist.

I was so sick during my first trimester. I lost 10 pounds and I was working 12-hour night shifts in a busy pediatric ICU. I was also completing my practicum for my Master’s in Nursing Education program, which required an extra 12-hour shift with nursing students and teaching classes. Yeah, I really wanted to earn that “super-preggo” cape and deny that I had any special needs.

I decided to choose “pregnancy in the adult with congenital heart disease” as my thesis topic, and after starting my research I realized that I didn’t have the recommended cardiology care that I truly needed.

I freaked out. Whether it was the hormones, or the onset of frequent palpitations, I got really nervous about how my heart would handle the rest of the pregnancy. I searched frantically for specialists in the field, and pored over research articles and message boards to try to predict the big unknown—how was this ultimately going to turn out for me and the baby?

The 20-week ultrasound was especially nerve-wracking. A perinatologist did a fetal echo and I swore I saw at least five different heart defects, but then as my brain processed the news that my child’s heart was actually perfectly healthy, I sobbed in relief that my son would never have to endure the pain I’ve endured. I wouldn’t be a heart mom—the hardest labor of love there is.

At 30 weeks, six weeks after I was taken off from work, my anxiety had gotten so bad that I actually went into pre-term labor. As a nurse I knew too much, I wanted control of the situation, and I knew that I needed a higher level of care. Not too many labor and delivery patients demand their own assigned ICU nurse sitting by their bedside watching their heart monitor, but I was so thankful they accommodated me.

Ultimately, we were able to slow my labor. I had contractions at least every 20 minutes and my cervix slowly dilated over the course of seven weeks. I was on strict bed rest—I was only allowed to be vertical for bathroom trips and my twice-a-week shower. I wasn’t miserable; I was desperate to see my son into the world in the healthiest manner possible, at whatever cost.

We had developed a detailed birth plan with my high-risk OBGYN and newly-acquired ACHD cardiologist, mostly stating that I would not push because of the stress that could put on my heart. However, as with most things in life, nothing went according to plan. An hour after being admitted for induction we watched in terror as we “lost” my son’s heart rate. In 12 minutes I was whisked to the operating room in a code-cesarean panic. I had just enough time to kiss my husband goodbye, and I squeezed my eyes shut tight as they put me under anesthesia. I repeated in my head as the lights faded, “as long as he long as he lives.”

Christy's story will continue in the her next blog post.


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