And life has gone on. Our lives have changed, our world has changed. The new coronavirus has wrought havoc on our healthcare systems. Mass paranoia and delusion has wrought havoc on our public’s health, both mental and physical. Mass protests and riots (which I wholly support) have brought the issue of justice for Black lives to the forefront of global attention. And, on a personal level, a newcomer has turned my life inside-out…
So from my individual perspective, I will start from the beginning. Even before COVID-19 swept the U.S., 2020 got off to an unusual start. Early in January, my grandma’s dog Leah passed away. Almost immediately after, my grandma was rushed to the hospital when her blood pressure dipped to dangerously low levels, and she was admitted for several days.
A few weeks later, my family adopted a new dog who we named Darby. She was skin and bones, but we quickly fattened her up. Now, Leah had been a pain in my ass because she would poop in the middle of the pathway in the backyard. But I would gladly welcome the turds back in exchange for the barking, clingy, cat-chasing, leash-pulling, neighbor-attacking beast that took her place. Darby has no self-awareness, and will have no issue bowling over our poor elderly golden retriever, Abby, or my cousin’s toddler. Needless to say, I am not afraid to admit that I am not at all a dog person. I liked them in theory as a kid, but as an autistic introvert, in practice, their sounds, smells, and personalities are much too big for my tastes. But Darby is not the aforementioned newcomer that has turned my life inside-out, although she is a frequent source of headaches.
A bit later, my grandma got readmitted to the hospital after a fall, again due to low blood pressure. This was during spring break, and a few of my cousins had come to visit her in the hospital. One of them was on her period, which seemed to trigger my own uterus to menstruate a bit earlier than expected. It was also during their visit that my university made the announcement that spring break would be extended another week due to the spread of COVID-19, after which classes would be held online indefinitely. Soon, the entire nation was on lock-down. My cousins went home, and the three-month quarantine ensued. The only people I saw during that period besides my immediate family were my boyfriend and my brother’s fiance.
I was grateful that my genetics class had moved online, because I was able to review the lectures as many times as I needed, which greatly improved my performance. I was even more grateful that my organic chemistry lab was online, because doing those labs in person was pure anxiety. I’d always feel totally lost, and my lab partner was just as clueless as I was. However, my microbiology lab being moved online was a disappointment. That is my major, my special interest. I loved Gram staining and plate streaking and watching my organisms grow. I think I might have been able to get an A in normal circumstances, but it was too easy to procrastinate with it being online, plus my TA compensated by making the quizzes and exams more complex. I ended up getting straight B’s.
As my finals were approaching, I began exhibiting extremely concerning symptoms. I had completely lost my once ravenous appetite. I had a low-grade fever that peaked at 100.4 F. I was nauseated and my body was aching, and I was sleeping one to two hours a night, max. I began to panic about how all this would affect my performance on the finals. Obviously, the first thing in my mind was COVID-19, but some of my symptoms weren’t matching up. Another minor concern in the back of my mind, and not really much of a concern really, was that it had now been over a month since my cousins had visited, and since I had gotten my period. But given that I was slightly manipulating the timing of the insertion of my Nuva Ring to minimize or eliminate periods altogether, it didn’t strike me as out of the ordinary. Since it was early last month, it would probably go back to its regular schedule this time around. But more days passed by, and nothing.
You can probably see where this is going.
Pregnancy scares are nothing new to me. The slightest menstrual delay has triggered a trip to the pharmacy to pick up a test on multiple occasions over the years. Last summer, I had a two-week long headache that prompted such a trip, since headaches aren’t very typical for me. This time, it was the lack of appetite, extreme nausea, and aching gums that prompted me to take another test. One day, my brother’s fiance was hitting up a pharmacy before heading over, so I requested she pick one up. Although it was the late afternoon and morning pees are recommended for taking pregnancy tests, there were two in the box so I figured I’d take one right away. I visit the restroom and go through the same process as before: unwrap the test, pee on the stick, place it on the counter and wait.
Well, I didn’t have to wait long. The urine traveled up the first half of the stick, revealing the initial pink line, nothing new. The urine crept up further up the stick. And immediately, unquestionably, loudly and boldly as anything, that second pink line appeared.
“What in the FUCK”
I didn’t really feel anything. I guess I already knew what I would see. Numb and now cruising on autopilot, I had my sister-in-law and bro take a look to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. They verified that my eyes had not deceived me. So obviously, the next thing I had to do was call my boyfriend and tell him the news. He was stunned, too, but told me he’d support whatever decision I made.
My first gut feeling was that I wanted to keep this baby. But I still spent the next several weeks weighing my options.
I had to tell my parents soon, since I live with them. This was the most harrowing deed, a thing I had dreaded since high school, should the occasion ever arise. A couple years ago, my mom found a pregnancy test box and flipped out. Based on this experience, my expectation was that she would lose her shit, and that my dad would express his silent disapproval. The reality did not go as expected.
My brother and I hatched a plan on how to break the news. I needed him there to support me. One morning, my mom returned from her daily trip to the gas station for her Diet Coke. As she walked through the door, my brother announced some good news concerning his upcoming medical school exam (it was under question whether it would be delayed due to COVID). She congratulated him, her mood perked up as planned. Now it was my turn.
“I have some good news too, Ma,” I announced. “It turns out that I don’t have COVID.”
“How do you know that? Did you take a test?” she asked.
“Well, I took a test, but not a COVID test.”
“So what do you have?”
I tapped my belly and said, “A baby.” And the sky didn’t fall, and hell on Earth didn’t rain upon me. Beyond my wildest expectations, her response was to give me a big, joyful hug.
So then we all waited for my dad’s meeting to end to share the news. When the moment finally came, my mom made the announcement with a wide grin. And HE was the one who flipped. “Why are you all smiling?! This is horrible! There’s no way she’s ready to have a kid! It’s going to be dumped on us!” My mom went to talk to him privately, but I wasn’t really shaken up. Her support was monumental, and he’d eventually come around. I wanted to talk to him myself to alleviate some of his concerns, but he went on a bike ride to clear his head. My mom assured me that he was just shocked, and concerned about finances, and that she and my dad would support me and this baby.
So then we went next door to inform my grandma that I, in fact, did not have the coronavirus, but was pregnant. Considering she was expecting the worst, it was a pleasant surprise. From there, I called all my closest relatives. I was still on autopilot and hadn’t done much processing, mind you. It was also early and miscarriage was still a possibility. But I think in order to process it, I needed the input from my loved ones. Because ultimately, it is the breadth of my support system that would inform my decision on what to do.
Later that night, my dad came in to assure me he would support me and gave me a hug. I figured my mom had pressured him to do that, and he still had some processing to do, but didn’t we all?
Weeks later, I had my first appointment with my ob-gyn. She confirmed my pregnancy and performed my annual exam, but I would have to schedule another appointment for the ultrasound, and the next appointment available would be another couple weeks. This was a bit infuriating to me. I wanted to see with my eyes that there was something growing inside me. It still didn’t feel quite real.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to wait a couple more weeks for that ultrasound.
A few nights after my first appointment, I developed a cramp on the right side of my abdomen. The pain began at around 11 PM. I tried to go to sleep, but it escalated to full-blown agony. A couple hours went by as I contorted my body into all possible positions trying to get comfortable. The only position that felt even slightly okay was on my hands and knees, rocking back and forth. Figuring it was a bout of severe constipation, I tried to poop. At 2 AM, I woke my mom up and told her what was happening. She joined me in my room and watched as I continued to squirm, making fruitless suggestions such as, “Take a hot shower. Eat an apple.”
“THAT WON’T HELP,” I insisted. “I FEEL LIKE I’M IN LABOR.” She watched helplessly as I writhed as if I were possessed. Eventually, the pain caused me to vomit. She dialed the on-call ob-gyn to ask for her advice. We were advised that it could be appendicitis, and we should go to the ER. So at 3:30 AM, we got into the van and she drove me to the hospital. Neither of us mentioned the word “miscarriage,” though it was in the back of my mind, and probably in hers too.
Thankfully, this all occurred during a time before my city became a COVID-19 hotspot. Beds were immediately available, and I was wheeled to one right away. I continued to vomit and was given medication for pain and nausea. After about an hour, the pain hadn’t subsided, so I was given a dose of glorious morphine. That worked for a while, but then I was taken for an ultrasound at around 5:30 AM. The technician had to dig the probe right where it hurt. If my level of pain on the pain scale was a 10/10 before, it had now reached 11/10. I couldn’t even look at the screen. I had no idea what she or my mom was seeing. I just needed her to stop. It felt like she was probing around for about ten minutes, silently taking pictures from multiple angles. Finally, she relented, and said we should be notified of their findings shortly. She left the room, and my mom said, “I saw the heartbeat.”
“So the baby’s fine?” I inquired.
“Looks that way.” She smiled. I got back on my hands and knees until another transporter came to return me to my bed in the ER.
I got another dose of morphine upon my return. The pain subsided to about a level three, and a combination of the drugs and sleep deprivation had me feeling loopy and giddy. I started joking around with my mom and listening to what was happening with the other patients nearby. Finally, the ER doctor came in with his diagnosis.
“We saw a 10-cm hemorrhagic cyst on your right ovary, the size of a newborn baby’s head. Your regular ob-gyn will be on call at 7 AM, so we’ll notify her immediately. We’re going to have you admitted. We also confirmed an intrauterine pregnancy.” That eliminated my concerns of a possible ectopic pregnancy.
The sun had already risen by the time I got wheeled into my new room, a massive maternity suite with a TV, couch, table, fridge, snack bar, and bathroom. My new nurse was a gentle and sweet young lady who reviewed my medical history and checked my vitals. Around mid-morning, my ob-gyn arrived to inform me of the procedure she was planning to remove the cyst. If she’s able to find another ob-gyn to assist, she could perform the surgery laparoscopically. I was given shampoo and a special soap for me to shower with before the procedure, and was instructed to put on a hospital gown after showering.
My doctor was able to find an assistant, and the surgery was set for 2 PM. However, there was a delay because I had to get tested for COVID-19 and await the results.
But compared to the absolute agony I had experienced over the past several hours, the uncomfortable test was comparable to a mosquito bite. The results returned negative, and I was transported to the OR at around 3 PM. The surgical team prepped me for surgery, and I made sure to inform them about my last experience with anesthesia during my breast reduction, and how I had a horrible reaction to the drugs which had delayed my discharge. So they transferred me to the surgical bed and gassed me with an alternative anesthetic, which hopefully wouldn’t cause the same reaction.
Two seconds later, or so it seemed, my eyes fluttered open. For a brief time I was confused and surprised about my own existence, and remembered I had just gone in for surgery. Now I was in a bed in a large room with other recovering patients. The nurse noticed I was awake and asked how I felt. I gave him a thumbs up. I started tapping my fingers to reintegrate myself with the rest of my body, and to let the personnel know I was doing fine. They took me back up to the maternity suite where I was reunited with my mom. We were told that the cyst had been removed, along with my right ovary and Fallopian tube.
I made arrangements with my boyfriend for him to take my mother’s place that evening, since I was only allowed one guest. She left in the late afternoon, and I slept until he arrived at around 8 PM. We tried to hook up our Firestick to the TV, but it was a weird hospital TV that didn’t give us that option. Fortunately, we were able to find Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on one of the channels. We cuddled and watched together on my hospital bed, and then he went to sleep on the couch.
The next day, after a nice French toast breakfast and my night nurse showing me how to take a vaginal progesterone pill, my doctor returned to check on me. She inspected the three incisions, one on each side of the abdomen, and one in my belly button. She showed me images they had taken of the enormous teratoma, as well as the torsion of the ovary it had resulted in, the source of my pain. They had found hair growing inside the cyst, which had been present on my ovary probably since my own birth. Then she went to obtain an ultrasound machine to see how my baby had fared during the procedure. This was the moment my boyfriend and I had been waiting for!
She turned the screen towards us and probed my belly, commenting on my full bladder. Then she located our little bundle of joy, who seemed to be wriggling around. We listened to the heartbeat, and she measured the crown-rump length. “You’re at about 11 weeks, 3 days.” So there really is a little creature in there!
I’ve recovered from the surgery smoothly, though another medical issue did occur when half of my face swelled up a few weeks later. I had the dentist check it out with an X-ray, but it didn’t seem to be tooth related. I was prescribed antibiotics, which seemed to do the trick. I suspect that my sub-mandibular gland had become infected, somehow.
I’ve had my second prenatal check-up during which we listened to the heartbeat, after which I had my blood drawn to do genetic testing which would indicate any chromosomal abnormalities as well as the sex. I received the results the day after my birthday… but I’ll share that with you in my next post.
So. This has been a rather matter-of-fact update of the absolute chaos that has been my 2020 thus far. I am now about 17 weeks pregnant, 28 years old, and am due December 16. Perhaps in my next post, I will deconstruct my emotional state-of-mind and dare to share my plans for the future.
Until next time,