Photo: Ashley Formica
There are few moments in life that are as special as your first pregnancy, and mine felt extra-special: I was carrying twins. I read all the books I could get my hands on, found online forums so I could chat with other moms of twins, bought more maternity clothes than any woman could ever need and pored over baby-name books (I had to choose two names, after all). In other words, I did everything you’re supposed to do in a first pregnancy.
While carrying twins meant that my pregnancy was higher risk, I was healthy and the babies were growing just as they should. Maybe that’s why my 24-week ultrasound was such a shock: It was a routine appointment and, to be honest, I was annoyed at having to take more time off work for another appointment.
The technician waited until she was finished everything else before she told me. “I’m concerned about your cervix,” she said. “It’s shorter than we like to see at this point in the pregnancy.” I’d never given my cervix much thought. But over the next three months, I learned more about the functions of a woman’s cervix during pregnancy than I ever wanted to know. Essentially, if it shortens too early, it increases the chances of dilating too soon, which can result in premature birth. I was only six months pregnant and my body seemed to be getting ready to give birth.
I went home in a daze. I’d been put on bed rest, which meant that I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed, except to use the washroom. Why didn’t I know anything was wrong? Wasn’t a mother supposed to sense these things? What-ifs went wild in my head. I was terrified. I couldn’t control my body, and I couldn’t control what would happen over the next three months. I couldn’t control anything. My babies were at the mercy of my body.
For two weeks, I followed the doctor’s instructions to the letter. I was bored senseless, but I was obedient. I stayed in bed and only walked a few feet to the bathroom. The hours crawled by. I couldn’t read any of my baby books or even think about baby gear or baby names—there wasn’t much to do other than sit and worry.
At my next ultrasound, my heart was pounding as I lay on the table and waited for the verdict. Even now, nine years later, I remember the way the technician frowned a little when she looked at the screen. “It’s shortened again, Lindsay,” she said. “You need to go to the hospital. I’ll call ahead for you.”
I waited in the labour and delivery unit for hours. I was numb. All I could do was stare at the curtain in front of me and wait for the doctor. Could they stop this? Would I give birth to my too-small babies that day? I had no answers.
The on-call OB/GYN eventually came and told me that they were going to have to transfer me to a hospital two hours away. He expected that I would deliver within the next two weeks (at just 28 weeks pregnant) and my babies would need a level 3 neonatal intensive care unit, which my local hospital didn’t have. But, despite the fact that none of the doctors I saw expected me to make it beyond the next couple of weeks, nothing changed. No contractions, no dilation, nothing. It was good news, but it also meant that I was stuck on bed rest in the hospital for six weeks.
It’s difficult to express the frustration of those six weeks. A lot of my days were spent feeling angry at the ways my body had let me down. Instead of spending my third trimester registering for baby gifts, wearing cute maternity clothes and painting the nursery, I was staring out a hospital window (I can still picture that view) and eating Special K cereal for breakfast (I haven’t touched it since). I felt cheated, especially when I saw my friends’ baby-bump pictures or heard about their perfect baby showers.
Why couldn’t my body do that? Like any mother, I spent a lot of time wondering if I could have done something to prevent it. None of this was what I’d expected when the pregnancy test was positive. And once I was finished, hopefully with two healthy babies in my arms, I had no intentions of doing it again.
With no signs of impending labour, I was sent home at 32 weeks. Six weeks later, I arrived at the hospital with my husband to be induced. Against all odds, we made it. Labour was relatively easy (I was already 100 percent effaced, after all) and, within five hours, I had two beautiful, healthy babies. A happy ending.
But the lingering feelings of frustration, failure and disappointment wouldn’t leave. I had my babies home with me but still couldn’t let go of the resentment surrounding my pregnancy. My body had let me down. A miscarriage a couple years later seemed to confirm it: My body wasn’t made for this. I donated all my maternity clothes, gave away baby gear and clothing as soon my twins outgrew them, and my husband and I put that part of our lives behind us. It was highly unlikely that I’d be able to get pregnant again without some kind of medical intervention, and after enduring so much stress and heartache surrounding pregnancy, neither one of us was anxious to go through it all again.
Fast-forward seven years to me standing in my bathroom, staring at a positive pregnancy test. I’d taken it on a whim, mostly so that I could stop obsessing about the random symptoms I was experiencing—except they weren’t random. Here we were, expecting again.
I have a few friends who experienced the same sense of shock and disbelief over an unexpected pregnancy. In most cases, that shock quickly turned to joy and excitement. For me, the shock gave way to dread and a great deal of anxiety.
It wasn’t the baby—I was confident that my husband and I would be able to handle a baby. We’d had twins, and this was only one. Also, we’d been fostering babies and toddlers for several years at this point—we could feed, swaddle and soothe with the best of them. There was nothing scary about a new baby, but there was something very scary about another pregnancy.
I didn’t allow myself to believe it was real until about 13 weeks, after two ultrasounds that confirmed there was a baby with a beating heart. Any woman who gets pregnant following a miscarriage understands how difficult it is to believe that this pregnancy will progress. I didn’t allow myself to believe that this baby was for real. But there was a baby—a single, healthy baby. And once it became clear that we were really going to be adding to our family, my mind turned to the memories of my first pregnancy, and it terrified me.
For the first six months, my anxiety was almost constant. I spent hours trying to find statistics on the likelihood of my cervix shortening again. I couldn’t sleep, trying to figure out how it would work if I ended up on bed rest again—we had seven-year-old twins and two foster kids at the time. If I was lying on a couch or, worse, in the hospital, it would create a lot of problems. I overanalyzed every weird feeling. Maybe I’d just missed the signs the first time around. Despite all this, the baby was growing well, and ultrasounds showed him to be happy and healthy. I had lots of energy, and there was every indication that things were going well. But I couldn’t let go of the fact that there had been no sign the first time either. If it hadn’t been for that ultrasound at 24 weeks, I might not have known about my shortening cervix until it was too late. What if it hadn’t been the extra strain of twins but something inherently wrong with my body? What if it was something else this time? I waited in fear for the news that my body was going to fail me again.
I finally asked my midwife for an ultrasound to check the length of my cervix. I was so nervous. I knew I wasn’t going to hear anything that day—the technician told me that if there were any concerns, they would send my midwife an urgent page and she would be in touch. Every time my phone rang over the next day, I felt my stomach drop into my toes.
But everything was fine. My cervix was even longer than it needed to be—there was nothing to worry about. My midwife didn’t bat an eye, only mentioning it in passing at my appointment and having no idea what this meant to me. It felt like freedom, like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I remember driving home, thinking that I could finally accept that this pregnancy was going to be different and that it would be OK.
It was a turning point for me. I felt like I could breathe again, knowing that there would be no bed rest, no extra appointments, no heightened concern. With that knowledge came a greater understanding and appreciation for my first pregnancy. My body hadn’t malfunctioned, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. Pregnancy is hard work, and carrying two babies is difficult. Going through a second pregnancy helped me realize that there wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent all those challenges the first time around.
I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy last October, after a perfectly typical pregnancy. This pregnancy turned out to be an unexpected gift. It allowed me to not only release my bitterness and resentment but also understand that just because my first pregnancy was difficult doesn’t mean that it wasn’t beautiful in its own way. From ultrasounds and pain medication to skilled doctors and nurses, I needed help to carry and deliver my babies and I had access to it.
I was given the gift of a second chance—an opportunity to see that my body hadn’t malfunctioned. There was nothing for me to be ashamed of—there never had been. But I don’t think I ever would have realized it if I hadn’t been given the chance to do it all over again. This pregnancy gave me not only my beautiful baby but also redemption.