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Birth Story Part 1: The Art of Adapting

If you haven't already, take a quick look at my blog about how health anxiety impacted my pregnancy and how I dealt with the pressure of being a therapist who should "just know what to do" here.


First of all, here's some background about me:

I'm organized.

I'm strategic.

I'm a planner.


If you need a definition of a perfectionistic millennial first time mom who tries to have it all together, it's me. Pulled in a million directions but still making it happen, always.


My baby was due on September 30, 2022. My personal deadline for finishing all my nesting tasks and business to-dos was September 1. I wanted an entire month to "do nothing", because after a wild journey through IVF and pregnancy I wanted to be fully present and enjoy the last weeks of my total independence.


I wanted to take all the naps. Wake up without an alarm. Read books from my Goodreads shelf. Sit in my daughter's perfectly curated nursery and soak it all in before my attention would be focused on dirty diapers and bottle making. I wanted to relax, finally.


I also wanted to enjoy the last few weeks of physically being pregnant. Despite the high anxieties the last half of it, I loved being pregnant - feeling the baby kick and having her all to myself. I still miss my pregnant belly 7 months later.


I was so organized with my nesting plans that I input them into my project management system that I use for my business (lol, don't judge, it's very efficient!). I had a mission and I was bound and determined to see it through.


What's the phrase? "Make plans and God laughs."

It was August 29th and a busy day. I was moving office locations that afternoon and had some errands to run, but I'd had MAJOR swelling in my left leg and messaged the nurses out of precaution. They asked me to come in to rule out a blood clot. No big deal, I thought. I ran the errands and knew my trip to triage would only take a couple hours...like it had all the other times.


The imaging on my leg? No blood clot! I figured as much and was told that I could change into my street clothes since I'd be discharged soon. Thirty minutes later, a doctor came in. She said my blood pressure was high and that I needed to stay for monitoring.


God, not the blood pressure again, I thought. But I'd been through this song & dance and already knew my exit strategy. I confidently explained, "No, I was diagnosed with gestational hypertension so my threshold for monitoring is higher than normal protocol, I'm free to go." (LOL - the audacity of me, right? Knowing better than the doctor?). She said she saw where I was coming from and that she'd consult with the other doctors.


That consultation took a grand total of 5 hours. FIVE. HOURS. Every hour that went by I was getting frantic. I had an office to move out of. I had things to do. I had a few days to finally finish nesting by that deadline of September 1. What could be taking so long? I asked the nurse at one point "Is it illegal for me to just leave? I have GOT to go."


This might shock you, but I couldn't leave. I was told the doctors were literally doing "boards" and were discussing my case on whether I should be admitted or allowed to leave. This is how complex my blood pressure was making this pregnancy. Not only was I not in control but not even my doctors agreed on what to do.


The debates between the doctors took so long that I ended up having to literally text my husband and brother-in-law step-by-step directions of how to get the U-Haul, what to grab from my office, how to get into the new one, which key goes to which doors, special instructions for certain items, etc. I vividly remember laying on the hospital bed just crying to myself out of frustration, stress, and fear, endlessly waiting for an answer.


I finally get my answer.

Around 6pm another doctor walked in, who I'd actually seen for a couple of my regular OB visits. For her privacy I'll call her "Dr. Garrett." She compassionately sat next to me and asked how I was doing and I just start crying - again. I had to leave asap because of this long to-do list I needed to get to, and being stuck at the hospital wasn't doing my anxiety or blood pressure any favors. The longer I was there, the more anxious I was getting, and the higher my blood pressure would climb.


(At one point, a nurse came in while I was waiting and said, "let's just see where your blood pressure is now." LOL - really?! I've been crying for an hour and I'm texting my husband specific directions so he can hurriedly move every single one of my office belongings somewhere before 7pm when the U-Haul is due back!!! I felt like it was a joke. Anyway, I digress.)


Dr. Garrett told me that being so far along in my pregnancy with my blood pressure spiking, she couldn't in good conscience let me leave. She said, "if I discharge you and things were to go downhill I would never forgive myself. This is what's best for you and baby." I wanted no part of it but she talked me down and I finally conceded defeat - mostly out of emotional exhaustion. She assured me we'd do a 24-hour urine sample, rule out pre-eclampsia, and I could go home. Just like I always did with my other 3 trips to triage for blood pressure spikes.


I can't even put into words how helpless I felt. I live my life by making things happen, having a plan, being in control. And suddenly, I was in a situation where I could do none of those things. I just had to sit by and watch it all unfold without having a single say. It sounds so dramatic now but I felt like I just got sentenced to prison, like I was shackled and led to a room of doom where I'd have to stay until they told me to go.


Turns out, I'm not so invincible.

I was admitted to the antepartum unit and was given the biggest suite they had on the floor (something I'm sure isn't a luxury in actual prison!). The nurses told me they felt bad for my situation - for having to wait 5 hours to hear if I was getting discharged or not - so maybe this was their way of trying to make up for it?! I wasn't complaining because the big room was a nice consolation. I nestled in and stayed the night at the hospital...making sure to get every last drop of pee in that bright orange jug for hopefully the last time.


I wasn't worried. I nailed every blood and urine test up to this point. Perfect labwork every time. I knew I was going to get discharged. I was going to get back to my fancy *~project management system~* and keep knocking those tasks off the to-do list so I could enjoy my last month of pregnancy doing absolutely nothing.


I got the results the following evening through my online portal. My fingers anxiously fiddled to my results (I remember shaking), praying that the number was below 300 - which indicates pre-eclampsia. My result?


300.


300 exactly.


I couldn't believe it. I was in pure shock. I cleanly escaped this diagnosis up until this point. It all started to make sense. The great blood pressure until mid-pregnancy. The slow increase over weeks, then the quick increase in days. The sudden swelling. Minutes later the nurses had a shift change, and through an abundance of tears I asked to see the doctors.


Have you noticed yet that I cry a LOT when I'm anxious? I have to validate this for anyone who struggles with crying. It's a coping mechanism that our bodies naturally participate in. It effectively ventilates stress and even though it can feel awkward, it's usually more productive than forcing yourself to hold it back, which I simply couldn't do any longer. I was so emotionally drained.


Of course, I had to stay overnight again. The doctors would reconvene the next day and talk about the new plan.


New day, new outlook!

It's August 31st now. I was hopeful and trying to stay positive despite a rocky night of sleep. It was early in the morning and the doctors started making their rounds, and eventually 3 doctors entered my room. And because my hospital is a teaching hospital, a literal line of residents follow them. Next thing I know, there are 10-12 people standing in front of me, ready to talk about next steps.


The main doctor speaking? Never met her. But she was abrasive which I was not feeling good about. At that moment I really needed comfort and positivity. We started talking about my vitals, and I told her what my current OB's protocol was - very confidently and almost nonchalantly:


"I have a VCI and a growth scan at the clinic tomorrow, so the high-risk doctor is going to decide if we should induce at 37 weeks or try to make it to 39. I'd really like to get discharged and wait until that appointment."


She replied back to me, completely void of any compassion, "I already made that decision for you both. You aren't going further than 37 weeks. If your blood pressure spikes again, we're inducing you."


Excuse me. What? I felt like the floor disappeared from under me. It was like not a single piece of information/test result/symptom mattered for the first 35 weeks of my pregnancy. How on earth did I end up in this spot? 3 days ago I was cruising so beautifully and now it was all turned upside down.


I have never felt such a loss of control and defeated in my whole life. My nature is to be solution-focused, in control, to make things happen for myself. There was no semblance of this anywhere to be found. This was a totally foreign situation to me. I tried asking questions and I started looking desperately at the residents like a sad puppy. There were all of these blank faces looking back at me and I knew that I was totally at a loss.


I lost so much in that moment.

I couldn't finish nesting.

I couldn't enjoy the last few weeks with just me and my husband.

I wouldn't see my dog again until after delivery.

I couldn't soak up another month of feeling the baby kick.

I couldn't organize her clothes in her nursery. Her shelves and bows and decor weren't even hung up yet.

I didn't have ANY of my freezer meals made.

Nothing was sterilized or washed.

I hadn't even decided if I was going to pump or formula-feed yet.


Suddenly I was unexpectedly grieving, plus the obvious stress and anxiety about having this baby within 9 days.


So I did my best, and I leaned in.

At first, I was in such denial. I often somewhat lowered my blood pressure with deep breathing at home, so my personal mission for the next 9 days was to keep doing exactly that. I was still really struggling with associations: the nurses would enter the room with the vitals machine and my whole body would go right into fight-or-flight mode (fast heartbeat, dysregulated breathing, anxious thoughts, the works).


To combat this, the nurses so graciously left the vitals machine next to my bed and left the room so that before each reading, I could take my time and breathe to relax. I was allowed to push the button whenever I wished. This was a godsend to me. It seems so extra and dramatic looking back, but it really speaks to how just simply meeting someone where they're at can do wonders for their mental state.


I'd also just decided to nestle in and get comfortable. I needed to mentally make peace with not going further than 37 weeks. I worked out a plan with the doctors and nurses to still confidentially see clients virtually. I luckily had my hospital bag packed so I had everything I needed - comfy clothes, snacks, shower essentials, etc. Both my husband and sister work at the hospital so their visits were so refreshing. I was eventually living my best life that day. I was eating a Rice Krispie treat and watching Hamilton while I finished some documentation for work when I had a blood pressure reading at about 4:30pm.


It was higher than it had been in 2 days: 175/113.

I told the nurse, "I have a full bladder. Let me pee and retake it."

Reading #2: not any better.

Me: "Well, I ran to the bathroom and back to my bed, so maybe let me relax for a few more minutes."

Reading #3: still just as high.


When I think back on this 20 minutes of taking these readings, I feel so sad for myself. I have to stand back and have self-compassion for my past self in those moments. I was clinging onto hope, denial, and desperation. I wasn't intentionally procrastinating the readings by any means. I was just trying every single thing I could think of to help myself avoid the inevitable.


The nurse said she'd need to tell the doctor my results and I knew, with every fiber in my being, that I wasn't going to get good news. The moment I REALLY knew shit was going down? When a nurse came in and stuck a new IV in my other arm.


5 short minutes to adapt and pivot

A doctor walked in. She's one I'd seen in triage and during my current visit, and I liked her. She had a male doctor with her, who seemed nice enough, along with a couple of residents. She said, "I think you know why we're here" with a soft smile. I knew what was coming. They were inducing me at 35 weeks + 5 days.


I know people have much earlier births; however, this was about more than simply the baby coming early.


Yes, I was worried about delivering early.

Yes, I was worried about a NICU stay.

Yes, I had a to-do list to finish.

Yes, I wanted that month of "doing nothing."


But especially - I was not done being pregnant. Not at all, whatsoever. I loved every second of being pregnant. I always said that I could have my head in a toilet, throwing up from the nausea, and still thinking "this is the best thing ever" because I was so grateful and happy to be pregnant. I was not ready for any of this.


I took a different stance with the doctors this time. I wasn't sitting up straight anymore with a confident tone. I was resting with my back against the upright hospital bed - physically, mentally, and emotionally letting down all of my defenses. It felt like a choice to just...give in, to submit. Looking back it was almost like a relief.


There was no more fighting for what I wanted, for the control I thought I had. I'd lost that made-up game and I didn't really have a lot of time to think about it - because now I had a baby to deliver.


The doctors were so kind. They normalized my fears and reassured me. I also appreciated their honesty. When I asked through tears, "will she have to be in the NICU?", they said we'd have to wait and see. Some 35 weekers do, some don't. That was enough hope for me to cling to.


When I asked through even more tears, "I haven't had time to even research how to deliver a baby, will you walk me through everything?", they giggled and said they'd take me every step of the way. That was enough reassurance for me to cling to.


(And when I asked if I could at least shower real quick and shave my legs before delivery, they said no...which was a bummer. That was my very last ditch effort at gaining at least an ounce of control, LOL. But I get it, I guess!)


My husband actually walked in on this conversation as it was happening, so one of the doctors filled him in as I was asking questions about the process. If you know my husband, you know he could not be more opposite than me. The man is cooler than a cucumber. There is nothing that truly ruffles his feathers. He did his spiel of "it's okay, babe, the doctors know what's best", and I tried to process his words while he started packing up the room.


The Art of Adapting

From that Monday to Wednesday, I was slowly losing control with every blood pressure reading and doctor visit. I've never had to adapt so much in my life than I did in those 3 days. It was scary, like every part of me was screaming "no" while everyone and everything around me was saying "yes".


This is a story about control. We tell ourselves, "if I have control, things work out." And humans naturally like predictability and feeling capable, safe.


Our meticulous to-do lists,

our carefully laid plans,

our determination to stick to a schedule,

our strategizing efficiency,

our pretty morning routines,

our "perfectionism",

our claim of "I'm just really organized",


...it's all us attempting to gain control.


It really is just a game to play - that we made up for ourselves - to hold a false sense of security during times of transition or uncertainty.


And it's not a bad thing. You can try having control as much as you want. But the ability to adapt and pivot when you don't have control needs to be practiced, too.


What's more important than having control is having the resilience to adapt when you lose control - when the unpredictable happens.


So when I had to adapt so quickly, here's what I did:


I released control to those who knew better than me - my doctors.


I gave grace to myself when I felt like I failed.


I held onto hope and reassurance as much as humanly possible.


I let my husband ground me with his calm demeanor.


I called in every support system. I gave my sisters every task in my project management system, from nursery setup to bottle-washing. I sent them the freezer meals I was going to make. I asked friends to finish painting our hallway, to go grab last-minute items, and to start a meal train.


Things work out. You just have to be intentional about letting them.


So I hopped into the wheelchair, had a bummer realization that I hadn't eaten since lunch and now had to fast, and got transported to the Labor & Delivery unit. Alright, I thought, I guess we're having this baby.


 

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Greta Strickland, MS

Licensed Professional Counselor Greta has managed her own private practice in Blue Springs, MO since 2015 providing therapy to women who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and all of life's beautiful but complex stressors. When she's not working, you can find Greta watching Big Brother with her husband, singing made up songs to her daughter, and sneaking "people food" to their golden retriever.



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