… is easier said than done.
This week I managed to freak myself out about what turned out to be (probably) nothing. And fortunately I have kind and understanding doctors who tried really hard not to make me feel like an idiot.
For a while now I’d noticed a sort of come-and-go pain in my lower right abdomen. I know, I know… round ligament pain. But see, I’ve had round ligament pain in both pregnancies, and this feels different. My round ligament pain has always been really classic: sudden intense pain/cramping when I cough, sneeze, or get up after sitting down for a long time. It also tends to be correlated with activity levels. This is different: totally uncorrelated with activity, and in fact most noticeable after a long day of sitting at my desk. Also, it’s extremely localized — if I push on one particular spot on my belly I can feel it radiating through my abdomen, in a completely different way than my round ligament pain radiates.
So naturally I went to Dr. Google (big mistake), and then I read that localized, one-sided abdominal pain can be a sign of appendicitis (which is no more common in pregnant women than in the general population, but is harder to diagnose in pregnant women and can cause miscarriage and stillbirth) or placental abruption (which I’ve already had one of, which means that I have an order of magnitude greater risk for a repeat than a woman who’s never had one before). I’d been feeling it for long enough that I’d mentioned it at my last prenatal visit — my doctor told me it was probably just a different sort of round ligament pain and that I shouldn’t worry about it, but didn’t say any more than that. I spent several days worrying myself to exhaustion about my placenta and my appendix, and then finally inquired with my MFM through their messaging system. I got a message back saying that I should make an appointment, which I did, and then I hyperventilated until it happened.
The doctor checked out everything, told me she agreed it wasn’t round ligament pain but that she was quite sure it wasn’t anything dangerous for my pregnancy. She said the location isn’t where my appendix would be, and she did a quick ultrasound and said the baby and placenta looked great. Than she looked me in the eye and said very slowly, “Everything looks fine. Don’t. Worry.” At which point I nearly burst into tears, because that’s so much easier said than done.
I will say one thing for my freak-out this week: there’s nothing that gets you to appreciate a pregnancy like the fear that you might lose it (again). Thinking concretely about the possibility of losing this baby made me realize that I actually am far more bonded to him than I realized. He’s a part of me, even if I don’t believe it much of the time. He’s my son, even if he doesn’t make it out alive (although I hope he will). I’m so grateful that he’s OK so far.
My freak-out also made me realize that I’m still having trouble dealing with the anxiety of this pregnancy. I am not normally a hypochondriac, I swear. I usually go to doctor’s appointments assuming I’m fine, and nod happily when the doctor tells me how healthy I am. Not so in my apparently normal and healthy pregnancy during the last 15.5 weeks. Pregnancy after loss still occasionally turns me into a quivering pile of jelly instead of my normally calm, centered self. Somehow, I need to find a way back towards that equilibrium.
Part of the difficulty is that my poor experiences with healthcare providers during and after our daughter’s death caused me to lose trust in the medical establishment. I saw the dark, uncertain side of medicine up close and personal for the first time in my life. I’d seen it from a distance with my aunt’s cancer, but I’d never personally been in a situation where doctors just shrugged and told me I’d experienced a “lightning strike,” or did things that I afterward found out were poor judgment or just plain mistakes. Even though I’ve since found new doctors whom I trust more, particularly the MFM team who are part of a department with an international reputation and always reassure me with their thoroughness and knowledge, part of that lack of trust still lingers — and it doesn’t help that I know that even my amazing MFM doctors couldn’t have predicted or prevented my daughter’s death.
How can I ever find my way back to trusting my body, trusting the medical establishment, trusting pregnancy?
For now, I’m reassured by having my concerns addressed directly: by seeing on ultrasound that there’s no bleeding around my placenta, by hearing that the pain is not coming from anywhere near my appendix, that it’s probably just one of those strange musculoskeletal things that just… happens sometimes in pregnancy. In my first pregnancy, that would have been easy to accept. This time, it’s harder. But I’m working on it.