My Experience with a High Risk of Premature Birth in My Second Pregnancy

By Angela Davids

I’ll start off with a confession. I read two pregnancy books cover to cover — except for the chapters on high-risk pregnancy. Why would I? It was my first pregnancy and I was perfectly healthy. Healthy weight, healthy blood pressure, never smoked. I had no clue I could be at risk for a premature birth. When I went into labor at 33 weeks it took me completely by surprise.

When I stepped off the elevator at work that day, I had sudden vaginal pressure, like trying to keep a bowling ball from falling out. As I walked into the office, my coworkers were telling me how beautiful I looked — the dewy and rosy glow of pregnancy, I assumed. My concerns about the pressure I was feeling drifted to the back of my mind.

Half an hour or so after sitting down at my desk, I noticed my belly would get hard and then soft, hard and then soft. Just in case, I called my OB/GYN’s office and Nurse Paula said, “Go to Labor & Delivery right now!” Without any fanfare, I told my coworkers I was going to the hospital to get checked out and drove there myself.. When I arrived, the medical team checked me for dilation, popped in an IV and started me on magnesium sulfate to slow the labor. It was all a blur. All I knew was suddenly I could be having a baby that day! I had NO control. Whatever the doctor and nurses felt like they needed to do, they did it with no questions from me.

With various medications, frequent visits to Labor & Delivery and limited activities, I made it to 39 weeks with my daughter! But I’ll never forget that feeling the first time in the L&D department when I had no power at all over the fate of my pregnancy and the health of my baby.

The Second Time Around

With my second pregnancy, my guard was up, and just about daily I wished I could know if my first difficult pregnancy was a fluke. There is so much anxiety and worry when you don’t know if you are at risk again. (If the PreTRM test to predict the risk of premature birth had existed then, I know for sure I would have demanded it.)

I researched all I could about preventing premature birth, posted the symptoms of premature labor on my refrigerator, and specifically asked my doctor for progesterone shots. She agreed.

By getting the shots, I was automatically enrolled in my delivery hospital’s program for high-risk women. I had at least eight trips to Labor & Delivery during that pregnancy. My doctor recommended limiting my activity level. I took multiple medications and had weekly home visits from an RN to give me my progesterone shot and quiz me about my symptoms of premature labor. Those quizzes prompted many of those Labor & Delivery visits, where we discovered I was indeed dilating more and more, and my labor was halted, time and again

With the confirmation of a cervix shortening prematurely, discovered by vaginal ultrasound during a bout of premature labor at 24 weeks, I knew for sure that I was at higher risk. Because of that, my doctors and nurses provided exceptional care.

Not everyone has access to that kind of care, like a nurse who visits every week and more frequent visits to the OB (and repeated unscheduled visits to a hospital just 10 minutes from my home). Not everyone is curious (okay, obsessive) about reading every available study about premature labor and premature birth and boiling it down to a few key sentences. I gratefully delivered my son at 39 weeks and three days. Now, how could I help other women to do the same?

Know the Premature Birth Risks

How could I help other women learn that no matter how healthy they are, they are at risk of premature birth? It’s a 1 in 10 risk, which seems like great odds until it happens to you. How could I share what I learned and show women that there is hope for a full-term baby, even when you’ve been identified at being at the greatest risk?

In August 2008, two weeks after my son was born, the answer hit me in the middle of the night. I could create a website that presented, in plain language, the most essential information about preventing premature birth and recognizing the signs of premature labor. I could tell women about how important vaginal ultrasound is for measuring cervical length, and that progesterone could prolong their pregnancies. With my background in journalism, marketing and PR, I realized that I really could make it happen!

I got out of bed right then and secured the domain KeepEmCookin.com.

I created KeepEmCookin because I wanted to share what I learned. There ARE steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of premature birth: progesterone, cerclage, cervix length measurements, more frequent OB appointments and emotional support to reduce stress.

On KeepEmCookin.com, I have met hundreds of women at the highest risk of premature birth who were able to make it to term by taking control of their pregnancies. Unfortunately, many women are afraid to even think about the possibility of delivering their babies prematurely and all of the complications that can follow. But, when you know your level of risk and your treatment options, you and your health care provider can take positive action.

If I could offer every pregnant woman one piece of advice, I’d say, “Talk openly with your doctor or midwife to learn about your level of risk for delivering your baby too soon.”

BIO:

Angela Davids is the creator of KeepEmCookin.com, an educational website and community for women experiencing a high-risk pregnancy or who have delivered prematurely in a prior pregnancy. Her website logs more than 475,000 visits per year.